In 2022, I was lucky enough to finally take my first step up the housing ladder.
Trying to quietly ignore the state of the British economy, my husband and I took on our 1968 three-bed terrace. It was in sound condition, but certainly showing signs of fatigue decades of service as a rental.
While we were incredibly fortunate to have landed a great mortgage deal, we weren’t exactly left rolling in spare cash after transferring the deposit to the solicitor – so showering our beloved house in affection was going to have to be done on a careful budget.
But DIY superstars we most certainly are not.
However bad you’re setting us up to be in your imagination, allow me to assure you: it’s worse than that. Every time we have to build flat-pack furniture I keep a divorce lawyer’s number handy. Picture a low-budget Chuckle Brothers reboot, only with quite a lot more swearing.
So, faced with decades’ worth of landlord specials to smooth over, we’ve been taking house projects one at a time, deciding in each case whether it’s better to give it a go ourselves – and hopefully save some money – or to bring in the professionals. Six months in, these are the things we’ve left to the pros, and the things we’ve safely and successfully done ourselves.
When To Leave It To The Experts
Anything involving electricity
Despite having an excellent Physics GCSE, I’ll be the first to admit that electricity and I are not comfortable bed-fellows. Unless it involves crocodile clips, I’m suitably humble about the risks of getting it wrong with wires. So it was decided early on that the various odd electrical jobs kicking around would be best left to someone qualified and certified. We did some research on checkatrader.com and were put in touch with a helpful, flexible local company that had reasonable rates.
To avoid multiple call-out charges, we made a list of all the different bits and pieces that needed looking at, and asked if they could do them all in one go. We ended up paying a day rate for three lovely guys to replace at least half a dozen light fittings, two extractor fans, and an external power line, and to install motion-sensor lights and a shaver socket, as well as check over our fuses and circuitry.
With the exception of the fact one of them took five sugars in his tea, I would have no qualms about recommending them to a friend – and in the meantime, we’ve got peace of mind (and significantly less sugar).
The previous tenants of our house seem to have suffered two severe afflictions: first, owning a small menagerie of all the animals to which I’m allergic; and second, appalling taste in carpet.
We knew as soon as we had the offer accepted that we would need to completely re-do the flooring throughout the bedrooms, hallways, stairs and lounge, and that we’d ideally have it done before our motley crew of furniture and possessions arrived.
While I’m a great admirer of people who have the patience to learn to lay laminate themselves, I’ve played enough rounds of Tetris to know I have the patience and spatial awareness of a chimp. This was definitely best left to experts.
Knowing in advance that we’d need to do this meant we could squirrel away the funds, and we saved some money by agreeing to pull up the old carpet ourselves and take it to the local tip. We made sure we picked durable materials, with guarantees, and in neutral colours, so that it would be worth the upfront cost in the long run.
Picture the scene: you’ve lived in your new house for less than two weeks, and it’s time to enjoy a quiet Saturday now that the unpacking is finally under control.
But you awaken to a strange sound. Is that the shower dripping? The bath?
Ah, no, that would be the ceiling, dripping confidently onto the new carpet. I dutifully delegated and sent my husband into the loft to identify the problem (diagnosis: a burst pipe) and then did what every good millennial should do: called my Dad.
Poor Dad living over a hundred miles away, and not desperately keen to be dragged down the motorway to demonstrate his amateur plumbing skills, gave us this sound advice: “You aren’t capable of fixing it, so don’t try”.
Time to call a plumber.
Another recce on Checkatrade and a local plumber was in touch with us within minutes, despite it being the weekend. He had it fixed by the end of the morning.
We could have claimed this on our home and contents insurance, but since it came to less than the excess, we decided to give it a miss (and he’d done such a quick job that the cost was completely reasonable).
Plus, we now have a reliable plumber on speed dial – that’s worth its weight in gold, if you take our friends’ tales of plumbing disasters as a guide (things can get really expensive really fast if you try a DIY approach, but end up making things worse).
We asked the same plumber to supply and fit a new shower a couple of months later, and it was worth every penny, given we wouldn’t have known where to start.
When To Test Your DIY Skills
When we got the keys, the house was a perfectly acceptable, but perfectly dull, shade of off-white throughout – excepting one wall in the lounge, which was dolled up in a particularly vile shade of orange.
The paintwork and woodwork had all seen better days, and after almost a decade of renting I was not going to settle for living in magnolia utopia even one minute longer. So, we assembled an army of friends and family, who brought brushes and sanders and sugar soap and buckets, and we set up camp to repaint all three bedrooms, the lounge and two hallways.
I spent more hours than I care to admit in B&Q (though I could stare at their paint sample cards for hours quite happily) and after several consecutive weekends of sanding and stripping and priming and painting, we now live in a house that feels completely and totally ours.
We were lucky to be able to draw on collective wisdom from friends and family who’d painted their own homes, and who could spare the time (and, miraculously, who are all still speaking to each other despite a row about paint stripper – best not to ask).
When the time comes to re-think our décor choices, we’ll have a good idea of what we’re doing (and I’ll get to spend just a little longer lingering in the paint aisle at B&Q).
Shelves, hooks and frames
Magnolia wasn’t the only thing I was desperate to leave behind in the world of renting.
After years of relying on Command Strips to hold up photos and mirrors, only to discover that they have a habit of failing, and casting down their wards onto hard floors in thousands of pieces, I could not wait to put up shelves and hang things on the walls with real-life nails.
In fact, I asked my brother-in-law for shelves and a lesson in putting them up for my birthday. He went one better, and bought me a spirit level as well.
Twinned with the drill we already had, and a shiny new wire detector (you guessed it – another trip to B&Q) I am now an absolute whizz at making holes in walls (and, occasionally, at refilling them with Polyfilla).
My husband still quakes in his slippers whenever he sees me head in the direction of our DIY collection, but this was a rite of passage I wasn’t going to pass up on. New house, new me, and new me loves nothing more than admiring her exquisitely-straight collection of framed prints.
Our house comes complete with its own tiny back and front gardens.
Unfortunately, the gods of architecture saw fit to punish the back garden with 1960s crazy paving in various shades of ‘gross,’ along with AstroTurf which is sat unevenly on top of what we sincerely hope is rubble.
Our next big goal is to transform it from 60-year-old horror to suburban oasis, complete with a wee lawn, raised beds and a pathway. We did shop around for some quotes, only to discover that it was going to cost quite a lot more than we feared – mostly owing to the costs of disposal. So we’re going to give it a go ourselves (albeit, once again, with help from wise friends and family).
Between borrowing a pneumatic drill from one friend, and taking advantage of another’s trade discounts for turf and raised beds, come spring we’ll be ready to once again utilize our revolving door at the local tip. And even if it all goes wrong, a mud pit can’t be worse than that crazy paving.
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