The Real Cost of DIY Advice



I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

It’s exterior season, and ever since I launched my Exterior Colour Solutions this year, my consulting looks a little different than it used to.

Clients who wanted to fix their exterior trim used to book a live consultation with me over the phone. These days, you can buy an easy email solution to your exact problem — whether it’s your exterior trim or something else. This route is less expensive, it takes less of your time, and it gets you exactly what you need. Sometimes the trim is just in need of an update; more often, it’s being changed to save the day.

For example, a few of my lovely readers are in the middle of renovating their exteriors. Something new gets installed, like windows, and suddenly they are dismayed by the colour they chose.

This also happens when you’re decorating the house. You buy a sofa, thinking it couldn’t be more neutral in the showroom, but then it arrives and looks completely different (and wrong) in your living room.

The nature of the colour industry is that you can, technically, do it yourself. It’s not like dentistry (you can’t DIY your own cavities), or like medicine (you can’t DIY your own tonsil removal).

But the advice business is different. Many of us don’t pay for advice until we decide it’s an emergency. Then and only then will we seek out a professional and pay for it. If you get into trouble, you hire a lawyer to help you. . . usually AFTER you get into trouble.

You should pay for colour advice when you start making interior and exterior colour decisions, but too many people don’t pay for it until AFTER a few very important colour choices have been made. At that point, we’ll be mostly, if not entirely, bossed around by those early choices.

As some of you know, I never made any real money until I started writing this blog. Therefore, I did most things myself. I rented so that I didn’t need to hire a repairman when my dishwasher broke down. My landlord fixed it instead.

Now we’re homeowners, and three years ago, when we renovated our kitchen, we installed a Bosch dishwasher. It was great at first, but for the last 6-8 months, our glassware has not been clean. We thought it was the brand, and I was cranky thinking we needed to replace our dishwasher. I fantasized about writing a post telling y’all not to buy anything Bosch.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was having lunch with my good friend Jan Romanuk, a kitchen designer. I was asking her which dishwasher she thought was best as I relayed the story about our ongoing problem with dirty glassware.

She said, “Why don’t you hire your local appliance repairman to come out and look at it?”

“Oh, what a revolutionary concept. Okay ; ) ; ).”

Guess what? Some lemon seeds were stuck somewhere in the dishwasher, and they were inhibiting the spraying of the water.

And now our dishwasher works like new!

Now that I can afford to hire a professional to do something that I know I can’t do myself, I realize what a money saver a professional can be. I usually don’t have to be told when to hire one, but I have another example of when it didn’t occur to me to pay for advice…

We bought a new video camera for $2500 last year because we were going to shoot video. When I hired my friend Ted to help me set up my studio with the lighting, he said, “By the way, your $350 DSLR camera is all you need to shoot the video you are talking about.”

Had I hired him BEFORE we bought the video camera, we would have saved $2500 minus his fee. Kind of a bargain, really.

Basically, if you are about to make a very expensive purchase, you should hire a professional to make sure you are making the correct decision.

Sometimes we don’t know that we need help until after the decision has been made (just like in this situation). That’s just called life lessons.

A friend of my mother’s built a sauna. He hired someone who didn’t know anything about building a sauna. The carpenters rate was half the price of someone more experienced. It took him more than twice as long, and now there are fundamental problems like drainage that need to be addressed.

“If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Here’s the point of this post, and it’s not to sell my services:

If you are on a really tight budget and you’re reading this right now, I want you to be educated.

What does that look like? Educated looks like choosing to hire a decorator or colour consultant to help you pull the room (or exterior) together BEFORE you make a bunch of expensive decisions that will force you to call the professional in hopes that a paint can will magically save the day.

Sometimes paint can save the day. . . but sometimes, you’ll just be held hostage by your mistake.

And I’d just like to save you from that sinking feeling in advance, I live for that actually.

Don’t DIY advice when it’s not your area of expertise. DIY the project AFTER you get the right advice, and just do it all right the first time.

What advice did you knew you needed only after you’d done it wrong?

Don’t make these mistakes again! We would love to help you choose colours, select the right combination of hard finishes or create a plan to pull your room together. You can find our fabulous e-design consultation packages here.

Related posts:

The Three Most Important Words in a Consultation

Professionals Know When to Avoid the Obvious

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or a Necessity?



leave aREPLY

  1. You are so right! There is nothing like a professional, often hiring a designer, or other trade professional actually SAVES you money. 🙂 to Susan, a few comments above…good luck with your Mr.!

  2. Maria, As said before, this is a great post for everyone to read i.e. designers, homeowners & DIYers. You are always so succinct. Post it on Linkedin! Wish we could get everyone to realize that we are professionals and deserve to be paid accordingly.


