Frugal Living Podcast: DIY Home Repair

In this episode of Frugal Living, host Jim Markus talks with Ashley French, a realtor and home DIYer with seven years of experience tackling her own home repair projects. You can listen to Frugal Living with Jim Markus here, on Apple PodcastsSpotifyAmazonAnchor.fmiHeartRadio, or anywhere you go to find podcasts.

In This Post

  1. Make a Ton of Lists
  2. Do Your Research
  3. Start Small
  4. Read a Transcript from This Episode
  5. More about the Frugal Living Podcast

Make a Ton of Lists

paper pad and pen
Almost any home improvement project is going to be a multistep endeavor, so French recommends breaking the project down into lists before you begin. This helps turn one massive project into smaller, actionable steps Some things to include in your list are:

  • What kind of work is involved in the project
  • What specifically do you want to change
  • What kind of work is that going to required
  • How much it will cost
  • Places you could save money

Do Your Research

woman on laptop researching

French explains that if you’re willing to put in the time researching, you can do a lot of work yourself. “I can’t stress it enough, I’ve used YouTube videos to teach myself how to use power tools and change plumbing and light fixtures. You can teach yourself almost anything on YouTube,” she says.

During a recent bathroom remodel, through her research and calling for quotes, she found that she could cut the cost of reflooring in half by installing the tile herself. The tiles she wanted were $2 per square foot, and she had been quoted between $2-$3 per square foot for labor. With that in mind, she looked up how to install the tiles and decided it was something she was comfortable handling herself.

French does add that it’s okay not to do the whole project yourself. If you feel a task is too complex or requires tools you’re not comfortable working with, or if the risk of potentially messing something up is too high, there’s nothing wrong with bringing in a professional.

Start Small

painted green wall diy
For first-time DIYers, remember to start small. French explains that a fresh coat of paint is one of the best places to start. It’s simple and cheap, and it can make a huge impact. You don’t even have to paint an entire room. You could start by just painting an accent wall or a piece of furniture to change up the look of a space.

French adds that she has a mantra: “Homes take time.” It’s a good reminder that any remodeling project is a marathon, not a sprint.

Read a Transcript from This Episode

Jim (00:02):
This is Frugal Living. Owning a home is an expensive undertaking. Aside from a down payment and regular mortgage and insurance payments for decades, the cost of maintaining a home can be overwhelming. I know this from experience. I bought a house not too long ago, and the list of things that we need to do is endless. It just goes on and on and on. That’s why I was delighted to speak with Ashley French, a person with much more experience with DIY projects and home remodeling. She’s a realtor, she’s remodeled two fixer uppers in the past, and she’s currently working on her third. Here’s our conversation.

Ashley (00:53):
I’m Ashley French and I am a DIYer and home remodeler.

Jim (00:59):
Thank you very much for making time to chat. Where do you start when you find an older home? What do you do first?

Ashley (01:07):
So for us, we are now living in our third fixer upper. So we’ve been doing this since 2014. And the way we start when we go into a home is we make a ton of lists. I cannot stress that enough. We make a lot of lists. And so then we’ll even break down our lists. So let’s say it’s a bathroom renovation that we are wanting to tackle. We’ll make a list of what are the aspects involved? What do we want to change? So maybe it’s flooring, the vanity, the lighting, the tub. And then from there, we’ll ask ourselves, what is it going to take to do the flooring? What are our options? What are the costs involved? And then we’ll do that for each aspect of the project. And then once we’ve really broken it down like that, we’ll ask ourselves, where can we save money? What can we do ourselves? What tools are involved? And then we go out and we do a ton of research online. We look for YouTube videos. We will look for websites or blog posts for each individual piece of the project and watch those and basically teach ourselves to do each aspect of the project, find out what tools are best. And it also helps us decide, are we capable of doing this? Maybe there is one piece of the project that we should hire someone to do, but for us, what’s most important is saving money, but also getting the look we want and making sure that we have a quality space once we’re done. But I say really, if you’re going into a fixer upper and you’ve got a lot of projects, just start with one, make lists, break it down, and really look at each aspect. And I think that will help you to tackle the project and for it to not be too overwhelming.

