You’re inspired. That home design show made it look so easy and even explained how to re-tile your bathroom in a few simple steps. Equipped with a YouTube video and some new, funky tiles, you set to work. Your bathroom is going to be a Moroccan oasis in no time.

All too quickly, that do-it-yourself afternoon project rapidly deteriorates into a ruin-it-yourself project. You’re filled with regret, and your bathroom is filled with uneven tiles.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Nearly 40 percent of homeowners who completed a DIY home improvement project in the last three years ended up regretting it, according to a 2015 survey of 2,016 adults by Zillow Digs, Zillow’s home design site.

The most regretted improvement projects in the survey was adding or expanding a room, followed by refacing cabinetry, finishing a basement or attic, replacing carpeting and installing new hardwood floors and cabinets. Kerrie Kelly, Zillow Digs home design expert, says many people underestimate the process behind projects that appear simple.

“With all the information that’s available today, whether that’s through a blog or television, it seems like DIY is something that’s easy to tackle,” Kelly says. "It gives people initial confidence, until they get into it, and then they understand that maybe they should have hired a professional.”

So you've re-tiled your floor, and realize it was a mistake. How do you fix it? Here are a few options to repair DIY projects.

First and foremost, make it safe. This is the No. 1 rule for any home improvement or renovation, and should have been something you paid close attention to before and during your DIY project.

A good idea is to hire an inspector to check the safety of the space – oftentimes there are hidden dangers or issues with work that aren’t apparent until years down the line.

Gary Clark, president of Clark Construction, a design-and-build remodeling company in Ridgefield, Connecticut, says an inspection may reveal design flaws that can create small problems you didn’t anticipate – and need to correct.  An improper plumbing setup, for example, can cause a backup or even let sewer gas into your home, which can be a health hazard.

Try, try again. This option isn’t for the faint of heart. If you did it poorly once, there isn’t a guarantee you’ll be a pro the next time. You could just as easily find yourself spending twice the money on the project to have it turn out ugly both times.

If it’s the kitchen or bathroom cabinets you’ve struggled with, Ross Clark, general manager at Clark Construction, recommends factoring in some room for the house to wiggle.

“Houses are not square – the walls aren’t perfectly square, the measurements aren’t perfect, everything’s not perfectly level or perfectly plum because things expand and contract over time,” Ross Clark says. When measuring and ordering new cabinets, it’s best to incorporate small fillers that can be sized as needed and fit between cabinets, which make up for the physical changes the home may have undergone.

If you want to repair your botched project, Kelly suggests starting smaller like replacing a lighting fixture or updating cabinetry with hardware, instead of refinishing the cabinetry. "Those are things that are easier to tackle, and once you begin to get that confidence, then you can move on to the larger projects,” she says.

Make it prettier. You’ve done the damage already, and it might not be the most beautiful renovation HGTV’s ever seen. It might look downright awful. But if it’s just a cosmetic flaw, there are ways to furnish or decorate the space to draw the eye away from your unsightly wall patch or sloppy grout work.

Now more than ever might be a good time to embrace the “shabby chic” look – pretending the “shabby” part is on purpose could easily fool house guests, or at least draw their eyes away from some of the worst work.

If your renovation is for the purposes of putting the property on the market to sell, there are ways to stage a home to conceal flaws in craftsmanship. 

“You don’t want to hide anything, but there’s nothing wrong with distracting from problem areas,” says Michelle Minch, owner of Moving Mountains Design, an interior design and home staging firm in Pasadena, California. “We always err on the side of being too honest rather than being deceptive, because it will get you in trouble.”

Minch recommends hiring a stager or designer for a consultation, which gives you a professional opinion and some tips on how to minimize the worst of the work before house hunters tour your home. The price for the advice could be worth it. “In a smaller market or more rural areas, it might cost $100 or $150. In a more urban area or a bigger city, it could be somewhere between $350 and $500,” Minch says.

Hire a professional. Maybe it’s time to put the hammer down and admit you could use some help. Even though you started the project yourself to save money, it’s often more cost-effective to bring in professionals.

According to the Zillow Digs survey, homeowners on average were more likely to go over budget doing a major project, like a room addition or expansion, themselves than when they hired a professional. As much as 42 percent of homeowners who added a room themselves went over budget, 10 percent more than those who hired a contractor.

Gary Clark notes a home addition project his company worked on, next to a homeowner working on a similar DIY project. The area had a high water table, which means the ground is saturated with water closer to the surface than usual.

Having dealt with high water tables before, the Clark Construction team had the right tools and took the right measures to correctly and safely work on the foundation and complete the addition with no delay.

But Gary Clark says the neighbors, being unfamiliar with what needs to be done in the event of a high water table, were delayed for about eight weeks as they contacted the city, hired an engineer to provide proper instruction and then began work again with the needed adjustments to their original plan.

“Any money that the customer may have saved by doing the project themselves was completely consumed on that single item [the water table], not to mention the time that it took,” Gary Clark says. “I believe they [spent] somewhere around $15,000 or $20,000 before they even got the correction started, whereas we did it and we were getting the roof shingles on when they were still working on the foundation.”

DIY Attempts (and Failures) Will Continue

Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell estimates more renovations will take place in 2016, following the increase of home equity loans taken out specifically for that purpose in the past year.

“Mortgage rates are rising and homes are getting more expensive along the way. … Instead of making [a] move and incurring those costs, people are going to say, ‘I’m going to try and make my house work and just renovate it to my tastes,’” Gudell says.

What do more renovations down the line mean for DIY attempts? As Gudell notes, “We’re going to have a lot more regrets.”

Tags: real estate, home improvements, existing home sales, personal budgets, savings


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.