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Do It Yourself vs. Hire a Contractor

Real Estate Agent

During a recent windstorm, the fence between our property and the neighbor in the back received some damage.  The neighbor obtained a bid for repairs.  We were faced with the decision to repair the fence ourselves or hire a contractor to make the repairs.

The fence didn’t appear to be too badly damaged.  There was one fence post that was obviously broken at the ground level and would need to be replaced.  There was one other fence post that seemed loose and would need to be replaced.  There were several boards that had been blown loose and would need to be screwed back in.

My husband and I assessed the damage and looked at the repair estimate.  We could do the repairs for a quarter of the bid cost – our labor was “free”.  Should we do the repairs ourselves?  

In making a decision whether to make a do-it-yourself (DIY) repair or hire a contractor, there are several questions you need to answer.  Can you do the work?  Do you know how?  Do you have the tools to do the work?  (Sometimes it can be surprising how many tools are actually needed to do a “simple” repair!)  Do you have the time to do the work?  Do you WANT to do the work?

We asked ourselves these questions:

  •          Could we do the work?  Sure, we could do the work – it wouldn’t be difficult.
  •          Did we know how to do the work?  Simple enough question; however, yes, we knew how to do the work.  The fence post on another side of the same yard had to be replaced a couple of years earlier, so we knew what needed to be done and we knew how to do it.
  •          Do you have the tools to do the work?  Since we had already repaired one fence post, we knew what tools were needed and we had them.
  •          Did we have time to do the work?  We did.  In this case, the neighbors were going out of town in a week and wanted the fence repaired before they left.  We had the time and could finish the work by the neighbor’s deadline.
  •          Do you want to do the work?  That was the difficult question.  My husband and I discussed this question for a while and finally decided why not?  We knew that once we started, we had to finish the job.  We decided we would repair the fence ourselves.

My husband and I started on our big adventure of repairing the fence.  We just needed some screws, two posts, some concrete to set the posts in and a cordless drill.  (Yes, we had a corded drill, but since we both would be working at the same time screwing in the nails, we decided to buy a cordless drill.  My husband was happy!  New toy.)  Off to the local big DIY store to purchase the material and the drill.

Our simple repair job took us five days.

Day 1:  We assembled all of our tools in the back of our SUV and drove to the jobsite.  We were ready.  The first task was to ensure the fence was straight.  We set a string along the fence to align the boards correctly.   Next was the simple task of rescrewing all of the boards.  Since it was an older fence, we decided it could use some re-enforcing – we decided to add three more screws on each board at the top and the bottom.  Since my husband is several inches taller than me, he volunteered screwing the nails in the top of the fence.  I was left with the row of screws at about 18 inches off of the ground.  I used an old 5-gallon paint bucket to sit on.  (Sounded good at the time trying to save the knees, but later discovered it was a mistake.)  We finished the reinforcement.  We did have the foresight not to screw in the boards that were attached to the posts we needed to replace.  We gathered our tools and took them back to the SUV.  Day 1 was done – four hours later.

Day 2:  We traveled to the job site – a little less enthusiastically than on Day 1.  We tackled the first fence post.   We braced the fence on each side of the post we would be removing.  My husband then quickly cut the post loose from the cross rails using his handy SawsAll.  Then to removing the post -  my husband got out his six-foot bar – heavy with a point on one end and what looks like a big standard screw driver head on the other end.  Short version – It took an hour for my husband to break the concrete off the fence post and remove the old post.  (TIP:  We discovered that if you dig around the concrete a little, the concrete breaks off better.  There evidently is someplace for the concrete to go when it is chipped off the main block.  Who would have guessed?) 

He used a post hole digger to remove the dirt and chunks of concrete.   Easy enough.

We mixed the concrete and filled the hole.  We used three 60 lb. bags.  (That fence post will stand a hurricane.)

We used a level to make sure the post was straight.  Used a little leverage to lift the fence and rails up and in to the railing brackets.  This actually worked fairly well – a trick we had learned when we replaced the fence post a couple of years ago. 

We left our tools at the jobsite covered by a tarp – less work than carrying them back to the SUV.  Day 2 was done – another four hours.

Day 3:  It was raining – heavily – and our bodies needed a break.  We stayed home on Day 3 and kept the pain reliever companies in business.  Remember the five-gallon paint bucket that I sat on to save my knees Day 1?  Well, the bottom had a little rim around the edge.  Sometimes all it takes is a little – I was still feeling it...  Day 3 was done – so soon??

Day 4:  We once again traveled to the jobsite.  (Oh where was that enthusiasm we had on Day 1?)  We tackled the second fence post.  Same as the first, except now we knew to dig a hole next to the concrete block.  It worked much better and took less time.  The sun was out – we preferred the rain!

After we had removed the old post, we took a break (novel idea!) and had a bite to eat at a local fast food restaurant.  Too fast…  And then we went back to work.  Poured the concrete, gathered up our tools (remembered to leave a shovel so we could put some dirt back in the holes on top of the concrete) and went home.  Day 4 done and another five hours – including our lunch break.

Day 5:  Back to the jobsite with a little enthusiasm – we were almost done!  We packed some dirt on top of the concrete for post 2, screwed the boards on to the posts, restored the area around the posts replacing pebbles and mulch, gathered our tools and left.  Day 5 and the job was done – just another 1.5 hours.

Off to a favorite pizza place to celebrate!  And maybe discuss whether we made the right decision to do it ourselves…

Prepared by Nancy Van Pelt, Broker




Comments (1)

Susan Laxson CRS
Palm Properties - La Quinta, CA
Realtor in San Diego, CA & Naples, FL

Nancy, I enjoyed reading about your project and I think there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment when you do it yourself. As long as there are a few aspirins to take away the aches and pains of your labor! Have a great Easter weekend!

Mar 25, 2016 10:34 AM
Nancy Van Pelt

Thanks!   In the end,  we were glad we did it. 

Mar 25, 2016 12:05 PM