Jim (03:09):
It seems like the more expensive and relatively common way to do this is you find someone who says, “Hey, I do bathroom or kitchen renos.” They come over, they take a look, and then they tell you, “This is going to cost $50,000.” You’re saying, it sounds like, don’t hire them. Do this yourself. You can do that first breakdown yourself. And instead of price comparing, hey, this person says 50,000, this person says 30,000. There shouldn’t be one price you’re looking at. It should be a larger project broken down into smaller projects. And each of those is priced out. Am I understanding that correctly?

Ashley (03:45):
Yes, absolutely. And a good example I can give you is that we recently looked into, and even in the past, we have looked into doing the flooring ourselves compared to hiring someone. And in our experience, we have found that, like for example, tile, we were looking at some tile for a bathroom and it was going to be $2 a square foot for the actual tile. And then of course we have to buy the grout and you know, some of the different materials that come with doing tile. And just out of curiosity, we called around to get some quotes if we were to hire someone to lay it for us. And we were being told it could be anywhere from $2 to $3 per square foot in labor. So essentially it was doubling the price of the project by having someone come in and do it for us. And so when we saw the savings we could get by doing it ourselves, we sat down, watched videos. We learned how to do it ourselves. And what’s nice is that money that you save, obviously that’s great, you can put it in your pocket. But that money could also go towards another project in your home, maybe another room. So when we’re looking at a full project, we’re always looking at how can we break it down and where can we save money in each of these little aspects of the project? If you are new to DIY or just kind of wanting to get your feet wet, the first thing I would say, or what I have told people, is that paint is the easiest thing to start with. I feel like paint can be very forgiving, but paint also, in my opinion, can make a huge impact. So maybe you start with just painting one single wall in your house for an accent wall. Or if you are wanting to maybe paint a piece of furniture, maybe you pick something up at a thrift store, you want to give it new life. So paint is a great place to start if you’re just getting your feet wet into DIY. And then from there, you know, we actually just laid some vinyl flooring in our house we’re in now. And I will say that that, both vital and laminate, that’s a great DIY project because the flooring really just snapped together. And we watched a lot of YouTube videos and there was a ton of information out there that helped us learn kind of the tricks and some things that we should avoid when doing it. So that’s another one that I would say that if you’re new in DIY, that might be something that you could consider trying.

Jim (06:26):
It seems like YouTube is a pretty good resource for these projects.

Ashley (06:30):
Yes. I can’t stress it enough. I have used YouTube videos to teach myself how to use power tools. I have researched how to change out plumbing and light fixtures. So I feel like you can almost find any… You can teach yourself almost anything from YouTube.

Jim (06:50):
Totally agreed. I feel like this audience might already be the you-know-I’m-going-to-do-it-myself audience, but what do you think is the big-seeming project that isn’t such a big deal that might be worth tackling, even though it seems like, oh my God, professionals should do this?

Ashley (07:05):
I definitely would say flooring. On my social media, I get a lot of questions about flooring. We’ve done tile, laminate, we’ve done the vinyl. And I feel like people are so hesitant to get started because flooring is a huge aspect of a home. I mean, you walk in, that’s usually the first thing you see, and so people are afraid of messing it up. And I remember in our first home, when we did some flooring, it was very intimidating. But I will say when we laid tile for the first time, like I said, we took the time to watch YouTube videos and basically teach ourselves in advance. Once we got started, it wasn’t near as bad as I thought it was going to be. And it actually, this is going to sound crazy, but was enjoyable. We really enjoyed doing it. And I think that people are so afraid that it’s not going to be perfect and that people might notice that it’s not perfect, but I will tell you, we have never had a DIY project that comes out absolutely perfect. And I will tell you the only person that notices the tiny imperfections are you. And your guests, your family that come over to your home, they’re not going to see the teeny tiny details that maybe you’re aware of because you did the installation yourself. So I would say, don’t be afraid. Do your research, watch some YouTube videos. But flooring would definitely be something that I’d say, if you’re hesitant or on the fence, watch a few videos and maybe start with a smaller room, maybe a bedroom. And if you’re able to do it in the bedroom, then you know you’ll be able to do it throughout your home.

