Home maintenance classes can help you save money and be smarter about what needs to be done to keep your new home in shape.

Share story

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 Queens. That is when it dawned on 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, 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.

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 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 bank.

“Knowing how to fix simple things in your home empowers you,” 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?”

Genao-Estrella has taken the course herself. When her home in 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 recurring.

“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, on 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 Corp. of Long Island.

The class size was small — three to six people, depending on the week — said Sandiford, an insurance auditor. Classes are held at the organization’s headquarters in Centereach, New York, and the fee depends on a family’s size and income but is never more than $80. Sandiford’s instructors were licensed contractors who taught her how to repair and replace Sheetrock, how to lay tile and how to handle basic plumbing chores.

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 for 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 & Remodel DIY & 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, 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.