Tales of the Kiwi DIY Investor

Legend or Myth
I love the Mitre 10 Advertisement with the children in the playground discussing the “big project” on this weekend and the little boy is rounding up his friends to tackle the project.  The Aussie boy simply says “you must be joking mate” and wants no part of the mission, he has better things to do.

The Legend that we are Kiwis and we can all DIY is just a myth these days.  Is it because we are time poor or is there another reason?

Personally I believe it’s because in this day and age we don’t train to be practical hands-on workers as most of us used to.  A vast majority of us are professionals in careers that weren’t even thought of 10 years ago and to be honest we just don’t have the common sense and nous that we used to have when it comes to DIY.

I come across examples of the great Kiwi DIY guy (and girl) all the time, usually having been fully armed with the DIY version on the AK47 assault rifle – the silicone gun. This little baby kills everything in its path, including leaking roofs, leaking windows and doors, holes in ceilings, concrete and sometimes even hot water cylinders.

Closely following the AK47 is the 9mm Beretta hand pistol.  This lethal weapon, more commonly known as the hammer, is the second favourite of the property investor DIY enthusiast.  It is used for almost every application, including hammering in screws when the cordless drill goes flat, demolition of almost anything in sight, and for securing hundreds of nails into a small piece of fencing or weatherboard that has come adrift.

Expert jobs
On a more serious note, there are definitely jobs that are not for the DIY investor and those include electrical works of most natures (yes, you can change a light bulb).  Leave the wiring of the light switches, sockets and ovens to the registered electricians in the knowledge that they have served a long and hard apprenticeship to ensure they carry out the works correctly.

It’s unbelievable the amount of times we get a call from an electrician telling us how “lucky” the owner of the rental property is that their investment hasn’t burnt down due to shoddy wiring.

The same goes for plumbing.  If it’s not carried out correctly, later on those leaks will be hugely costly and mean massive disruptions for you and your tenants.  Changing a tap washer in the laundry is fine but don’t re-plumb the entire kitchen unless you have an experienced tradesman on site with you.  Again, this is a trade that people train for many years to become fully qualified at and they are worth the money.  These are fully regulated trades for a very good reason.

Time is money
When you decided to DIY your next renovation or take on a lot of your property maintenance yourself, your biggest commitment will be time.

You are always going to save money if you carry out work yourself, but consider what your hourly rate is worth and if you are not paying yourself, would it be more constructive and profitable doing something else with your time and paying someone to carry out those jobs for you?  The biggest property investment deal of the century may elude you because you are trimming trees for two weekends in a row when you could have paid someone the minimum wage to do it for you.

Contractors rates have come back to more favourable levels in the current economic climate and you have the luxury of having them show up when they say they will and quote for many of the smaller jobs that in the past they would not have bothered with.

However, if you are good with your hands and have nothing else to do on your Saturday or Sunday then get stuck in and tackle those handyman hobs yourself and work on your relationship with your tenants by keeping them happy and well looked after while living in your investment property.

Use the right tools
The biggest mistake the DIY property investors make is not having or using the right tools for the jobs they undertake.

The DIY superstores have bargains galore at the moment and you can easily fill your toolbox with everything you will need for a few hundred dollars.  There is no need to buy the top-end, high quality tools if you are only using them occasionally; so long as you maintain them and use them within the manufacturers’ guidelines.

I can assure you that when that mirror falls off the wall or the heated towel rail comes off in your tenants hands with the towel,  you will get an irate phone call and a request to fix every time .  And they won’t want you back to fix anything once they have found out it was you who put it up in the first place.  Trust me – we fix these sorts of items for pretend DIY landlords every week.

Know your limits
DIY on any property involves common sense, so it’s a good idea to know and set your limitations.

I recently visited a site in Auckland where an owner had built an extension to a low level deck (badly) and the tenants’ young children had been playing on it and had fallen straight through the hand rail.  Luckily enough the fall was less than a metre from the ground.

Most building works are permitted for a good reason and had a builder built this the accident would never have occurred.

The same applies if you are scared of heights.  Don’t go on the roof to clean your gutters or check for leaks, employ a professional company and pay them to do the work.

Always consult with the builder or architect before carrying out any building work and never ever tackle structural building work yourself.  I have seen instances of half collapsed ceilings, roofs sagging and owners in real strife all too often when they have pushed on ahead without real thought of the consequences, let alone the danger to themselves.  An architect or engineer are not expensive for small jobs including structural wall removals and will save you thousands in the long run.

Calling in the experts
If you decide to employ any trades or service companies to carry out the work for you, firstly check their references from several customers.  Make sure they have full insurance that covers them and you whilst working on your property (there are many companies working in New Zealand without the correct insurance or none at all).

Always have a company recommended to you by one or more parties and never accept any quote that isn’t written down and signed by both parties.

Ensure your terms of payment and timeframes are noted on the paper work and make sure both you and your contractor honour the agreement to ensure you develop a sound working relationship for the future.

If a contractor or service provider lets you down tell them and be clear about what you expect to be  done about it and when.  Good contractors are worth every cent.

Having contractors work for you who are investors is the ultimate answer, as they understand you are running a business and that the return on investment is important and they will understand how to keep costs to a reasonable level whilst ensuring your renovations or maintenance needs are met.

As a beginner, what jobs can I DIY?
• Washing windows, water blasting your property, decks and paths, cleaning the windows, mowing the lawns, weeding the garden and basic landscaping are all a good start on the exterior.
• Paint the fence and if you are brave and have the time, paint the exterior of the property (although this job can take weeks).
• On the inside any handyman jobs such as tap washers, painting, carpet cleaning can all be done by most  people

What shouldn’t I DIY?
• Roof or chimney leaks, skylight issues and major gutter repairs.
• Major building, plumbing or electrical work are best left to the experts.
• Any jobs that involve large machinery or power tools that require specialist training or you don’t feel comfortable using.
• Jobs that you are not tooled up to do, such as working at heights without the correct safety equipment (ACC doesn’t take kindly to disregard for safety)

Ultimately, whether you DIY or engage the services of a contractor to carry out the work, it is down to you as the owner.

Remember your property is an investment and any work carried out needs to meet the current regulations and standards that apply.  Your insurance company will not look favourable at any shortcuts taken by either you or a contractor when the need arises to make a claim.

If you enjoy DIY then continue to do it yourself.  If you’re like me and the mere thought of getting your hands dirty means you own your own property maintenance company and pay people to do everything, that’s fine.  So long as the work is done and done right then that’s what matters.

Tip
Know and set your limits when undertaking a DIY project

 

Mark Trafford Director “Maintain To Profit”