How to Set Realistic Expectations as a Beginner DIYer

Paint brush and bucket on floor

Entering the do-it-yourself world is one of those things that might sound better in your head than in reality. After all, if household repairs were easy, more people would tackle them. Each task has its own challenges and while we encourage you to take them on, it’s important to first acknowledge that projects may not go exactly as planned. We want you to be successful, so here are some things to consider for setting realistic expectations when you’re starting out as a DIYer.

Home Improvement Skills and Knowledge

Your ability to tackle the task is probably the first thing you think of when you decide to take on a DIY project. That’s good because it is important to properly evaluate your skills and knowledge. Ask yourself if you have experience with the tools needed for the job or at least have used similar ones. Make sure that you have a plan for the project. That means investing time in researching techniques and supplies. If you need to get on the roof, are you comfortable on a ladder? For jobs that require power tools, are you familiar with safety procedures?

Woman on a ladder painting garage door

Not everything works exactly like it does on a YouTube video so make sure that you research using a variety of resources, such as books, talking with someone in the field, and online research. Be realistic about whether your skills are in alignment with the task at hand. For example, if you are confident about your ability to frame a shed, consider if you have the skills to pour a concrete foundation, install a roof, or run electrical wiring. This is a good time to visit your local building permit office to ensure your project will pass inspection and you have all required permits. It’s also a good source of information during the planning stages.


If you’re confident you have, or can acquire, the necessary skills, the next step is to make sure you have the right tools for the project. Using your research, think about whether you will need to buy, borrow, or rent tools for the job. Maybe you have tools that you can substitute for the one that is recommended. Just make sure that you keep safety in mind anytime you’re working with tools on a project and be sure to include costs into your budget.


As the saying goes, a project will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you plan for. It’s an inevitable product of the DIY beast, so accept it up front. Be very realistic about how long you expect a project to takeand then double it. This part of the planning stage is a huge part of your success. For example, planning to prep and paint your entire house by hand in a weekend is probably unrealistic.

Be flexible with your plan. If you expect a project to last a weekend, leave the next weekend open as a precaution. If you’re replacing a car part that should only take an hour, don’t plan to complete it three hours before work; instead, pick a day you don’t have someplace to be.


Hammer on top of broken piggy bank

Going back to the mantra mentioned before, the cost of a project often easily reaches double than you originally anticipated. This happens for several reasons including taking extra time off work, the need to purchase additional supplies, miscalculating material costs, replacing parts, materials, or systems that you didn’t originally plan for, and extra expenses like eating out during a kitchen remodel or stove replacement. One of the main reasons people choose to DIY over hiring a professional is to save money, but if you don’t already have the tools and never plan to use them again, it might be more budget friendly to hire out.

Expected Results

When you feel like you’ve set realistic skill, time, budget, and supply goals, make sure you also evaluate what you expect from the final project. Every task requires a learning curve and you will need to give yourself a break for not knowing everything up front. After all, watching a video online is not the same as doing it yourself. You will need to figure things out, make adjustments, go back to the books mid-project, and maybe even throw in the towel when your efforts don’t work.

Get into the right mindset by accepting these realities rather than expecting professional results out of the gate. You may hit a home run on your first project or it may be a complete failure, but either way you will learn more than you knew before so try to have fun with the experience rather than beating yourself up for any setbacks.