Recession-Friendly Home Fix-Ups


Times are tough no matter what's in your retirement portfolio, and some projects simply need to get done.

That kitchen you put off remodeling last year? The carpeting you were going to replace with the 2008 holiday bonus? Unfortunately, wear-and-tear on your house occurs no matter what the state of the economy or the real estate market. You can put it off for a while, but eventually you're going to have to deal with it.

Here are some money-saving tips for home fix-ups in a bear market.

Save it: It wasn't that long ago that using recycled building materials was considered a little strange. Why would you want to use someone else's kitchen sink or even their old toilet?

Then some designers picked up used, expensive fixtures, paneling, flooring, countertops, etc., and showed on TV that you could live very well with someone's old construction throwaways.

Most cities have at least one dealer who specializes in used materials, so go in and be ready for a treasure hunt. Amid the dented, chipped porcelain sinks you may find a perfect copper for your kitchen.

Re-dos: Hardwood floors scratch, stain and develop "character" over time. But when they get too worn, lots of people look longingly at flooring shops and want new planks installed. But before you get that far, think about having the floor refinished. At half the cost of a new floor, you can change the color of the wood or make it look like new.

Paint: The old stand-by. If you can do nothing else to your house this year, painting some areas will make you feel like you're getting somewhere. Throw caution to the wind and use a textured finish on one wall to make it stand out.

Accessories: Designers say little touches can make a room. Can't afford new hickory kitchen cabinets this spring? Try springing for some nice new door knobs and handle pulls to give your kitchen a spark.

If your dream has been to get pricey plantation shutters throughout the house, look instead at some creative window treatments. Many high-end fabric shops offer design services to help with this.

Wash it down: If your exterior paint job is right in the middle, not faded but not looking new, a cheaper alternative and good spring job is to have it washed. Depending on the surface and the type of paint, soap, water and a high-pressure sprayer can remove the soot, dirt and grime that naturally accumulate and can give that paint job an extra year or two.

Keep 'em growing: You may hate your current landscaping, but can it be saved? Scale back the plans to re-grade and re-plant and look at a more measured solution. What if those annoying trees were just trimmed back? What if flowers were put in front of those ugly hedges? What if the lawn were improved to make it greener and more lush?

The infrastructure: Some to-dos just can't be put off. If your water pipes need replacing because they're made of old, corroded steel, you may have no choice but to have an expensive copper replacement done. But before doing that, have the aerators in the faucets checked. If they're clogged, they could be contributing to low water pressure and they're cheap to replace.

Having heating/air conditioning issues? Have the system checked out and see if there are any leaking vents or clogged filters that could be causing your problems.

Labor deals: There's not a whole lot of construction going on right now, which means some very skilled trades people are probably available to do your work. See if you can negotiate their rate, but don't try to get them down too low. If you find a good carpenter, plumber, et al., it pays to keep them happy.

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