To Use a Contractor or Not Use a Contractor?

Written by Renovation

Since we’re talking about the kitchen again one year later, I thought of another good subject I never touched – until now! To use a contractor or not use a contractor – what option is right for you and how do you know? Keep in mind, this is our first experience using one, and our first major renovation… so take all this with a grain of salt. But here are some factors we learned to take into account when making this decision for ourselves.

How Handy are You?

Obviously the number one thing to think about. It’s perfectly fine to DIY everything yourself if you’ve got the chops or are planning to learn. Just be ready if you are learning during the project, that things may not end up absolutely perfect. If you are a stickler for things to be as perfect as possible and it’s important to you, you may want to hire a pro that has done it a few more times. If you are also not super confident in your skills on one aspect of the project, it’s possible to hire out line items. Like if you don’t feel comfortable doing electrical, find an electrician you trust and hire them for the parts they can complete. Be aware though, most contractors we interviewed wanted to do the full job or nothing. So you may have a harder time searching around, but you will find someone eventually.

Factor in the Cost of Tools

For us, we still haven’t done a ton of major work ourselves as home owners. We have a plethora of painting supplies, a shop vac, a couple drills, Dremels and other small power tools. But we didn’t have a lot of the bigger or more specialized tools that would be needed for our kitchen renovation. So we took into account the cost of all the tools we would also need to purchase to do the work. For us, it would have been almost $1,000 just for tools. That doesn’t take into account any special bits or blades we didn’t realize we would have needed until demo began. So depending on the scope of the project, just getting the tools you need can be a larger line item than you think. Which brings me to my next point…

What’s the Budget?

One of the first things we learned is – you need to be realistic with your budget. If it’s the first time you’ve renovated a kitchen or a bathroom and you have no clue about the average cost, you need to do a lot of research. Look online for articles, read other blog posts, ask people you know that had work done on their homes. Find as much content and info as you can, digest it, and you’ll probably be able to come up with a realistic budget for yourself, your area and size of your project. And yes, your area matters! Standard pricing can change a lot depending on where you live. For example, if you take the costs thrown around on Fixer Upper, you may be grossly underestimating. For us, Waco pricing is verrrry different than Baltimore pricing. In the end, we paid our contractors $12,500, which is fair but on the lower end for our area. In other parts of the country, the amount of work they did could be around $7,000 or less.

The scope of your project also matters greatly. Are you moving plumbing, redoing electrical, adding a bunch of new lighting that didn’t exist before, moving a gas line? These are much more time consuming to do and also depending on where you live, may be subject to an inspection process to gain approval.


If you really want to keep your budget low, than maybe doing it yourself is the way to go. But if you have some money to play with or time to save up, a contractor is within reach. We saved up for a whole year and opened a zero percent interest credit card to put everything on to (that way we didn’t decimate our savings account), but we did have the full amount of the project saved before we pulled the trigger. We were able to do so because we did our research and planned so well in advance to set ourselves up for a good financial outlook.

But full honesty, we had trouble finding a contractor at first. We did a ton of research and ran numbers on our end and felt we had a good handle on realistic pricing at this point. We interviewed quite a few different contractors, but when we told them our budget was between $25,000 to $30,000, most would laugh at us and try to correct us. Like I said earlier, most wanted to do the whole project or none at all. Those contractors were estimating our project to be around $50,000 or more. No way José!  We had done our research and knew we could do it for our budget or damn near close! So we were determined and kept interviewing contractors. Eventually we found our guys through a friend’s recommendation and they were willing to work with us, letting us know what parts we could DIY to help get us to our goal budget. In the end we spent $31,635, just slightly over our budget! Booya!

We made concessions on some aspects of the materials to get to our budget as well. We went with IKEA cabinets instead of some other brands we were looking at. We paid $7,000 for cabinets instead of $20,000. We DIY’d butcher block counters along the walls which saved us soooo much money, and classic subway tile for our backsplash which is very inexpensive.

We layered in more high end elements here and there such as our drawer pulls, dining room chandelier and quartz counter for the island.

In the end, just be realistic with what you want vs how much you want to spend. Sometimes it will mean giving up something. What that something is, is different for every person. It could mean giving up your dream range for something more sensible, or parting with more money. It’s just whatever is more important to you.

To read our full budget breakdown of the kitchen renovation, head here!

What’s the Timeline?

Next, you have to take into account how long you can live without that space. For a kitchen, we didn’t think we could live without it for that long, so that really factored into our decision to hire a contractor. However, as I talked about here, we found out we thrived in our makeshift kitchen space and not having a full kitchen wasn’t as difficult as we originally thought. So next time we re-do a kitchen, we might think about things differently. With a bathroom, is it your only bathroom? How long can live with just one shower if you have a family of five? Is there a holiday coming up that you want the space done for? These are all things to take into account. Our kitchen ended up being completed only two days before Thanksgiving because we hired out the work. We hadn’t really expected to host Thanksgiving, and were fully prepared for it to take much longer, but it was kind of amazing having it done that quickly and share it with our family!

How Much Time do You Have?

The other aspect of this to take into account is how much time do you have to devote to doing the work yourself? If we had done the kitchen ourselves, both working full time jobs, we wouldn’t have been done for MONTHS! Our pink bathroom remodel, which is super simple compared to the kitchen, is already at the same duration our full kitchen renovation was. We just don’t have that much time outside work to dedicate towards this stuff. Which than brings up my next question…

How Likely Are You to Kill Each Other?

You probably just chuckled a little bit, am I right? But it’s a serious question. What’s it like to put IKEA furniture together with your spouse? If it’s fun, that’s awesome! But now imagine doing it everyday for over a month (or more), and having to make last minute decisions when one little piece doesn’t go as planned, and running to the hardware store over and over and over again. If that sounds awesome to you, I envy you! That’s amazing you are both so in sync with each other and enjoy all the same things! Jordan and I are not hahaha! I could do this stuff all day erryday! But it’s a chore for him, which I can fully understand. A renovation is A LOT of work!!! A lot of work I would lean on him to help with since he’s more handy than me. When I started to see him getting stressed out about the amount of work, timeline and living without a kitchen for so long, I knew we would just have to bite the bullet and hire a contractor to help lighten the load. It would be selfish to only focus on myself when we both have to live through it. He would have been so unhappy coming home from work everyday after a long commute, to work again… for months on end.

So in the end for us, a contractor was the way to go! It helped us hit our timeline, kept us sane and the contractors we chose helped us keep really close to our budget. We were able to enjoy watching Stranger Things and Lore to celebrate the month of Halloween while doing our portions of work. We were able to stay relaxed through most of the project and still have a life, which was important to us.

Only you know what’s more important to you. Each renovation is different. I know that statement isn’t too terribly helpful, but maybe this rambling of questions helps you think through things for yourself. In the end, go with your gut! You’re the one that has to live with the decisions you make.

Last modified: October 16, 2018