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4 Home Renovations Gone Wrong

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LearnVest
12.05.13

This post originally appeared on LearnVest, where smart people learn to manage their money and live their richest lives.

If you’re a homeowner, chances are you’ve taken on a home-repair project that you probably shouldn’t have. Whether the results were disastrous, costly or comical, we can all relate to the desire to do-it-yourself instead of calling a pro.

Meet four people who went it alone (with less-than-stellar results) and then find out what the experts say they should have done differently. These homeowner heartbreaks just might save you big the next time you decide to whip out the toolbox!

1. When Toddlers Attack

The Homeowner: Patrick Morris, Troy, New York

The Situation: “My wife and I were painting rooms," explains Morris, a public relations manager. "At one point, she went downstairs for something and came back to find that our two-year-old had used the paint roller as a push toy throughout the hardwood floors upstairs. There was light blue paint all over the floor in each room.”

What Went (Really) Wrong: “We tried to remove the paint. I went to Home Depot to get a floor sander, polyurethane finish, etc. Five minutes into sanding, there was wood dust everywhere. The sanding was uneven and a total mess. We ended up going to Sears and arranged to have wall-to-wall carpeting installed. The whole thing cost us $6,000!”

What the Expert Says: “When you’re painting walls, especially with children in the home, you should always be using a low VOC water-based paint on the walls,” says Amy Matthews, a home improvement expert. “When wet, it can be removed from most surfaces with soap and water. Always take the time finding a pro to solve home improvement issues for the right price at the right time. There is no crime in having a patch of temporarily damaged wood floor!”

2. The Bathroom Debacle

The Homeowner: Kathi Rollberg Boldt, Ashland, Massachusetts

The Situation: "We decided to renovate our bathroom while we were also doing the kitchen because there was a sale on bath countertops. If you ordered them with the kitchen, you saved a bit," says Boldt, a middle school math teacher and married mother of three.

What Went Wrong: "We had to buy a different sink because the countertop wouldn’t fit the dimensions of our bathroom,” she explains. “After demolishing the wall tile, we found water damage on the walls. When all was said and done, the job that was going to just cost us for the tiles, countertop and cabinet ended up being about $3,000!”

What the Expert Says: Beware of what seems to be a “good deal,” but leads you to expand the size of your project, suggests Matthews. “If you don’t assess the reality of the cost, physical commitment and tools needed for the job, you will always end up biting off more than you can chew,” she says. 

3. A Mudslide in My Backyard

The Homeowner: Kyle James, 
Redding, California

The Situation: “I fancy myself a pretty handy guy,” says James, the founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com and a married father of three. “So last year, after we had our pool professionally installed, I took on the task of doing some erosion control on a fairly large slope created by the pool installation. I did some research, installed jute netting to hold the soil and seeded the hill with seasonal rye grass.”

What Went Wrong: ”One afternoon, I went outside and turned on the sprinkler on the hill to water the seed. We left for a family get-together and returned only to discover that I hadn’t turned the water off. The hill got completely saturated, and the sprinkler created a mudslide. After a phone call and a $2,500 bill, I learned to leave some D.I.Y. projects to the pros.”

What the Expert Says: "Kyle’s only mistake was not turning off the water! When doing your own projects, you have to be very mindful. Attention to detail can make the difference between a successful project and a debacle.”

4. How Not to Fix a Leaky Toilet

The Homeowner: Marci Echeverria, 
West Orange, New Jersey

The Situation: One afternoon, I heard the toilet running. I tried playing with the handle, which didn’t help at all. My husband Tony came home and he went upstairs to fix it. Neither one of us had any experience in this area. Still, Tony found some online videos explaining how and began to work on it. He came downstairs and declared that the toilet was fixed.”

What Went Wrong: ”Two days later, I saw drops of water on the floor of the second-floor hallway,” says Echeverria. "The next day, there were more drops on the floor. Then, I saw water dripping down from a huge wet spot. I called the plumber right away. Total cost: $300–$400, including paying the plumber to fix the toilet and a contractor to patch the ceiling. For every other repair since, we’ve gone straight to the pros!”

What the Expert Says: “Water damage can be one of the most costly (and inconvenient) repairs in a home," Matthews says. "And, though a running toilet can be an easy fix, ask yourself if the risk is worth the reward when a professional can often leave you dollars ahead in the long run.”

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