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To DIY or not to DIY?

First, there's the "clause in the lease" issue: standard rental agreements state that tenants must leave their properties exactly as they were when they moved in. Even if you have improved the property.

The UAE is an odd place for do-it-yourselfers. First, there's the "clause in the lease" issue: standard rental agreements state that tenants must leave their properties exactly as they were when they moved in. Even if you have improved the property. Which means that you may have to paint over your pretty pale blue walls, take down those shelves you so painstakingly fitted, and put back those hideously patterned bathroom tiles and excruciatingly awful lamps. Or pay a penalty so that the landlord (in theory, anyway) can have it done. If that's not a powerful disincentive to investing your time, energy and money, I wonder what is. On the other hand, your landlord may be happy to give you permission (but do ask for it in writing, in advance).

Second, this country is swarming with handymen, whose hourly rates are usually very low - so why bother with DIY? Well, there's a caveat: the combination of language barrier and a lack of experience of international decorating standards can have hilarious (or frustrating, or expensive) results. While this doesn't mean that you have to sign up for a foundation course in plumbing or carpentry, it helps to know exactly what you want, to measure and mark every installation point, and then watch the work like a hawk. At which point you might say "I may as well do it myself".

If you do - but didn't ship a tool kit when you came here - the next challenge is to buy the right equipment. This is a case where (as Gavin DuVenage writes in the main story) you really do get what you pay for. You can play safe, go to Ace Hardware or Carrefour, and buy the top-of-the-range model from the best-known brand on offer (top-of-the-range because, generally, the range is fairly limited, with an emphasis on the cheaper end). Or you can go where the professionals go: to one of the "local" hardware stores that pepper Al Quoz and parts of downtown Abu Dhabi. If you've done your research and know what you want and how much it should cost, it can be tremendously good fun; at the very least, you'll gain a fascinating insight into the vast UAE handyman subculture.

Just don't ask me where you can get solid wood planks or a length of 4x2. It's been two years and I'm still searching. Essential tools: Measuring tape Electric impact drill Cordless power drill/screwdriver Aluminium step ladder (6ft) Set of good quality screwdrivers and wrenches A pair of sturdy pliers Spirit level

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