    Did you ever hit the proverbial nail on the head!! What a great post. Not only did you alert people to the reasons why they should call in professionals before they make costly decisions…but you call into play your own and many others’ failures to follow their own rules. Bravo Maria!

    I can count on two hands (and more) the times I wish investors, homeowners and realtors had called me in first to help them with their homes. They made flooring, cabinetry, appliance, wall color, furniture arrangement, siding…and many other mistakes that could have been avoided. They relied on other people for advice – instead of coming to a professional – and now they are asking me to rectify it…make it like it was never a mistake!

    I can do this – but at a cost (which they always complain about!) When will people realize that time and money could have been better spent by doing the right thing in the first place??

    Love your blog and all you do for the industry…

    Linda Leyble

  4. Maria makes an excellent point. However, DIY is not always a bad thing. And hiring a professional does not automatically ensure a good outcome.

    Successful DIY requires one to HONESTLY and REALISTICALLY understand their competencies and skills and know when to call in a professional. But, as others have pointed out, make sure it’s a competent professional.

    There are lots of mediocre to bad professionals in any field. As the old joke goes: What do you call a medical student who graduates last in his class? Answer: Doctor.

    In addition, you need to be willing to take the time to research, study, practice and acquire the skills (and appropriate tools) necessary to do the job right. For the things I choose to DIY, my outcomes always meet and generally exceed what a professional is willing or able to achieve.

    In my opinion, HGTV shows and the proliferation of DIY “young married couple flip houses” blogs often give very bad advice and information. Viewers and readers think, oh, that looks so easy. Trouble and bad results ensue.

    • There is so much truth in what you say, SDC. I haven’t watched HGTV in years because I couldn’t take anymore miraculous one-day “anyone can do it” tile jobs or landscapes with plants installed twice as close together as would be healthy just so the end result looks “filled in”.

      DIY is mine and my husband’s hobby and passion. It’s where most of our discretionary income goes. As you aptly note, we do know our limitations and accept that we don’t have the time, tools or ability to master certain skills and trades and therefore need to turn to the experts. A few things we hire others to do include foundation masonry, wallpapering, roofing and wood floor refinishing (we can do new wood floors).

      Not to say we wouldn’t benefit from Maria’s advice and guidance on color but we’ve hit the mark at least 95% of the time, with the few re-dos thankfully on very small painting projects (bathrooms for example). I have learned a lot from reading this blog and it’s encouraged me to really think about certain design decisions that I would have previously done pretty well with instinctively but very possibly not considered every potential pitfall.

      Our shared interest is a curse but also a blessing. We argue and bicker more about home improvements than anything else. OTOH we inevitably reach a resolution that proves “two heads are better than one”.

    • Funny, I was referred by a general contractor to a couple of medical professionals who had used him to do an addition to their house a few years back. Now they are planning to do their kitchen and he’s brought me in after doing 2 others for him. She said when they did the addition, they couldn’t afford to pay a tile installer so she did the tile HERSELF. On 3 or 4 baths, I can’t remember. She did a fantastic job. She spent 12 hours on the design at the tile store in Santa Barbara, working with them on the design and layout, and who knows how long actually installing the tile, but I would have hired her! She was meticulous.

      I’ve had a professional flooring company we used to do my tile installations at the beginning of my career here, but after 1 of his installers was working in an empty home at 4 o’clock in the morning with the radio blaring, disturbing neighbors, I fired that company. I probably had referred over 100 jobs to them, talked more with the owner that company more than my own mother, but that was the end that. No excuse for that–he and that tile guy were going bass fishing was the “rationale.” Ummm, nope.

  5. For all of you with hard water and your dishwasher is leaving spots on your glasses and plates, those Cascade packets that include detergent and rinse aid are so amazing, you won’t believe it. My glasses are perfectly clear and my plates feel like silk. My old Revereware copper pans look better than new.
    A bit off topic, but Maria’s comment about her dishwasher made me think about my experience and I think the product is great and wanted to share.

    • Yes, I’ve found that out, too. A kitchen design and build client told me about lemi-shine, which gets the hard water off glasses after the build up of cheap dishwasher detergent. It’s a citric acid miracle worker.

