After the heady early days of homeownership wear off, first-time buyers often quickly realize that they lack even the most basic skills needed to take care of their new home.
For New Yorkers accustomed to calling the super for every repair, using a drill to hang drapes or an Allen wrench to fix a leaky faucet can be nearly as daunting as the idea of performing brain surgery.
You can get all the inspiration you need from do-it-yourself shows and videos, but what if you don’t know how to properly hammer a nail and don’t even own the right tools?
This is where home repair classes can help, giving uninitiated homeowners hands-on training. Courses cover a range of skills, from basic home maintenance to more elaborate tasks like tiling a bathroom, installing locks and repairing or replacing drywall.
A skilled labor shortage that makes it increasingly difficult to find a reliable handyman is what drove Mary McCabe to take a series of home repair classes at the New York City College of Technology, at the City University of New York.
First, she was irked when a tiler took five days to tile her small kitchen floor; then an electrician disappeared after disconnecting the electricity in her two-family home in Bayside, Queens. That is when it dawned on Ms. McCabe: “I trust myself, and I am handy,” she said. “I can learn to do some of this on my own.”
Comfortable around tools, because her father had been a carpenter, Ms. McCabe has taken five classes this year and has used her newfound skills to re-grout her bathroom tiles and fix a lawn mower.
“Most people are intimidated with using tools, but taking a hands-on class really boosted my confidence,” she said. She estimated that she has saved about $3,000 so far, just by learning how to do simple home repairs herself.
Most of the home repair classes in the city are offered through housing-related nonprofit organizations and the continuing education divisions of community colleges, including Bronx Community College. The Home Depot also offers free classes in several Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island locations.
Just as learning how to save for and finance a home is important to financial literacy, educating yourself on how to maintain your home will not only give you a sense of mastery, but can also help you save money on repairs. And you’ll have a better sense of when you need to call a professional.
The beginners’ repair classes at City Tech — which include Homeowner’s Basic Tool Kit and Everyday Electricity You Can Do Yourself — cost $70 for a one-time, three-hour night class at the school’s Downtown Brooklyn location. That is not a lot of money when you consider that it could save you hundreds of dollars a year, said Debra Salomon, a City Tech program director in the division of continuing education.
A July 2018 HomeAdvisor survey found that, on average, homeowners spent $6,649 on home improvement projects per household over the previous 12 months. Understanding the need for extra financial reserves to pay for repairs should be part of the educational process of becoming a homeowner, said Yoselin Genao-Estrella, the executive director of the nonprofit organization Neighborhood Housing Services of Queens CDC, Inc.
The Woodside-based community development corporation has classes on first-time home buying and financial literacy, offers foreclosure service and, for about 20 years, has offered an eight-week home maintenance course. The course costs $175 and is held on the second floor of a Sterling National Bank branch in Woodside.
“Knowing how to fix simple things in your home empowers you,” Ms. Genao-Estrella said, especially if you are a low- or moderate-income homeowner. “What’s the point of finally being able to own your home, but you go into debt because you’re always hiring someone to fix everything?”
Ms. Genao-Estrella has taken the course herself. When her home in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn was damaged by Hurricane Sandy almost six years ago, she hired a contractor to fix the structural damage and a plumber for other repairs, but the plumbing problems kept reoccurring.
“I’m not saying I need to become a plumber myself, but I felt I was getting the short end of the stick every time I was having a conversation, especially as a woman,” she said. Knowing how your house works is important, she added, because you can be more specific about repair requests when hiring someone.
And that doesn’t just apply to homeowners: Among the students who have taken the class have been a number of renters, she said: “I think some people have landlords that don’t fix things right away.”
Althea Sandiford, who owns a single-family home in Brentwood, Long Island, said she was able to patch up some holes in her basement and clear a clogged drain in her shower after taking a seven-week home maintenance program at the nonprofit Community Development Corporation of Long Island.
The class size was small — between three and six people, depending on the week — said Ms. Sandiford, an insurance auditor. Classes are held at the organization’s headquarters in Centereach, N.Y., and the fee depends on a family’s size and income, but is never more than $80. Ms. Sandiford’s instructors were licensed contractors who taught her how to repair and replace Sheetrock, how to lay tile and the basics of plumbing.
Before taking the class, she said, she felt like she was “throwing money out the window” on small repair jobs: “It’s just good to have the knowledge of how the small things in your house work. Now I want to do more.”
Tricia Gleaton, vice president of the organization’s homeownership center, said many of the students who sign up for the class have never picked up a hammer, and students include both singles and couples, some of whom have bought fixer-uppers nearby.
Cable channels like HGTV and DIY Network have turned home repair projects into entertainment, but the do-it-yourself industry is extensive in online platforms too. In addition to the content available on YouTube, websites like Hometalk and Terry Love Plumbing and Remodel DIY and Professional Forum and podcasts like Fix It Home Improvement and Fix It 101 have solid followings.
