5 simple money-saving home renovation hacks


Robyn Parets

Robyn Parets

Blog author Robyn Parets

Robyn Parets is a personal finance and business writer based in Boston. A former writer for Investor's Business Daily (IBD) and NerdWallet, Robyn is also the founder and owner of Pretzel Kids, a children's fitness brand and online training course. You can find her on Twitter @RobynParets.

Published January 17, 2017 | 5 min read

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Featured Image 5 simple money-saving home renovation hacks

If you’re like me, HGTV can be addictive, especially Property Brothers. There’s nothing like watching the brothers completely transform fixer-uppers into dream homes in seven weeks for less than $120,000. Yet, if you have your sights set on a major home remodel, you probably know that reality TV isn’t your reality. With that said, if you’re not a DIYer, there are still ways to save money on your real-life remodeling project while hiring pros - with the caveat that seven weeks may be more like seven months.

My husband and I recently downsized to a fixer-upper and embarked on a major home renovation. Even though we hired several remodeling pros, it took nine long months to get our place into Property Brothers shape. Nonetheless, we managed to save money by buying and remodeling a house instead of purchasing one in top-notch condition. If you don’t intend on completing the work yourself, here are some tried-and-true ways to cut costs on your home renovation project:

Start with a design plan

The key to keeping your costs down is to have a clear idea of what you want to do before your project starts, according to Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. For example, do you want to replace your kitchen cabinets and counters with new ones using the exact same footprint? Or, perhaps you want to knock down a wall and blow out your kitchen, entailing major demolition, construction and a new kitchen design.

In either case, you may want to turn to remodeling site Houzz for inspiration and pricing ideas or hire an interior designer to come up with some design plans for you. Then set a design plan and get ready to shop it around to contractors for pricing.

Interview contractors and get multiple bids

Although this can be a time-suck, it’s also essential as contractor quotes can vary by thousands of dollars. We brought our design plans to four contractors for quotes and ended up with four very different price estimates. We ended up selecting a contractor who quoted us in the middle of the price range due to the company’s great reviews and portfolio of past work. We then asked for references and a copy of his insurance and license - something that should not be overlooked.

After you sign an agreement with your selected contractor, which should outline pricing and timelines, it’s important to keep on top of your project to make sure completion dates are met and the project stays within budget.

Sub-contract projects yourself

When a general contractor hires an electrician, plumber or another tradesman to help on a project, you will often pay your contractor for these costs plus an added 15 or 20 percent. To save yourself this overage, why not hire your own specialty contractors?

In our case, we hired a general contractor to complete our kitchen remodel. Our house, however, needed much more work and to save money, we hired our own specialty contractors for other projects. We hired an electrician to upgrade the electrical system throughout the house and install new fixtures, a painter to paint the entire interior, a floor refinisher to refurbish our hardwood floors, a roofing company to install skylights, and an HVAC company to install a new ductless AC and heating system. My husband and I acted as the general contractors for these projects and had to be available to oversee the work. By doing the legwork ourselves instead of piping the jobs through our general contractor, we saved ourselves about $10,000 by the time the project came to completion.

Purchase your own materials

Some contractors offer an allowance in their agreements, which gives you monetary cushion to purchase materials, like kitchen cabinets and flooring. With an allowance built into your contract, you will essentially be paying for your materials along with labor. Although this can make it easier on homeowners, it can also inflate your costs, especially if you can purchase those same materials on your own for less money. For example, if you have a $3,000 allowance for flooring materials (which you paid for), you’ll be tempted to pick out floors for $3,000. But, if you buy the floors yourself, you may be able to find the same product for $2,600 - effectively saving you $400.

In our case, we chose to separately pay for all of our contractor’s out-of-pocket material costs. Before paying for these items, he provided us with a receipt. On top of that, we purchased all of our major materials on our own after shopping around for the best prices. We bought our kitchen cabinets, quartz counters, farmhouse sink, and chrome hardware at a wholesale kitchen dealer, our Italian porcelain tile flooring at an online flooring wholesaler, our kitchen appliances at a local warehouse, and our bathroom vanity on sale at Wayfair.com.

Take advantage of rebates and other deals

This may take a bit of research but with a little digging, you may be able to uncover some major savings. We saved about $400 by buying our kitchen appliances through a local retailer and ended up receiving additional manufacturer’s rebates in the form of three cash debit cards totalling $200.

We also purchased an energy-efficient HVAC system that was part of the Mass Save program through Massachusetts. We got a rebate check for $2,500 after we purchased our heating system and submitted the necessary paperwork. In addition, we applied for a zero percent special loan through the Mass Save HEAT Loan program. We’ll be paying off the heating system for seven years with no interest. Yes, we still have to pay for it but the monthly payments are minimal, the loan costs us nothing, and we didn’t have to come up with all of the funds for a costly heating system in one fell swoop. Talking about loans, we took out a credit card through our appliance dealer so that we could defer payments for a year with no interest. Deferring these appliance costs, coupled with the heat loan, freed up funds to pay our contractors in full without taking out a home equity line to fund our remodel.

At the end of the day, a major home remodel project is a monumental undertaking. Yet, with diligent research and bargain hunting, you can save yourself big bucks. Shaving off seven months would have been nice too, but we’re still no match for the Property Brothers.