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by John Mulkey

HomerepairWhile our economy struggles to find stability, there are many homeowners who realize that a slow housing market presents a great opportunity for those wishing to remodel or expand their homes.

Why would that be, you might ask?

It’s really quite simple and is based upon the law of supply and demand. When building activity is at its peak, both building materials and labor are at a premium; but when activity is low, contractors and suppliers cut prices in order to maintain the necessary volume to remain in business. We are currently in one of those times.
While that doesn’t mean that every deal offered is a good one, homeowners who are willing to spend some time doing comparison shopping will find great deals and contractors eager to provide both great service and prices. Unfortunately though, there are always a few unscrupulous contractors, desperate for business who are willing to lie, cheat, or steal in order to fatten their wallets. We€„¢ll give you a few tips to avoid the crooks.

Always ask for recent references (preferably a half-dozen or more) and then check them out all of them. If you can view some of the most recent jobs, that is even better. NEVER pay money up front before the job is started or material is delivered. Small contractors may tell you they have to have up-front money to begin the job, and if you agree, you risking losing all of it.

One way to get around this problem is to arrange to pay for the material yourself. In fact, you may be able to supply all of the material and have the contractor supply labor only. The negative side of this is large jobs where you may not have any idea of what the material will cost. (In the past I did a number of such jobs, including building entire houses, supplying labor only.

However, I always provided my customers with a written estimate of all material costs and updated it as the job progressed.) If you are comfortable with such an arrangement, it can offer significant savings. Then, if you are buying from a local home center, you may be able to get a discount if you use their credit card, or you can charge the total to an awards card. Either way, you will have additional savings from the transaction.

Demand lien waivers (available at office supply stores or online) to protect you from subcontractors or suppliers who don’t get paid. Lien waivers should be requested each time a payment is made to the contractor.

Additional Savings Opportunities:

Shop for materials at local salvage stores. While you may assume that such stores carry only junk or damaged materials, that is not the case. I have often saved hundreds on returned or slightly damaged doors and windows that were equal to or better than those for which I had originally budgeted. The key is to make certain the items fit your needs, both for energy efficiency and appearance.
Do some of the work yourself. Those who are handy, and some who are not so handy, will still find some tasks on their project where they may be able to save by providing some of the labor. Jobs as simple as site clean up, painting, screwing down a subfloor, or installing insulation can easily be done by anyone who has ever operated a hand drill or paint roller. Check with your contractor to see if providing labor on your job makes sense.
Check online for appliances, light fixtures, ceiling fans, special doors and windows, and finish materials. While you may not choose to order online, you can at least do some comparison shopping; and you may find local dealers of which you were unaware.
Investigate all your materials options. For instance, if you are painting the trim work, there are options that are much less expensive than wood, many of which will provide a better finish with less effort. There are molded trims that look great and, once painted, can’t be distinguished from real wood. Some of these materials, however, do not do well in high moisture areas and especially don’t like getting wet. In such cases you are better off with wood.

Use your computer to check for substitute and less expensive options for all your material needs. There are some great sources of information where you can compare materials, costs, and ease of installation.

John Mulkey has forty years experience in building and marketing homes, has authored three books, and is the founder of, which provides the latest information for those interested in home repair, buying, selling, building, and remodeling homes.

See our feature, Remodels Hold More Value Than Home Prices.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your real estate investment including REAL ESTATE FORMS, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at joinaaoa.

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