A Brilliant Idea From Special Guest Poster, Eric Nuzum?

Eric’s latest brilliant idea for someone else to do

You can read Eric’s near-daily musings on his Web site. His latest book about vampires, chickens, germs, and death–entitled The Dead Travel Fast–is coming out in paperback at the end of this month from St. Martin’s Press. You can get more info on picking it up here.

The concept is simple: home remodeling consultant.

Let’s face it–times are tough. Many people have an inherent inclination to do their own home remodeling projects. Lately though, the slow, stinky death of home values and the suck-ass economy in general (sorry to be so technical) have forced more people to start economizing on how they fix and improve their homes. That need to “economize” becomes a painful euphemism to our friends in the construction and home improvement business for “the phone not ringing.”

As in other tough times, some people find a way to profit from the situation. Some become foreclosure specialists or repo agents, but I suggest a higher calling: the home improvement consultant. Post continues after the jump.

The idea is that the home improvement consultant would charge you a set fee to come over to your house once a week and give you advice on the project you’re doing on your own. Kinda like an expert coach or teacher or trainer or guru or something.

I am the perfect client for this kind of service. I have what could easily be deemed a highly dangerous amount of home improvement skill. Note, I didn’t say I have a large amount of skill–I said I have a highly dangerous amount of skill. That’s highly dangerous as in potentially and significantly dangerous.

When I was just out of college, I spent a few years working as a bartender in a town that was full of tourists in summer and dead quiet the rest of the time. That “dead quiet” becomes a painful euphemism to our friends in the beverage service business for “the tip jar not clinking.”


To subsidize my meager existence, I did pick-up work on construction projects, mostly home building and remodeling. I was basically relegated to carrying heavy materials and demolition. But I watched everything that was going on around me and asked an annoying number of questions. A few times they actually let me help build something. It was great work, but that was also awhile ago.

Now I am a homeowner in Petworth and my row house is filled with potential projects for my mixed bag of half-remembered skill. The only thing saving me from destroying the place (and from being sent to sleep on the porch by my wife) is that I’m usually pretty conservative with what I’ll take on. If I’m not quite sure what to do, I ask around or read up, and then take things slowly. I always feel that I could make that drywall seam a little smoother or paint that edge just a little sharper. So I start over again. And again. To my wife, “taking things slowly” becomes a painful euphemism for “projects never getting done.”

I first got this brilliant idea while looking at the photos submitted by fellow PoP readers of their “before and after” bathrooms. “I could do that,” I thought, dreamily. Then I looked at the bathroom we’d want to update–an in-suite full bath almost completely covered in tile. In fact, there may be more tile than we think, as we believe that at some point someone re-tiled the shower by putting new tile on top of old tile. The floor is a little wonky and the fixtures and plumbing are a mixture of old and new materials. Some stuff we’d like to keep, others we want to replace.

I could do the project, but it would be great if I could have a home improvement consultant to come in, review the work I’d done, and give me some tips and pointers for my next few phases. It’s kinda like the role of the beautiful people on the DIY Network. They swoop in and teach a pasty homeowner how to caulk a tub or something, then skip off to be fabulous while the homeowner does all the work.

Like most of my brilliant ideas–I immediately dismissed it. Sadly, most of my brilliant ideas aren’t nearly as brilliant as I initially think they are, like ice cream in a tube or self-rolling socks.

But this one has true potential! (For someone else, that is.) I’m sure a lot of people would use something like this. And yeah, if the phone isn’t going to ring with condo refits in Columbia Heights–why not pick up a few bones?!

So what do you think? Would you use a service like this? What projects would you want some help with? For all I know, hundreds of people already do this work and I am just clueless. If so, who have you used? Please tell me this is a good idea and I am not embarrassing myself publicly (again).

8 Comment

  • I’ve thought the same thing. There are a variety of trends at work pointing to the need for this service. It’d be something like 50/50 contracting. You do half the work or more. I’ve talked to several contractors about working with me on this basis and they say it’s not worth the hassle and it also eats into their margins. I mean they charge and arm and a leg for some of the work that they pay their own workers pennies to do. The trick would be to find a couple of really smart ex-contractors. Folks that did all the work and know everything, but no longer want to do all the physical labor. Give them a nice marketing program and then let them be like fitness consultants. That’s the closest model I can think of. It’s a home remodeling coach, in that they show you how to do the sit-up, the good ones even get you to do more sit-ups than you thought you could do. In the end though, you’re doing the sit-up.

  • There is a company called UBuildIt that, from what I can tell, does some of what Eric describes. I honestly can’t say though. I’ve only gone so far as looking at their Web site a few times and trading emails with Chad Hackmann, the owner/operator of theBethesda office. I’ve never even spoken with Chad or gone to one of their informational sessions, so I’m quite thin on the details, but maybe someone else who procrastinates less than I knows something and can report.

  • Also, liability becomes a huge issue there. If you screw something up, who gets blamed? Most contractors either want the whole project or none, to protect themselves in case something goes wrong.

  • I would absolutely pay for someone to come in with a home inspector and tell me everything that needs to be done on my house, organize it by importance and also by sellability. In other words, “don’t spend your money on the basement, spend it in the kitchen.

    Another really critical need I have is for some place to give me rough estimates for work. I want to get my front steps redone and would pay, I think about $400 per step to get them fixed or roughly $4000. I spoke to a contractor who gave me a ballpark figure of $1000 per step!!! Or brick repointing, I have a price quote for $7000 for brick repointing.

    I spend too much time surfing the web for ideas, I want someone to organize my house and tell me what’s in bad shape because I can’t find out where the leak in the basement wall is when it rains.

  • Neener, on the “sellability” or return on investment, I am fairly sure you can find that somewhere on the web but that might of course be too generic for your needs.



  • Exactly. I’ve read these kinds of articles and watched some home improvement shows, but I find the information usually too vague and… I’ve had people to tell me to ignore one issue only to have it be an emergency later on.

    I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but a friend of mine bought “the most expensive house on the block” in Charles County for literally a steal because there was no ROI on the work the owners did.

  • In case of home equity loans, you are borrowing money against the value of your home. It is a prudent choice if the home improvement project that you are undertaking increases the value of your home.

  • Sounds like a good service to me, but I am reminded of some of the history in the careers of the Car Talk guys. They once though it would be a good idea to run an outfitted garage where interested amateurs could bring their cars and work on them and consult with experienced mechanics.

    What they discovered is that they ended up doing most of the work, and the shop lost money till it evolved into a traditional car repair where they simply charged for doing the work… which they were anyway. They seem to imply it had to do with the people who utilized the business, and I wonder if a DIY home improvement consultant would have the same problem – the people who actually use it are the people who need the most help and time, where the people who would be ‘easier’ to assist aren’t the folks who would hire such a service.

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