Whatever happened to New Zealanders' No8 wire mentality?
Kiwis are paying through the nose for jobs that they could do themselves.
Whether or not DIY is in your DNA, it's certainly on YouTube. And every dollar saved on a DIY job will grow to several dollars you can spend on an overseas trip in retirement.
The list of what you can repair or build yourself ranges from musical instruments to retaining walls.
Mitre 10's Easy As guy on its adverts turns out to be a real person playing himself, not an actor. The DIY ace from the adverts, Stan Scott, is a qualified builder. He reckons there are plenty of jobs we should be attempting to do ourselves.
"I have been building for 30 years and I am a big believer in DIY -- having a crack yourself," Scott says. He is confident that the average person can build a fence or create a retaining wall as well as do hundreds of other simple tasks around home, just as he's learning from YouTube to fix his 1940s Matchless motorcycle.
Scott talks proudly of the nerdy computer programmer who came into Mitre 10 Whangarei for some advice on how to build a retaining wall. The programmer went away equipped with a bit of confidence, set up his laptop outside and followed YouTube videos step by step until the job was finished.
"It's a matter of breaking a job down into bite-sized chunks and giving yourself a realistic time frame," Scott says.
He also cites a young guy who sidled up to him for advice at a DIY night. "He was a pretty good-looking rooster who looked like he could rip my arm off in an arm wrestle," Scott says. The young man's in-laws were builders and he wanted to build a deck. "I said to him, 'Bloody oath you can, mate' and took him through the job step by step. I told him that you have to have belief in yourself that you can do it."
As a self-employed person, I have to calculate how much I can earn with my time versus the cost of paying a tradesman to carry out a job for me. There's something else to factor in, though -- the feeling of accomplishment at completing a job you thought would be impossible. The $50 or $100 saved isn't unwelcome either.
If you're working 9 to 5 or even longer five days a week, there's a different set of financial sums, but the same psychological outcome.
It's a matter of breaking a job down into bite-sized chunks and giving yourself a realistic time frame.
There is an astounding number of jobs you can do yourself. I joked with an interviewee for this column that people can pull their own teeth. Why pay $280 to Lumino the Dentist to get your molar removed when there are numerous videos on YouTube showing how to do it at home? Not that I'm recommending it -- I shudder at the thought.
One of Scott's favourites is lock barrels. "Anyone can replace one," he says. "You undo a couple of screws and put in a brand new barrel without doing any drilling or chiselling. That is a really simple job you can realistically do yourself with next to zero tools and very limited knowledge."
Another job Kiwis would be crazy to pay for is wallpaper removal, says Scott. "All you need is a weed sprayer full of hot water and a blunt spatula to remove the wallpaper. You can save a stack of money doing that," he says.
Suggesting I would write about things you should really do yourself brings out the doom and gloom merchants, who say "use a tradesman or you're going to kill yourself/get sued/waste expensive materials" and so on.
There are some jobs you should never attempt, either for safety reasons or by law. Electricity is invisible, Scott points out, and you don't want to be fiddling around with it. Likewise, gas and plumbing jobs can be a risk, as can removing internal walls in your house -- they could be holding the roof up.
Any job that requires planning consent needs to be done by a registered builder. And don't touch concealed pipes. If they leak out of sight, you could end up with damage that isn't covered by insurance.
I contacted both BuildersCrack.co.nz and Nocowboys.co.nz in the hope that they had an expert on their books who would point out some simple jobs Kiwis can do to save money. But they both reckon you should get a qualified tradesman for just about anything beyond basic maintenance and cleaning.
Breaking up the jobs
Keith Roberts of BuildersCrack.co.nz sent a series of links to DIY jobs that had gone wrong where the home owners were now seeking tradesmen to fix up the mess. It happens. "My personal experience aligns with this," Roberts says.
Bruce Lindsay, general manager of Nocowboys.co.nz, says people tend to overestimate their abilities when it comes to DIY.
Yet there are hundreds of simple repairs for everything from dead pixels on a computer or TV screen, which drive some people to buy a replacement, to clothing repairs that are hardly likely to turn you into an ACC statistic if you give them a go. I know a parent who sheepishly admits sending his son's Scout shirts to the dry cleaners to have the badges sewn on at $10 a pop.
On the subject of computers, it's not always necessary to call out geeks-on-wheels. Computer repairers will tell you you're just as likely to muck up your machine as fix it. Upgrading the operating system, for instance, which you might be tempted to do yourself, was likened to a car-engine upgrade by my local computer shop, not a mere oil and water top-up.
Yet I know from experience that there are computer problems you can solve without being a super-geek if you do a Google search for the particular error. The problem often lies in a simple setting.
If it's the registry or anything that needs a command prompt, I tread carefully. At least take a look at the instructions. If they sound like they're in English and can be reversed if they don't work, be a rooster and give it a crack, to use Scott's language.
I know I'll be accosted and told off by my local computer repairer, but I've also had a bit of luck with adding memory and replacing internal parts in my computer such as hard drives, power supplies and DVD drives. Computers aren't half as scary on the inside as they appear.
I've tracked the progress of property investor Tina Koh who started renovating houses as a student. Koh had zero experience with tools. Her mantra is now: "Plan -- Prep -- Do -- Clean -- Done."
Her top 10 jobs include:
1. Interior painting, 2. Putting up shelves, 3. Tiling the bathroom, 4. Drilling, 5. Changing switches, 6. Landscaping, 7. Replacing a showerhead, 8. Replacing a door handle, 9. Removing cabinets and fixtures, 10. Replacing curtains.
The list of jobs that can be done is almost endless and YouTube has made them all far easier than they were for previous generations. When my daughter asked for an "undercut" haircut a few weeks ago I got the confidence to do it from YouTube.