Jim (08:54):
How do you avoid being overwhelmed with the number of repairs on a house?

Ashley (08:58):
So that actually is something that, in the past, I had found myself struggling with a bit. When you move into a fixer upper, usually you have a lot of excitement in the beginning. And then when the list starts piling up of all the things that really need to get done, it is overwhelming and it can leave you with some regret or feeling anxious. And I have been in that place in the past. And something I learned from the homes that we fixed up in the past, I actually have a saying that I say to myself often, and that is home takes time. And it’s something that… Now it brings me a lot of relief when I say that to myself and I hear it. In the past, we really pushed ourselves to try to get everything done as quickly as possible. And what we found is that mistakes were definitely made, but we would rush through picking out maybe flooring or backsplash in the kitchen. And then when the project was done, we actually would look back and say, you know, those really weren’t the finishes we wanted or we’re not really happy with the final look or, you know, we didn’t do enough research looking into that flooring. And what ended up happening is we would have regrets, but we would want to change things out, which defeats the whole purpose of saving money and doing it ourselves. And now that we’re in our third fixer upper, I do have a completely different outlook. And I’m really taking a step back to slow down to just pick little projects at a time, take our time picking out the different finishes. But I know some homes, it’s not just about the cosmetic, like you said, with the pump and the chimney. Some things are safety issues that need to be done right away. So I would say a list is always your best friend. Make a list of the items that really need attention and then prioritize them in order of maybe safety and then functionality. Obviously if you need heat in the winter, that would be something at the top of the list. And just try to work on that list and just take it one project at a time, not looking at the entire house, because that can be very overwhelming, just trying to pick away at it little by little and just reminding yourself that home takes time.

Jim (11:34):
I like that saying a lot. I think my favorite bit about that is that considering finishes, considering, you know, the final look of your project, can be a really enjoyable process.

Ashley (11:47):
I remember when we first got started, we had very little experience. And really, even me personally, I didn’t really, really start picking up the power tools until about two years ago. And I think what made me more comfortable with starting small, like I said, with paint projects, seeing how you do, seeing if you get comfortable, and then slowly working your way up to larger projects. So maybe if you’re comfortable with paint, you can move on to using a sander or drill, moving up to a nail gun, maybe to a miter saw, and just kind of taking it step by step, working your way up. Obviously, if all of that freaks you out and you’re really not comfortable doing it, then that may be something telling you that maybe DIY is not for you. But what I found for me personally is when I’m taught how to use a tool safely and I feel safe using it, then I have no hesitation. I’m really independent and I’m confident and I’m excited to use the tool. But I remember being new to this, and the thought of using a miter saw was so scary and so intimidating because I had no idea what I was doing. But I took the time, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, and my husband does have experience with that. So I asked him to take the time to teach me to kind of stand next to me and help me do it. So if you’re new to DIY, take baby steps, watch some videos that teach you how to do it, see if you have any family or friends that would help you do it, and just see how comfortable you are with it. If it is something that you just do not enjoy, then maybe DIY is not for you. But I will tell you that the feeling you get when you complete a project all on your own is a feeling like no other. And of course the savings involved is a great feeling, but also the accomplishment of doing something on your own and being able to step back and look and take in what you’ve completed, that is an amazing feeling. So even if you’re feeling a little worried throughout the process, see if you can finish a project and get that satisfaction and that feeling of getting it done. And I’m kind of talking about maybe smaller to medium-sized renovations. Now, if we’re talking about large renovations, like an entire, let’s say you want to gut a kitchen and do a brand-new kitchen and you’re new to DIY. That’s when I would really say it’s important to make a list and break down all the different components of the project, do some research and find out what do you think you’re capable of doing, what looks like something you could potentially do on your own, but also make a list of what you are not comfortable doing. And there may be some aspects of the project that you do need to hire a professional to do. And a great example is we did a kitchen renovation in the past. We did, I’d say about 80% of it on our own, but our sink had to be moved. We did do some research. We watched some videos on moving plumbing. And at the end of the day, we just decided we did not feel comfortable moving plumbing, doing new pipe, and the risks involved if we did not do it correctly. So that was one of the things on our list that we decided we are not going to DIY this, we are going to hire a professional. So I think that when you use the list method and you really break everything down, it helps you look at the projects and decide… What are you comfortable with? What can you learn how to do and what you should possibly hire a professional to do for you?

