Home Insight - Property Value and Home Price Check
10 Ways to Save 10 Percent or More on Your Next Home Improvement
Written by: Lankarge/Nahorney for HomeInsight

Home improvement is the new national pastime. But no one wants to spend more money than they need to fix up their home. If you are considering making an improvement to add value to your home, be sure to read Home Over-Improvement Can Lead to Market Under-Performance. For financial considerations, see What's the Smartest Way to Pay for Your Home Improvements?

Here are 10 ideas you can use to save 10 percent - or perhaps much more - on your next home improvement.

1. Consider less expensive alternatives. For example, if you want to add a fireplace, consider a prefabricated gas fireplace instead of a traditional masonry fireplace. The cost of the prefabricated fireplace will likely be much less than just the cost of the masonry chimney (without the masonry fireplace). New gas fireplaces complete with glowing embers look quite realistic. And once you start a fireplace with the flick of a switch, you'll never want to deal with the mess of a real fire again.

2. When searching for a contractor make sure you get at least three bids. Estimates will likely vary widely from one contractor to another. But at the same time, if you get one price that is 50 percent less expensive than the other two, that should be a cause for alarm. There may be a good reason why one contractor is cheaper than another: one might have lower overhead, another might be willing to work for a lower hourly rate, still another might not be very busy or may have just lost another job. But a price lower by 50 percent may mean that the low-priced contractor may not be including everything - and the same quality of materials or workmanship as other contractors- in his bid. Find the contractor you would like to work with and try to work out a better price. Tell the contractor you would like to work with about the lower estimates. Then tell him you would rather like to work with him but you need a better price. Chances are you will get it.

3. Hire contractors during their slow time. If you live in the north and need trees removed in your yard, call contractors in February. Prices will be much better, and given that your yard will be frozen, the heavy equipment will do less damage. Other contractors get very slow around the holidays at the end of the year. If you don't mind the disruption you might get a better price and a job that gets done more quickly.

4. Spend at least twice as much time planning the job as it will take to complete. Change orders on jobs that have already begun are expensive - often very expensive. Do your best to limit the amount of changes after you sign the contract - it will save you time and money.

5. Offer good terms. One of the most challenging parts of being a contractor is dealing with cash flow. Some clients pay very slowly - others have to be reminded over and over. Offering to pay cash can get contractors to sharpen their pencils and provide better pricing, and better service.

6. Do the job yourself. If you have the talent, time and energy, becoming a weekend warrior can be rewarding. For the office worker who spends his or her workweek becoming mentally exhausted, the opportunity to do some physical work is often a welcome outlet. But remember, you will need to complete the job to professional standards, or you aren't saving much money at all. Sloppy painting, careless carpentry, improper electrical work, or leaky plumbing can cost you more money to get the job fixed. You won't get a good price from a contractor if you invite them to come fix the job you have made a mess of. As the song goes: get it right the first time.

7. An alternative to doing the entire job yourself is to pick the portion of a larger job that you can save the most doing. Some contractors shy away from demolition. If the thought of knocking out a wall in your house doesn't make you cringe, this is an area in which you might be able to save a lot of money. Some homeowners also choose to do the final work - the painting on an addition, the tile in a bathroom, the wallpaper in the kitchen. But you might also find that your job has other parts that are priced inordinately high - for example insulating a single-room addition might cost nearly as much as for an entire house.

8. If you have the expertise, but not the time, consider being the general contractor. Here you have the ability to save 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of the project. But that savings will come at a cost - your time. You'll need to organize the job, schedule the subcontractors, and mediate any issues between the subcontractors - sometimes in the middle of your work day. It will be up to you to ensure that the job goes smoothly - making sure the job continues without delay, but at the same time ensuring you don't have too many subcontractors tripping over one another on the job site.

9. Don't always buy household named materials. Just because a product has a household name doesn't mean it is the best, nor is it automatically worth 25 more than a similar product. There are good reasons why some products are priced higher than others. But at the same time, there are many products on the market that offer quality workmanship for 10-25 percent less than the best-known product in that category.

10. The lowest price is not the lowest cost. You need to balance cost and quality. For example, buying the bargain-basement ceiling fan that needs replacing six months later didn't save you money - it actually cost you more money when you had to replace it. Some building materials that are 40 percent lower than others might not be of the same quality (for example faucets sold at national home improvement chains are often not the same quality as those found in plumbing supply houses). Decide on the quality of workmanship and materials you need and then find contractors or materials that provide what you desire.

Take your time planning your next home improvement - you may be living with it for the rest of your life.