But there is no point in watching and listening to all that content if you don’t know how to use a simple power drill, said Stephanie Lombardi Werneken, director of new digital products at Trusted Media Brands, publisher of the magazine Family Handyman.
Trusted Media started the online Family Handyman DIY University in 2015, so people could take quick classes to learn things like how to buy and use a table saw, or how to drill into materials like wood or masonry. Each class can be completed in one to three hours, and the fee is less than $20. “These basic classes are there so you can be safe, and not burn down the house,” she said.
Premium courses are being offered for the first time this year, for $89 to about $200. They last a few weeks, and students can ask their instructors specific questions online. The courses include kitchen cabinetry making and building your own tiny house, and some courses come with blueprints and other materials.
About 70 percent of the nearly 4,000 students who have taken DIY University’s online classes have been male, and students range in age from 35 to 70, Ms. Werneken said. Some of the older students have taken the class to fix up their homes before selling them, she said, but the younger students seem to have embraced a “DIY holistic-homeownership lifestyle” to mirror that of the popular hosts of some DIY television shows.
Raya Fliker, a homeowner in Port Monmouth, N.J., took a class on wood-finishing at DIY University, and also learned how to tile a kitchen backsplash. With her newfound knowledge, Ms. Fliker built a simple bench to fit into a small nook in her back entryway. She also built a plywood countertop to cover up a granite top on a kitchen island that she didn’t like.
Ms. Fliker, a nurse and mother of three, preferred taking classes online, she said, because she could do it whenever she had time, and the instructors taught her specific tasks that she wanted to learn. “I have loved how every project has turned out, and my husband is now buying tools for me,” said Ms. Flicker, who recently refurbished a mudroom for a friend’s house.
Not every project has gone smoothly, of course. Although she wanted to install a new kitchen backsplash, the granite border on her kitchen counter was extremely difficult to remove, she said. When she pried off a small portion near the refrigerator, Ms. Fliker ended up with a big hole.
“It was too hard for me to handle, so I fixed the hole and painted over it,” she said, after watching a YouTube tutorial. Then she abandoned the backsplash project.
John Rearick, a high school English teacher, took two home repair classes through Neighborhood Housing Services of Brooklyn, a community development corporation with locations in East Flatbush and Canarsie. Mr. Rearick said he took his first class almost 10 years ago after hearing about it from a friend.
He learned basic carpentry skills, as well as how to use a circular saw, repair Sheetrock and build mock flooring. His instructor, Mark Whittingham, a licensed general contractor, owner of M.W. Enterprise and project manager at Thor Helical USA, a masonry restoration firm, taught him how to build things and then take them apart.
“Understanding the mechanics of things helped a lot,” said Mr. Rearick, who lives in a single-family house in Kensington, Brooklyn.
He has since patched up a large hole in his third-floor hallway, damage that happened years ago, after his son and a friend had an impromptu basketball game there. More recently, he replaced a leaking water valve in the basement, which cost him about five dollars. “I did wonder, if I hadn’t fixed that myself, would I have paid someone to do it for me for $200?” he said.
Mr. Rearick repeated the same class this spring — a seven-week course currently held at the Flatbush YMCA, for $175 — as a refresher. “Besides saving money, there are emotional benefits of being able to fix things yourself,” he said.
Both he and Ms. McCabe, in Queens, said they were eager to take more advanced classes. Ms. McCabe said she was interested in hanging a new chandelier in her dining room, installing other light fixtures and changing out some old doors.
Making mistakes in the classroom was key, she said. Her instructor, Peter Grech, who has worked as a superintendent for residential buildings in the city for more than 40 years, reminded her that screwing up the installation of one 20-cent tile “is no big whoop.”
As she put it, “He taught us in a way that made me believe I can do it, and it worked.”
Mr. Grech, who also trains superintendents, makes a point of teaching his students when they should call a licensed professional. One example: You can fix leaky faucets and clogged drains yourself, he said, but you shouldn’t try to move pipes.
“There’s a fine line of being confident and doing things yourself, but you shouldn’t get in over your head,” he said. “And if you’re afraid of doing your first project in your own home, I tell all my students to do it at your in-laws’ house first.”
A list of tools every homeowner should have for basic maintenance.
To be prepared for basic repair tasks, homeowners should arm themselves with a few essential tools. Peter Grech, an instructor at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York, who has worked as a superintendent for various residential buildings, suggested investing in the following:
- Phillips and straight-blade screwdrivers
- Utility knife
- Speed or combination square
- Channellock pliers
- Electrical pliers
- Electrical tester
- Circular saw or handsaw
- Battery drill, at least 18 Volts
- Set of high-speed drill bits
- Set of masonry bits
- Level tool
- Measuring tape
- Safety goggles
Source: NY Times – By KAYA LATERMAN