Saving Money on Home Repairs & Renos

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Hello everyone.

If you own a house, you know there is always some kind of repair or reno that needs to be done.

I have a running ‘to do’ list and it seems like every time I check something off, two more appear! Some are big, like a new roof or furnace, some smaller like painting a room, but there is always lots to do, and lots of money to be spent doing it!

With all of these home repairs and renos, how can we make sure we aren’t spending more than we need to?

Having extra time over the last few months due to the Covid lock down, I’ve managed to get through probably 2-3 years worth of home repair/renos. I painted practically the entire interior of the house, patched and painted my front porch, had some exterior brick work done, put up new light fixtures, plus 10-15 smaller repair jobs like re-caulking a sink, fixing a small dishwasher leak, putting up several picture frames, etc, etc.

I made a point of tackling most of these on my own, but only because I had the time and enough skill to do them. Over the 8 years I’ve been in this house, I’ve also outsourced many renos/repairs, including installation of a new furnace, replaced all exterior doors and windows, roof, air conditioner, tankless water heater, replaced the attic insulation, a full bathroom reno, etc.

NOT a murder room – This was my upstairs hallway during a reno

Writing that list actually surprised me how much I’ve done.

While there are so many great advantages to home ownership, all the work and cost can be pretty draining. Two weeks after buying my very first house, a pipe burst. They needed to dig down 6 feet in the front lawn to find and repair it, costing me $2000!

Since then, I’ve been very conscious of how best to approach home renos and repairs, with the goal of spending as little as possible while also ensuring the work is done reasonably well.

One of the bigger projects in the last few years was getting my roof re-shingled. I knew when I moved in that the roof didn’t have many years left in it, so I had set some money aside for it.

It’s a tough balance!

While I typically try to do as much as I can myself, roofing is not something I’m comfortable with.

I live in a semi, so I spoke to my neighbour in the adjacent semi who agreed to do their roof at the same time. This likely saved me between $500-$1000 right there. Thanks Helen and David!

I put it out to my friends on Facebook for recommendations. I then contacted some of those roofing companies, as well as others I came across. I got 5 quotes, coming in at $3200, $4475, $5538, $6700 and $9225.

At first glance, you might think the $3200 was going to be shoddy work, and the $9225 was going to be brilliant.

Maybe, but don’t forget about the ‘Marketing Placebo Effect’ mentioned in my last post. We all have a tendency to think that a higher price means higher quality. When it comes to home renovations (or anything else), that could be the case, but often it just isn’t.

Either way, going from $3200 to $9225 is a big gap! How do you know which to go with?

Well, first thing I did was a lot of research to make sure I fully understood the comparisons, especially with the different materials being quoted.

NOT my roof – Photo by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

I then researched the companies – how long they’ve been in business, Homestars and other online reviews, a Better Business Bureau check, etc.

The guy at $3200 was apparently an experienced roofer, just starting his own company. While I love to help new business owners, with such a low price, and no online reviews, I couldn’t take the risk. Not with my roof of all things.

The one at $9225 was a very well-established company, with an amazing presentation, sales pitch and great online reviews. They were pretty slick, but maybe a bit too slick for me. My sales background makes me suspect of sales people that are too polished, for right or wrong.

I ended up going with the one at $4475 for a few reasons.

It was obviously a good price compared to the $6700 and $9225.

It was not only a local business, but a neighbourhood business only a few blocks away. They had done several roofs on my street over the last few years and I was able to directly speak to two people that vouched for the company. That kind of credibility means more to me than online reviews that could have been written by anyone.

Plus I know I could track them down easily if there is a problem afterwards. The roofers I mean, not the people that vouched for them LOL.

All in, I put a lot of time and effort into deciding which roofing company to use – I probably spent around 8 hours with the research, quotes, etc! But that saved me between $2225-$4750, which equates to $278-$594 per hour of my time.

Time well spent!

My roof was done three years ago, and so far, so good!

Let’s summarize my approach to home repairs/renos.

