House and Home

Renovate Your Home With Confidence


 (Photo Courtesy of HGTV)

You may recognize licensed contractor Amy Matthews from home improvement shows like This New House, Sweat Equity, Bathroom Renovations, and Blog Cabin.

After spending years giving advice on everything from increasing property values to choosing the right tools for improvement projects, these days, Matthews is especially passionate about empowering homeowners to "take care of the biggest investment they will ever make." 

Through HomeAdvisor, a new website that connects people looking to take on big home improvement projects with trusted experts, Matthews wants to help do-it-yourselfers "figure out where their time and money should go."

I caught up with her to learn more:

When should I hire a contractor?

Research your project thoroughly before getting started, Matthews says, so that you can "really get to understand the cost of hiring a contractor versus doing it yourself."  Don't forget that you might have to buy equipment you will never use again and take several trips to the home improvement store.

It's time to bring in the professionals "any time you feel a project is beyond your scope of skill level, " Matthews says.  Many times, we think we can take matters into our own hands when it comes to home repair, but Matthews advises us to "be realistic."

More often than not, the cost of fixing something you "screwed up" will cost more than what it would have cost to hire a professional, she explains.  Don't forget to make sure that whoever you hire is licensed and insured.

For those going the DIY route, what are some things to consider before jumping into a project?

  • Look at how much money you have to spend on a project, and then decide where  you are going to get the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Look at the "design integrity" of your house. This means how well your house fits in with the overall environment. Does it stand out from the other cookie-cutter houses? "When it comes time to sell, you want to do the right thing for your home, unless you plan on staying there forever," Matthews says. "Then you can do whatever you want."
  • Set a budget. Know what projects you can do on your own and which projects are best left to a professional. Do your research to save money.

How did you get into contracting?

Matthews grew up around home improvement projects, but claims "if you had told me when I was in college that I would end up on the contractor side of things, I would have laughed!"

Her career took off when she was chosen to host the DIY Network's "Bathroom Renovations" show.  "It was about talking to homeowners about real problems.  Telling them what the problems are and teaching them how to do."

While she enjoys being able to help homeowners achieve their design dreams,  "it can also be very stressful because there's always a lot of money involved."

You take on projects all around the world, especially for good causes. How have those experiences shaped you as a contractor?

"You have to look at how these people live," Matthews says of a recent project in Thailand. "What is the social movement in the home for the family, and how do you build to compliment what they do?"

She says it's more than  deciding "this is what a house is," but rather "building for the people, the place, the environment, the culture, what the weather is."

Another project took Matthews to New Orleans, where there is always a risk of a flood, so residents "build houses knowing that's going to happen, and build so they're not extremely expensive."

In the end, "People build with what they have, and for me it's a reminder that wherever you go, you have to compliment and respect the culture, how they build."