  6. I highly agree with your advice. However, just recently I came across an incident where hiring a professional wasn’t what it was all cracked up to be….but in this case it was that hired the WRONG professional. We are repainting our whole house, and I hired a color consultant. After a $475 fee for 2 hours (despite the promise that it would easily be done in 1.5 hours), I wasn’t sold on all the colors that were chosen. I googled color consultant online, came across your blog, got very interested, bought your books, read your books, tested the colors on large boards against a white background, tested the colors on all the walls in the room, watched the colors changed throughout the day, and decided that out of the 6 colors she chose, I only really liked 2 of them. And I also found that the undertones for all the paint colors that she picked didn’t even flow together. So I changed everything after reading all your advice. So another layer to this is make sure you hire the RIGHT professional, and vet them thoroughly. I wish I had hired you instead. Now I’m kind of bitter about the fee, and not sure if I should do something about the fact that I’m not happy about the results of the consultation, but I did learn my lesson. The only question I have is that how could I have known if this color consultant knows what she’s doing? She had all five star reviews on, everything looks right. But how can you tell the difference between one color consultant who knows what she’s doing vs another?

  7. Maria; as usual excellent advice! Speaking namely for myself I feel one also has to realize their limitations when they tackle a DIY project regardless they have got advice and/or done research on the subject; not to mention it also prevents your head from exploding if the project is really beyond your capability … ☺. -Brenda-

  8. Well said and thanks for the post! My husband and I are long time DIY’ers as we purchased an old farm 25 years ago and have been fixing it up ever since. So, I’ve made and learned from every mistake in the book (Maybe that’s why my client’s love me-LOL). But trying to save money is addictive and we thought we were so smart buying the lowest fairs online recently for our son’s over seas study abroad program this summer….until he had a seven hour delay and missed his remaining flights! All of which cost us even more green $! Ouch! If only we would have used a travel agent! I’m still living and learning!

  9. Biggest Mistake: thinking I could get fit & trim on my own. Only thing is/was . . . I always found an excuse. This/that needs to get done and not setting the time aside to exercise consistently with results. It only happens for me when I hire a personal trainer, pay in advance, don’t let the prepaid money run out and book my appointments in advance. He holds me accountable. Sounds so simple to exercise/ workout on my own yet after 50 years, I realized there were no positive results to show for it. Hire a professional if you wish to see positive results & save money (I don’t need 4 different sizes of clothing for every season). Thanks, this post is so very necessary. I hope people heed the advice!

  10. Thanks Maria, as we discussed Yesterday if only we had known yesterday what we know today. Loved our time together as usual but the conversation regarding. “Mistakes” was a good one, had a gorgeous dining room table and velvet sectionals delivered to a clients home today and she said, I come to you so I can be 100% confident that I have made the right decisions, today I am 200% sure. This client asked me to select a colour to paint her 7000 sq ft home a few weeks ago, she decided not to go with my choice, paid $10,000 and last week had it all repainted the colour I recommended. Some mistakes cost more than others. Paying for a professional should save our client money, the bigger the price tag the bigger the saving. Look forward to many more great blogs.

  11. Great post Maria! I think the key is educating people more on the benefits and cost savings of hiring design professionals just as you have done here. Many clients hire me after mistakes have been made or after they get stuck on making certain choices which, as you mentioned, their previous decisions on fixed elements then dictate/limit future decisions for colour etc. Planning early on is essential to get the look the clients are after and to pull it together as only a professional can! Thanks for writing this post.

  12. I hired Maria to help with interior colour of our farmhouse renovation. Her paint recommendation surprised me, and was quite opposite to what I would have gone with! Thank god for the consult, I took a leap of faith and did exactly what she told me and now I love it. …….now only if I had asked her about the exterior siding colour as well……I don’t exactly love it, and will now have to live with it for the next 20ish years

  13. I am so glad I came across your wonderful blog. It amazes me how many people do it all backwards and wait until they are desperate and have wasted money trying to do things on their own. As an artist and owner of a decorative painting business, I am in a lot of homes and can instantly tell when the client decorated themselves. Nine times out of ten, it is clear, and they even admit, that they should’ve hired an interior designer.

    Debbie Viola

  14. My sister in law wanted to install closets like the ones we have (white wood panel doors) but instead of hiring the arquitect that built her het shutters, she hired someone cheaper, who spent a lot of time and instead of actually building her the closer doors I think he bought premade doors at home depot and cut them to fit. He literally cut the top doors in half through the middle of the panels and everything. I’m visiting them soon, I’ll take a pic and share it here

  15. Boy is this true. Two other points, someone mentioned the first. Make sure to vet the person you choose. We had someone repair our rotting wood porch, looked great when finished but then started rotting again. We ended up finding an excellent carpenter who told us the repair was actually causing the problem. If we had found this second person first, we would have saved thousands of dollars in all the repairs he had to do cause the first contractor didn’t do the job right.

    The other point is…….lol……try following the advice a reputable professional gives you. Our home inspector told us to make sure the gutters were cleaned out……..UGH……..LIfe took over, we ignored the gutters….and the rest was literally thousands of dollars in wood repair….and yes it was the wood on our porch I just wrote about above.!!!!!