Clever ways to save on home improvement costs

Home improvement can be a pricy proposition. Whether you are upgrading your master bath to an in-home spa or taking care of a much-needed roof replacement, you are likely to need a good chunk of change.

Home improvement can be a pricy proposition. Whether you are upgrading your master bath to an in-home spa or taking care of a much-needed roof replacement, you are likely to need a good chunk of change. However, it is possible to save money on home improvement projects by advance planning and savvy shopping. Here are several thrifty ideas:

Getting started

Do your research long before you hire a contractor. It’s easy to find home-improvement inspiration online, as well as practical information about prices and quality. Clarify what you want, how you will fund the project and what your time frame is.

Pay for a designer or architect. It might seem strange to spend money in order to save, but these professionals will suggest ways to make the most of your home that might never have occurred to you in a million years. They also may advise on which renovations will provide the best return on investment. Last but not least, they can translate your vision into clear diagrams for the remodeling crew to follow.

Ask several contractors for detailed written estimates, including materials, schedule for the work and incremental payments, insurance and warranty on materials and labor. Then negotiate for a discount. The final written contract should contain the same specifications as the estimate.

When you choose a remodeling contractor, request his suggestions on keeping costs down.

Stick to the plan. Changes once construction is underway will cost you. If you are ordering materials yourself, such as ceramic tile, allow plenty of lead time. Construction delays due to missing supplies also are costly.

Have a slush fund for unexpected expenses. That way, you will not have to scramble for additional financing in an emergency.

Labor

Schedule your renovation for the off season—usually from after Christmas through spring—when contractors may be more “hungry” for work.

Decide what parts of the job you realistically can do yourself. For example, complex wiring or major structural changes are usually best left to the pros, while cleanup, interior painting and hauling demolition materials to the recycling center or the dump are good candidates for DIY.

Avoid the hassle and expense of moving your plumbing if you can. Ditto for structural elements of your home.

Materials

There are tons of ways to save money on materials. Think “rehab” rather than “replace” when major items such as kitchen cabinets or floors are basically sound, if a little worn. Don’t order custom when stock will do just fine. Shop for discontinued tiles or lighting fixtures, lightly scratched or dented appliances and carpet remnants, to name a few. Browse the classifieds for bargains or haunt building supply auctions, demo sites (with permission, of course) and secondhand outlets.

Request a volume or cash discount, and take advantage of sales tax holidays to purchase big-ticket items.

Financial help

Improvements that increase your home’s energy efficiency may make you eligible for financial assistance in the form of rebates or tax credits, from the federal or state government or your local utility company.

Low-cost loans are a helpful source of funding for home improvements. The FHA 203(k) is a type of mortgage loan that will cover the cost of certain repairs, as well as the price of the house itself. The FHA also makes available its Title I property improvement loan for improvements that increase a property’s livability and usefulness; you may be eligible even if you do not have substantial equity.