Can I do the work myself?

10 Replies


I am getting ready to head home from deployment and I am going to move into my house that I bought while I was gone. The plan is to live in it, flip it, try to house hack it with Air BnB then sell it with a hopeful profit months to a couple years down the road. 

I would like to do most/all of the work on the house myself to cut down on costs as well as use it as a huge learning experience for my way forward towards managing contractors in my future flipping business. 

The question I have is: Does the work I do need to be certified in any way? Can I do it myself without having a contractors license? Do I simply need an inspector to come out and verify the work was done to code?My biggest concern is that I would go in, do a bunch of the work and have to rip it out or have it re-done because I didn't cross all my "T"s and dot all my "I"s for the legal part of the renovation.

Thanks for the help!


@Greg Rollins  thank you for your service. Congrats on the house.

In many areas, you can pull permits as the home owner. I doubt it in CA but check with the city. Even if you can pull the permit they will need to inspect. How will you know what code is?

I like and have used being in the trenches. You learn what is going on but need good experience for each sub and general work.

Google permits <your city> and to find a general information page/permit center.  The usual things that require a permit that would require a licensed professional are electrical and plumbing.  Lots of other places require a permit for things like foundation, fences,  and irrigation but don't necessarily require a license.  I have also seen some City's allow the homeowner to pull an their own electrical permit if they are doing work on their homestead (they wont allow you to do that on an investment property) and even some that require the homeowner to take and pass a test to ensure they have the requisite knowledge to do the work.  

The only way to know for sure is to take a look at your City's permit webpage and even go down to the permit application office(s) and ask.  

Obviously there are also items that don't require a permit like flooring, paint, and general repair work (i.e. you can repair a water leak in a pipe without a permit).  But again, it's pretty location specific.

This depends on the level of work you expect to do. If it is just paint, flooring light rehab stuff then no permits are required and it is a good way to learn. If you are gutting this house, moving walls, redoing plumbing etc. then you will need permits. You as the homeowner can pull permits but the inspector will expect all the same work from you as a licensed professional.  If you feel you know the codes and can do this then feel free to give it a shot. Word of advice if you ever feel it is over your head hire someone to do it. I do a lot of my own work to save on reno costs but with certain things like plumbing and HVAC I will hire that out as it's not worth my time to try and figure it out.  

If you are doing electrical or plumbing, work that would require permits, towns typically will let you pull permits as a homeowner, but the work is not held to a lower standard. if you do not know "code" you could end up doing work that then has to be removed. this is why most people will subcontract those issues and then focus on things that do not require permits like painting flooring, maybe installing cabinets or tiles. these things do not cause fires or floods if you mess it up a little. that being said, if you are an experienced plumber or electrician you may be able to do the work. this will all come down to your comfort level and ability

Hi Greg, If your expertise is limited, you may want to consider using services TAKL or Angie's List to bid the job out. Ask the contractors if they would allow you to assist them. Some contractors are anxious to have an extra hand. If they are uncomfortable with you helping, observing their work can also be benefical in developing your knowledge base for furture projects. Inam always there to pass a hammer, caulk, manage the generator, etc. It may cost me up front, but I know the job has been completed a qualified professional and I am building my skills. I can't wait to hear of your progress : )

Holy hell, what are these advices gone from a simple question.
@Greg Rollins Under CA law, you can pull permit, not a homeowner but an owner-builder, do not mistake a homeowner from a rented house to pull an owner-builder and fly with the city. The owner-builder specifically lets you certify that you own and LIVE IN or intend TO LIVE IN the building for at least a period (i think 1 year in most cities) of time. To your question, yes, you can pull all necessary permits, including what others said not i.e. plumbing and electrical, whatever. You can pull them all. You are, however not exempt from any tests and inspections, the best way to do it and learn is from the inspector, some are dumb, some are stupid, some have the patience to teach you, some just dont care and sign you off; they are just people, and they know their code back to back, so if in doubt, ask them what kind of test they want before you start working on something i.e. rough plumbing with an air test. Invest in a book by Craftsman called Construction Installation Encyclopedia ( Read, absorb, re-read, absorb, implement, inspect, pass, next. Good luck!

I agree with what Manolo said, and would add that you should strategically sub out some jobs while doing most others yourself. Paint, floors, finish plumbing & finish electric, trim, etc ... cosmetic stuff you can do yourself, since the consequence of doing it wrong is not as great ... worse case is you redo or touch it up. The exception would be refinishing hardwood floors ... tried that DIY once and wow did that NOT work out. All of the other stuff like structure, HVAC, rough-in plumbing & rough-in electric, electric panels, roof, etc. ... the major systems that tend to be behind the walls you should sub out as the consequences for doing those wrong can be much more dramatic. When you do sub those out, though, be your own GC ... watch the trades do their work, ask lots of questions, and learn from them.

Agree with the others- unless you have experience I would sub out the structural and mechanical work.  Demo, finish work, etc can easily be done by you.  We've hired out electrical panel upgrades, new plumbing install (for a new laundry room, so all new including drain lines), and countertop install.  Everything else is pretty easy if you have a google machine (kitchen install, basic plumbing, basic electrical, paint, floors, etc)

Can you tell us more about the scope of work?

Hi Greg

If you don't have them already, I'd recommend getting J. Scott's books from this website 'The book on flipping.....' and 'The book on estimating costs'. If the house you purchased requires anything other than a lipstick makeover, you'd do well to have a really good overview.  You can hire people to do everything from plumbing to paint but you can not hire someone to decide on your scope of work, your budget,  your time frame, who you hire, or how you contract it out.  Not to mention all the decisions you'll need to make along the way because stuff WILL go wrong and WILL end up being more complicated than planned AND will have that domino effect on everything else.  In my experience (although it's still limited) the physical labour is the least of the challenges looming - I'd focus most of your energy right now on the planning and management of your project.  The books above will be a good start. Finding quality, dependable workers has always been my most difficult task.

If it were just about the work, every contractor and handyman would be doing it.

@Manolo D. I'm doing this from my phone so I don't think it will message you but thanks for the book advice above.