When you do it yourself, know the consequences

SMART MOVES

November 03, 1991|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

They go under various names: weekend carpenters, weekend warriors, do-it-yourselfers. They're ambitious individuals, sure of their ability to tear out and upgrade walls, ceilings, floors, cabinets, counter tops or bathroom fixtures. They work feverishly -- convinced they're saving thousands over what they'd pay a professional contractor.

But what starts out as an attempt to save money can turn into costly folly when the do-it-yourselfer tries to sell his home, real estate experts say. All too often, the work is botched and the house loses rather than gains value when it goes up for sale.

"God almighty, what people do to their houses!" exclaims Sally Bielaski, sales manager for Coldwell Banker's Ellicott City office.

Another local sales manager recalls how a Cockeysville homeowner learned an expensive lesson about cheap home improvement. He paid just $700 for the shingles to do his own re-roofing job. But the improperly fastened shingles looked crooked and some blew off. When the house was sold, the owner had to offer a discount far greater than what a roofer would have charged to do it right in the first place.

Realty experts allow that many homeowners have the skill to paint walls, hang wallpaper, lay kitchen tile, caulk around bathtubs and sinks, plant flowers, prune bushes and engage in myriad routine repairs. In these areas, they say, a little hard work can pay off splendidly when it comes time to sell.

But unless they have a professional background in home improvement or are extraordinarily handy, they probably lack the capability to take on major renovations. Chances are good they'll botch a major redo of a kitchen, family room, bathroom or attic.

"Fewer than 20 percent of these jobs work out. And it's not for lack of smarts but for lack of experience on the part of the #F homeowner," says Daryl Jesperson, a senior vice president with the RE/MAX International chain.

Obviously, there are exceptions. But when most who lack a professional contracting background attempt home improvements, the flaws are apparent to a would-be buyer.

"It looks like a wood butcher has done the work and, boy, can you tell. The ceilings hang wrong. The wallboard isn't taped properly, so the paint is wavy. The joints don't fit right, and there are numerous other problems," Mr. Jesperson says.

The human tendency to become enamored of one's own work can keep the do-it-yourselfer from seeing what the prospective buyer sees when he's shown a home for sale.

"For many people, it's a macho thing. The idea is that even though they work in an office all week, they can do something with their hands on the weekends. It's a matter of personal pride," Mr. Jesperson says. But even when the weekend warrior's job looks superficially good, doubts may be raised. The very fact that the homeowner has chosen to do a renovation himself makes most buyers wonder about his motivation.

"People think that if you didn't hire someone professionally, you didn't have the money to do it correctly -- or that you cut corners to get it done," says Ms. Bielaski, the Ellicott City sales manager.

Doubts about a do-yourselfer's work may be deepened when a home inspector arrives to analyze a property that's under serious consideration by a prospective buyer. An increasing number of buyers are making the purchase of a house contingent on a home inspection. And a qualified inspector will be quick to point out any shortcomings in a homeowner's work.

"It's plain and simple. The quality of the work will be a point of question at the time of sale. And shoddy work could cost the owner the sale of their home," Ms. Bielaski says. Pride keeps most people from purchasing homes with second-rate improvements, as does the thought that rectifying the problems will prove a hassle.

"Buyers are always looking for something that's wrong -- something that's going to create work for them," Mr. Jesperson of RE/MAX says.

Real estate specialists offer these pointers on home renovation that could help the homeowner do well when it comes time to sell.

* Never attempt major electrical, heating or plumbing work you're not trained to do.

While homebuyers may simply be put off by do-it-yourself carpentry, they can be positively horrified that an untrained homeowner has attempted and botched wiring, heating or plumbing work, Mr. Jesperson says.

* Try to avoid selling your house in the middle of an uncompleted renovation job.

Inexperienced do-it-yourselfers are often guilty of taking on more work than they can reasonably handle, says Sue Zitzer, manager of the Century 21 C. C. Rittenhouse realty office in Catonsville.

Unfortunately, it's a rare buyer who can visualize the completed job, Ms. Zitzer cautions.

* Get estimates on the cost of finishing work that can't be done properly by the time of sale.

Whether it's a major repair job that needs to be done or one that was started and botched, you'll do better with a would-be buyer if you address the issue directly, Ms. Zitzer says. Provide estimates from several bona fide contractors indicating how much the work will cost.

"People always think a professional job will cost twice as much as it does," she says.

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