Home Improvement Projects: Costs, Contractors, and Considerations

Home Improvement Projects: Costs, Contractors, and Considerations

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Any homeowner can tell you that home improvement project costs can run the gamut. A seemingly small repair may cost you more than $1k in surprise expenses, while something you expect to cost more than $20k may, in reality, only be $5k for the work that you truly need. The difference in cost comes down to two major factors: what work is required and who you hire to complete the work.

For most home improvement projects, you will want to find a contractor who specializes in that specific kind of work. For example, you wouldn’t want to hire a hardscaping contractor to build your home extension or a deck builder to give your front lawn a makeover.

Common Home Improvement Projects and Their Costs

Home improvement projects come in many flavors and fall mainly into three categories:

  • Repair/Rehabilitation: Often the least desirable, repair projects have the most urgency if they’re necessary for your home. However, if you’re investing in improving a rental home or looking to flip a house, you’ll often find that the house requires many of these projects. Overall, these costs may often come to about $20k on average. They can include jobs such as repairing a roof with asphalt for $6k, reworking electrical wiring for $2k, repairing bathroom plumbing for $4k, and doing about $6k worth of landscaping work in a dilapidated front yard.
  • Upgrades/Renovation: Upgrade and renovation costs tend to be more expensive than repairs. This increase in cost is due to two factors: you are removing the previous installation rather than building on top of it, and you’re deliberately choosing higher-quality materials and appliances. Where a simple bathroom repair may cost $5k, you could see spending easily $10k or more to renovate a bathroom and install a hot tub or new sink and toilet. Depending on the features you opt to include, the price can vary wildly, but you should expect to spend anywhere from 25% to 50% more to upgrade a home than just repairing its faults.
  • Expansion/Installation: The most expensive projects for homes include expansions and new installations of substantial features such as decks. These projects may often have a floor of $10-20k and go up from there. You will need to consider things such as extending your HVAC, plumbing, and electrical wiring to new expansions to your home. If you don’t do it properly the first time, you may quickly find that your most recent expansion also becomes the next part of your home that you will need to repair or upgrade. If you are looking to add an entirely new guest room to your home, for example, do not be surprised if the total project proposal is between $40-60k.

How to Quickly Find Quality Contractors

The golden rule when it comes to finding contractors you can trust is to rely on previous work. There are no guarantees in this world, but if a contractor has previously charged a fair price, delivered quality work that holds up for years, and has left their customers happy, then that’s a contractor you should seriously consider hiring. For many homeowners, that means relying on recommendations and references from friends, family, and other trusted contractors. For example, if you have a go-to mechanic who always gives you a fair deal on car maintenance, ask who they use for home repairs and improvements.

There are some major red flags when it comes to contractors that you should avoid. The first is not providing a detailed estimate but just giving you a number. If the contractor can’t explain to you why the work should cost $10,000, they may be inflating the price. Similarly, good contractors who know their specialties will be able to clearly explain what the job entails and why it costs a certain amount. Other red flags include being unable to provide references upon request and not having a portfolio — even a modest one — of their past jobs.

If you don’t have any leads from friends, family, and other professionals, you can always turn to the internet. Many good contractors will have websites that showcase their work. These sites can be found by conducting a Google search for that kind of contractor in your area or using aggregator sites such as Angie’s list. Even though you can find good results this way, you may also be led astray. After all, a company that invests its resources into showing up well on Google or getting a paid spot on an aggregator site might not be investing its resources as much into quality equipment, materials, and employees. Even if you find the company through an online search, take a moment to ask them for their references.

By Christopher Gallagher

Christopher is a Pennsylvania homeowner who has hired contractors for several landscaping and repair jobs, including electrical wiring, HVAC equipment, deckbuilding, roof replacement, and plumbing repair.