Budget and Save

There are changes I know I want to make to the house, and I expect things to go wrong. Therefore I make sure to budget for what I know needs to be done, and I put money aside for the unexpected. I’ve seen many suggestions for how much we should budget annually – everywhere from the 1% (of your house’s value) or $1 per square foot1 as mentioned in this article, to as high as 3-5% of your house’s value. The challenge is there are many factors that affect the amount, including:

  • Age of House – If your house is relatively new, and was well built, budgeting on the lower end may be fine for a few years. If your house is very old and in need of many major repairs, then you will need to budget higher.
  • DIY – How much you plan to do yourself, vs outsourcing
  • Planned Changes – How many changes or improvements you intend to make to your house and property
  • Value of the house (when doing the % method) – A $1M house in Toronto might be the same size with similar reno/repair needs to a $200K house in a small town, which makes the % method challenging.
  • Save Extra – When in doubt, save as much as you can so you aren’t caught having to put repairs or renos on credit.
  • Track Spending – It’s also a good idea to track your home repair/reno costs each year to help you budget for following years.
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

DIY & DIM

Do It Yourself or Do It Myself (remember Doing More with Our Money post #5 ‘Repair Don’t Replace and DIM’ ?). Hiring someone to do every little bit of work adds up quickly! Wherever possibly, do as much work as you can yourself, so long as you are able to do it reasonably well.

When it comes to DIY/DIM, I like to consider the following:

  • YouTube – I swear by all of the DIY videos on YouTube. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve done that I initially thought I couldn’t do.
  • Friends & Family – DIY can include them too!
  • Be realistic – about what you can do reasonably well and what you can’t. I have a friend that is still discovering horrible repair jobs her ex did many years ago. She’s having to redo most of it, incurring a lot more time, cost and angst.
  • Do what you can – If you can’t do everything in a job, at least do what you can. For example, doing the demo work yourself can save you a lot of money on a bathroom reno.
  • Join forces – can you join forces with someone else doing or getting work done, like my roof? A roof on a semi or a shared fence are obvious examples, but there are many others that may be less obvious. For example, if your neighbour across the street is getting a new fence, and you need one too, you have more negotiating power with a contractor when you join forces.

When Hiring a Contractor

Like you saw in my roof example above, I really like to do my homework when hiring a contractor.

Consider the following:

  • Recommendations – I always prefer to get recos from friends wherever possible, as online reviews are not always trustworthy.
  • Multiple Quotes – Three quotes should be the minimum. I like to get up to five wherever possible.
  • Project & Materials – Learn enough about the project and materials to be able to compare the quotes, as often the materials being quoted can be very different
  • Reviews – Thoroughly research customer reviews
  • Price vs Quality – Make sure you fully understand the balance between price and quality especially on major home repairs like getting a roof or furnace. Saving a few dollars on a new roof today could cost you a ton after the first heavy rain fall, if it’s done poorly.
  • After work support – Understand what warranties or support are applicable to the work and materials. Is this a company that will happily come out to fix a problem for free, or will it cost you more?
  • Detailed Quote – Make sure the quote includes every little detail. I got burned once by not ensuring a quote had all the details that I know I had discussed with the contractor.
Home Stars logo from Homestars.com

Preventative Maintenance

I actually delayed getting the roof done, even knowing there was already a leak over the front porch. I had to spend a ton of time and some money fixing up that porch after the roof was finally done.

My approach to preventative maintenance includes:

  • ‘To Do’ list – I keep a running list of needed repairs, however small. Anytime I notice something new, I jot it down, so I don’t forget about it. I then prioritize based on what could cause the most pain (and cost!) if it gets worse
  • Home Inspection – Every year as part of my spring clean up, I spend an hour walking around the house, garage and yard, looking for anything in need of repair. It’s kind of like an annual home inspection. The idea is to find repairs that need to be done before they become a bigger (and more costly) problem.

That’s the approach I like to take for my own home. Email or comment if you have other ideas on how we can be Doing More with our Money for home renos and repairs.

Thanks for reading!

1 https://www.thebalance.com/home-maintenance-budget-453820

6 Replies to “Saving Money on Home Repairs & Renos”

  1. Great post, Mike! I agree that a recommendation from a neighbour beats online reviews anytime. I had a very bad experience with a contractor on HomeStar and his reviews were absolutely wonderful and didn’t look fake at all, so you just never know!

    1. I had the same happen once. I had a horrible experience with a contractor that online looked amazing!

  2. lol – “not a murder room”. Phew!
    Great article and I’m a huge fan of DIY with some limits. Great suggestion about going in on a project with a friend/neighbour. I’ve actually seen some nice looking driveways where you can tell the owners of the homes partnered with the contractor and have nice looking/matching walk ways leading up to the houses.

    1. Driveways are a great example of a job neighbours can join forces on for a discount. There are definite advantages and cost savings for a contractor to do several driveways in one shot. Thanks for the comment, Jacquie!

  3. Great article, Mike! Indeed, people who live or have lived in a house know well how much maintenance costs can multiply if they are not well managed and planned in advance. Thank you for sharing such valuable tips.

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