Jim (15:48):
Is there anything else that you have for kind of advice for a frugal audience?

Ashley (15:54):
So maybe a little bit outside the realm of home renovation… In general, when it comes to my home, I am a very frugal person, but I feel like I always am drawn to a more expensive-looking interior design and decor. And something that I feel like I have kind of blossomed with over the last couple of years is finding ways to recreate pieces of furniture and pieces of home decor that I’ve seen while shopping and coming up with unique ways to create the exact same look at a fraction of the price. And that has really, really changed my home and my sense of style because I’m not giving up the look that I want. I’m still getting that high-end look, but I’m doing it at such a fraction of the price. And really the way I’m doing it is I look at whatever it is, the piece of furniture, the piece of decor. And I really look at it and I look at the shape, what it’s made out of. And then I ask myself, what is out there that is similar or something that I can start with and add to to get the same look. And a year ago, I really got into this and I started sharing this on my social media channels. And it really took off. And my followers, who were calling me the DIY Dupe Queen, I was duplicating these looks. And so a couple of examples, there’s a mirror that is sold by a home decor company called Anthropology. It sells for over a thousand dollars. And I wanted that mirror so bad, but I would never spend a thousand dollars on a mirror. So I just kept looking at it. And I said, you know what? That’s just a basic mirror with some decorative little finishes on the side, like some little appliques. And I said, how can I make this? And so I actually found these wooden appliques that resembled the same detail that was on that mirror. I superglued them onto a basic mirror that I had, painted the whole thing gold. And it was such a close resemblance to the original piece that when I shared that, people couldn’t believe that I had made that for under a hundred dollars when the original mirror was over a thousand dollars. And that opened my eyes to this whole other side of home decor and DIY. And now, whenever I see something that I really want for my home that’s really expensive, I actually challenge myself to find a way to recreate it at a fraction of the price. And I really even surprise myself sometimes because it is so possible. So to anyone out there who maybe does have that eye for design, and maybe not the budget for it, I would just challenge you to get creative, to ask yourself, how can I create the same look? Maybe go thrifting, go to some thrift stores, look for pieces, and then transform them with paint or texture. I’ve done a lot of projects like that. And I just want to say, you can get that look, whatever you’re saving on your Pinterest board, you can get that same look on a budget, no matter what your budget is, you can get that same look.

Jim (19:41): has the best deals sourced from around the internet. It’s online shopping made safe, it’s online shopping made easy, and more importantly, it’s made especially for you, the frugal-minded person. Special thanks to Ashley French, Sydney Smith, and H. Borkowski. I’m Jim Markus. Thanks for listening.

More about Frugal Living with Jim Markus

This episode was sponsored by Charlotte’s Web, and we scored a discount for our listeners. Use our code FRUGALPODCAST at Charlotte’s Web for 15% off sitewide. Some exclusions apply.

To hear more from Ashley French, check out the latest episode of Frugal Living. Frugal Living is a podcast for smart consumers. How do you spend less and get more? The show, sponsored by Brad’s Deals, features interviews, stories, tips, and tricks. Jim Markus hosts season three, out now.

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