Cut the Cost of Home Repairs

You can make repairs less expensive without sacrificing safety or quality. Use our tips and save big bucks.

Everyone wants a bargain. But what seems at first blush to be a cheap fix for a leaking drain or glitch in the wiring can turn into an expensive nightmare. As soon as the repairman is paid, the problem may reappear due to shoddy workmanship and/or substandard materials. Paying too much for repairs doesn't ensure a good job either. The following tips will help you save money and get the job done right.

For some repairs, the best way to reduce the cost is to do them yourself. But you have to know what you're doing or you could create a mess that will cost big bucks for an experienced repairman to clean up. The secret is to learn to differentiate between a standard home-maintenance activity and something that needs an expert's touch. There are numerous guidebooks devoted to teaching the basics of home maintenance and minor repairs. The best way to learn? Have a skilled friend or relative show you how.

Learning about home repairs has other money-saving benefits. If you understand the basics you can describe a minor repair accurately over the phone and avoid two visits from the repairman -- once to give you a quote and a second time to do the work. He or she will also know what tools and materials to bring. And you will have a better idea whether he or she has done a good job and charged you fairly.

The repairman's time, not materials, makes up the bulk of the cost of most expert repairs. Ninety-five dollars of a $100 sink repair could easily be labor. But don't skimp on materials -- if the new faucet fails, you've got to pay the labor again as well as buy a replacement.

In addition to an hourly rate, many repairmen charge a minimum fee for showing up -- even if the repair can't be done. So you can save by batching repairs and having them all done at the same time. You can also batch jobs with neighbors. If you own an attached house, for instance, you and your next-door neighbor can get your roofs repaired, your fences fixed or your trees pruned at the same time. Get one quote and you'll save more money because it will take less time than two.

You can also save by doing repairs promptly -- damage, especially from water, can escalate with time. Other problems, such as wiring trouble, may pose a safety hazard if neglected.

For larger jobs, get two or more competing quotes. If you live in an urban area, you may find repairmen based outside the city charge less per hour, as long as there's not a lot of travel time involved.

You may be able to do the manual labor part of an expert repair yourself -- if, for instance, demolition is involved. For some repairs, you may save by getting the materials yourself -- there's often a markup on items like bathroom and light fixtures. Consult with the repairman before buying supplies yourself, to avoid buying the wrong thing and wasting his or her time.

Some repairmen will reduce the cost of a job if you pay them cash, but large contractors seldom do this. You won't get a receipt, so you'll have no recourse if something goes wrong and for this reason many Better Business Bureaus recommend always paying by check or money order.

Often repairmen or apprentices who work for large companies will moonlight for much less than their employer would charge. You may have to have repairs done in the evening or during weekends, though. And if you hire an apprentice, make sure you -- or a friend or relative -- know enough about the job to supervise.

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