Thoughts for a Wannabe Fixer Upper

Gene and Katie Hamilton

Gene and Katie Hamilton

Not everyone is cut out to be a fixer upper. I think it requires certain personality traits and skills that few people possess. To begin with you have to be extremely well organized and able to work within a timeframe and budget. Now, if you have unlimited time and money you’re what I call a recreational fixer upper and few rules apply because it’s a hobby. But most people who want to renovate a house have time and money constraints so being orderly and organized are key traits to possess.

If you’re organized from the start you’ll have created a master plan for the work and a budget large enough to support the work. That requires a good handle on finances and a realistic approach to what things cost. It’s a given that the first time you renovate a house you will underestimate the time and money required. We know. After completing our first house fix up we doubled our cost estimates and tripled the time and we got more realistic with future renovations.

The idea for our column Do It Yourself or Not came from us learning just how much the projects cost because we couldn’t find that information anywhere. Today there are several contractor cost databases and references available so we can estimate costs for hundreds of improvements and upgrades.

A home renovator should be decisive and by that I mean able to make decisions quickly. Murphy’s law always applies when working on a house because there are so many unknowns. Who knows what you’ll find behind a wall – surely not an unexpected electrical line that appears to lead nowhere. And it’s not until you put a nail through a copper pipe in the bathroom floor (that you didn’t know was there) that you create a major leak. So being decisive and able to react to a problem and solve it will keep you moving forward with your project.

Communication skills don’t come naturally to everyone but they come in handy when dealing with subcontractors and material suppliers. And if you don’t like confrontation your project will take a lot longer. When cabinets aren’t delivered or a dumpster hasn’t arrived your work schedule can have a serious setback. If you’re not comfortable flipping open your cell phone to find out what’s the delay you could be in for a long wait.

Maybe most important is your ability to laugh at the mistakes and miscalculations you made and chalk them up to experience. In the end, having a sense of humor will keep you going when you locked yourself out of the house and have to climb in the window.

We hope you’ll visit us at and when you’re looking the cost of home improvement projects. You can type in your zipcode for a regional cost. Go forth and fix.


Gene and Katie Hamilton are authors of 20 home improvement books and creators of, a website that compares the DIY and contractor costs of hundreds of repair, decorating and remodeling projects. Their weekly column Do It Yourself or Not is syndicated by Tribune Content Agency.
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