7 Ways to Save Money on Home Improvements and Free Up Your Time.
One of the hassles of owning a home, especially a home that’s more than 20 years old, is the steady flow of things to do. Not just general upkeep or lawn care, there are repairs to make, appliances to replace, projects to plan.
Should I do my own home improvements? Maybe ask my wife to help me? Or have a few friends over and trade beers for some labor?
There sure are a lot of YouTube videos out there showing you how easy it all is. More resources than ever before to help you get these jobs done easily.
As you get older, get married, maybe have kids, start a business, you really start to look at your time closely and wonder if you are spending it wisely. So, even though I’ve done some minor repairs and home improvements in the past, now I often look at them and find that my time is better spent elsewhere. Time with my family, time outdoors, or even an equal amount of time that I could spend doing work that I enjoy such as writing, photography or creating digital campaigns.
Another way to justify outsourcing home-improvements is to compare what you may earn spending that time creating. In my case, the time is better spent doing some work that could generate income long-term and comes easier to me than home improvements. In my case, I tend to be more handy with the laptop than with the hammer.
So, for me, it’s decided. I’m outsourcing home improvements and repairs, even the simpler ones like painting and landscaping. For years, every frugal bone in my body told me this was not the best way to go about it. Then I decided to view this from a different angle.
There is nothing wrong with my house.
Maybe I don’t need home improvements at all. I think people get hung up when they see these perfect homes on HGTV and decide they need to have a backsplash in the perfect kitchen or some fancy outdoor furniture that really looks like it should be indoors.
Or maybe even an industrial size barbecue and outdoor pizza oven that’s so large it needs its own foundation, special tools, and maintenance plan.
There is nothing wrong with your house.
Sure, I occasionally see things that would be nice to have but one thing I try to avoid is the lifestyle creep that comes with homeownership and home upgrades. That’s really the secret. I decided to focus on keeping what we have as long as possible, wearing stuff out, taking care of the big items that need to be repaired or replaced.
We need to separate ourselves from what we believe our friends or neighbors perceive about our home. When I think about it some of the best parties I’ve been to, they involve a keg on an old wood deck that’s seen much better days. An older home with a few dings and dents actually makes people feel better about their own surroundings and just seems more comfortable.
Most likely your friends and neighbors are worried about their own home and their own appearance and are not concerned about your old couch and cracking deck at all.
Hollywood gets this, so many movies and TV shows revolve around other people’s problems and imperfections. The reason is they just seem to make people feel better about themselves. Start thinking about your home or apartment this way. Is the couch clean enough to sit down on? If so you’re off to a good start. Focus on the people, the conversation, the snacks and you’ll have nothing to prove.
But there is still stuff to do?
Now that you’ve decided to stop homegrown lifestyle creep in its tracks, live a more simple and frugal lifestyle and appreciate what you have you can focus on any much-needed repairs that will no doubt crop up from time to time.
Instead of being upset about the fact that our washing machine just died, I was excited because we’d gotten just over 20 years of service out of that builder grade Kenmore washer. I can now focus my energy on finding a replacement. I’m not going to buy a matching set, the dryer is working just fine. I’ve always wondered how many working appliances that delivery guys haul out of homes. I found out one time when I was lost and looking for a carpet store and wandered into a massive warehouse filled with discarded fully operational appliances for sale. Wear stuff out, don’t get rid of it until even the repair man is ready to issue the death certificate.
So, now we’re really talking about home upkeep and repair, versus home-improvement. How can your existing kitchen be the best kitchen it can be? How can you get 10 more years out of that deck or set of outdoor lawn chairs?
How can you spend your weekends outdoors exercising or with my family, versus underneath the sink or on a ladder painting the house without wasting a lot of money?
Here are 7 ways to make it happen. There may be a few steps here but, if done correctly, think of all the time you’ll be saving that can be used productively elsewhere.
1.Finding the right vendor
The most important part of this process is finding the right vendors. I’m a big fan of developing relationships with good vendors and being loyal to them. However, I also understand that some are better than others and I find the need to at least check that their prices are competitive. In my experience, the smaller and more local they are, the better value you’re going to get.
I use nextdoor.com to get specific vendor recommendations for my neighborhood which is less than a 5 mile radius from my house. This has worked out great, especially for small painting jobs, yardwork, appliance repair, plumbing, and general repairs. Once you have an account, you can just simply search local recommendations for any service you’re looking for. Once I find a couple vendors, I put them in the Angie’s List to see the ratings there and also if they have any special offers.
For a recent painting job, I found multiple small local painting companies. At this stage, you want to have three highly rated, locally recommended, small vendors.
2. Create a one-page scope of work
The first step is to create a quick scope of work so you can give each of the vendors an email with exactly what you’re looking for. For example, if it’s for painting, you’d want to include the rooms you need painted, any prep work, type of paint you’d prefer, and your timeline. Also let them know that you’re getting several quotes. This will naturally help them sharpen their pencils and include any offers.
3. Get three estimates
At this point I get three estimates. I’ve found that three is the magic number. If you’re wondering if it’s a waste of time, there is generally at least a 50% swing between the lowest quote and the highest quote.
A recent landscaping/drainage repair job came in with the following quotes:
Vendor 1, $750
Vendor 2, $1300
Vendor 3. $450
A painting project last spring had similar results with the highest price vendor nearly double the lowest quote. Also, remember you’re trying to put together a great list of vendors for future jobs.
4. Compare and confirm
I always ask that they email the price quote then I simply place all of the quotes together in a single Evernote note. This way I can easily scroll through and compare them. Once you find your lowest price vendor, just double check to make sure that they have not left anything out or dropped in any open-ended pricing, or conditional discounts.
The bigger the job, the bigger the spread will be. We recently had to replace our furnace. To replace our existing Carrier gas furnace, I received three quotes on 4comparable highly rated single stage models with the same BTUs.
Vendor 1, $5159
Vendor 2, $2780
Vendor 3. $3905
Because of the size of this job I also reached out to Costco because they had a 10% discount program for their Lennox HVAC vendor. Even with the Costco discount (vendor 1) was the most expensive. This just goes to show that even a big national vendor linked with Costco has lots of overhead and often is less competitive than a quality nearby option. As an added bonus, vendor 2 installed the Carrier brand/model we were replacing.
5. Save your estimates for future use
Our new HVAC vendor did a nice job. But that would not deter me from getting three quotes on the next HVAC job which may not be that long in the future since we have AC units and a split level system. The reason I keep all three estimates are so I remember not to call the highest priced vendor the next go-round. I also have a good idea of what the total costs will be.
6. Create a dream team
The other advantage of getting three estimates per job is occasionally you will find a fantastic vendor. Make sure you add some notes about the work they did so if you need them a couple years down the road, you can do a quick search.
For things like appliance repairs it’s not really necessary to get three quotes so it really pays to find a high quality vendor. There will be some trial and error. Occasionally when I find a really crappy vendor, I add that to the notes as well. Something like “really bad job, don’t use again”. After 20 years in the house we’ve had a fair share of these but they’re few and far between now. Especially with all the online tools for local recommendations and a digital record of all of our past jobs. I’ll even scan paper repair receipts into Evernote so they can be searched by item later, with notes included.
7. Have a budget and strive to stay under it.
This is where it helps to think of yourself like a landlord. A good idea is to set a maintenance budget at about 1% of the value of your house and try to stay under that. You won’t always be successful, but budgeting like a landlord will help you avoid the lifestyle creep that comes with the home improvement/upgrade game.
Now go out and enjoy a hike.