When to do it yourself, when to hire a pro

Real Simple

Find out when it pays to call for help in 8 common home improvement situations.

Photo: Ngoc Minh Ngo

1. Using a Color Consultant

Problem: You’d like to spruce up your house, but you can’t seem to find the right red paint to complement your olive green couch.

Enter: The color consultant. She can help you select colors that work for your space and spare you from testing 15 different reds on your walls. She can also lead you to unexpected, possibly more daring choices.

Cost: Around $50 to $75 an hour (enough time to pick colors for two rooms).

To find one: Contact the International Association of Color Consultants/Designers at iaccna.org.

Consider doing it yourself when: You have the time and the inclination to sort through paint chips and design magazines for inspiration. For ideas, try Choosing Colors, by Kevin McCloud ($25, amazon.com).

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Photo: Ngoc Minh Ngo

2.Hiring a Carpenter

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Problem: Your bookcases are buckling under their heavy load.

Enter: The carpenter. A professional knows exactly what to do, from choosing the right veneer to finding the proper wall studs that will prevent it all from crashing down.

Cost: Varies considerably. Count on spending at least a few hundred dollars for multilevel shelves.

To find one: Ask friends and neighbors for referrals, or contact your local building association at the National Association of Home Builders’ website (nahb.org).

Consider doing it yourself when: You relish the chance to act as a handyman and break out your power drill. Find a kit with instructions and hardware at a home-improvement or hardware store.

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Photo: Ngoc Minh Ngo

3. Consulting an Energy Auditor

Problem: Your energy bill has gone through the roof, and you still feel a chill.

Enter: The energy auditor or rater. These pros come armed with sophisticated equipment to trace even tiny air leaks and will prioritize problem areas in your home. Some local utility companies will send a contractor to you for a free basic inspection.

Cost: Zero to $350.

To find one: Check out energystar.gov or the Residential Energy Services Network at natresnet.org for a certified rater.

Consider doing it yourself when: You want to know your house from the insulation out. Check your local utility company’s website. Many have relatively easy instructions for do-it-yourself energy audits. Or see the U.S. Department eere.energy.gov.

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4. Selling on eBay

Problem: Your china cabinet is full of unused mint-condition heirlooms.

Enter: The eBay drop-off store. These independently owned stores handle everything from photographing to shipping. Stores known as Power Sellers, such as iSold It, may fetch a higher price than you can, and there’s usually no charge if an item doesn’t sell.

Cost: A commission of up to 35 percent of the sale.

To find one: Go to i-soldit.com for stores, or look under Consignment Services at auctionbytes.com.

Consider doing it yourself when: You are comfortable uploading digital pictures and have time to pack and ship the goods. Setting up an eBay account and posting a picture is free. If you sell, eBay keeps a commission of 5.25 to 1.5 percent of the sale, depending on the selling price.

Photo: Ngoc Minh Ngo

5. Cleaning Your House

Problem: Despite your best efforts, your house always seems to be a disaster zone.

Enter: The house cleaner. One person or a whole crew will do the dirty work for you, whether it’s a weekly visit or a job every few months―all in a couple of hours.

Cost: $80 to $400 a visit, ranging from maintenance to a deep cleaning.

To find one: Ask friends for referrals, or try the National Cleaning Directory (cleaningassociation.com).

Consider doing it yourself when: You’re picky about where you stash Bobby’s toys. It may take a bit longer to get the job done, but you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing what’s where.

Photo: Ngoc Minh Ngo

6. Finding Carpet, Upholstery and Curtain Cleaners

Problem: Your carpet is stained, and your upholstery and curtains are looking dingy enough to darken anyone’s mood.

Enter: Curtain, upholstery, and carpet cleaners. They’ll work with heavy equipment and cleaning solvents for a deep cleaning that will extend the life of your home’s fabrics.

Cost: About 25 cents a square foot for curtains, $12 to $25 a linear foot for upholstery, and 30 cents a square foot for carpets.

To find one: Ask around, or look up Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning in the Yellow Pages.

Consider doing it yourself when: It’s a small job, the stains are minor, or it’s an in-between maintenance job. For less risk of permanent damage, know the type of fiber and stains you’re dealing with.

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