Couple working on DIY projects in their home to save on renovations

Ways to Save on Your Home Remodel

Updated January 4, 2017 . AmFam Team

Are you looking to remodel but want to avoid breaking the bank? Cut costs by getting thrifty and following these tips to save money on home renovations.

From a full-blown home makeover to just a few cosmetic adjustments, remodeling your house can be an exciting time! But it’s not always easy on your bank account. Before you go ripping up carpet and installing new cabinets, get in a money-saving mindset by following these tips on how to save money on home renovations.

Tips to Lower Your Home Improvement Costs

Sprucing up your home doesn’t mean that you need to break the bank to make it uniquely yours. With a little elbow grease and careful planning, big changes may not be as far away as you think. Take a look at these tips to improve your home on a shoestring budget:

Consider the resale value

The first thing you should think about when deciding on a costly home renovation is the resale value. If you’re planning to sell your home in the future, you’ll probably want to recoup some of the renovation costs. Will the addition or renovation help increase the value of your home? Choose remodeling projects that boost resale values to get the most bang for your buck.

Take your time finding help

If you’re hiring contractors, it’s not a good idea hire the first group you contact. Request written bids from at least three reputable contractors to find the lowest possible price. Carefully review the bids to compare what you’re getting with each proposal and how the contractor stands behind the work once it’s complete.

Sure, price is an important consideration, but remember that poor workmanship and low-quality materials can lead to unplanned repair or replacement expenses down the road. Also, if you’re going the contractor route, make sure that they’re licensed and insured before they sign the dotted line to work with you. It’s key that you understand the best ways to avoid contractor fraud before you start collecting bids.

Also, it’s important to verify that your contractor will apply for any work permits or locally-required documents where an inspector or other authority is required to review the job. Your contactor should also take photos throughout the project to prove compliance with local codes.

Do the work yourself

Labor can take a solid chunk from your renovation budget. Save some money by putting your own sweat equity into your projects. Sure, there are some things best left to a professional — electrical work, certain demolition and major plumbing, to name a few — but don’t underestimate the power of your own two hands.

Painting, sanding and insulation are all ways you can chip in and save money on home renovations. Take advantage of the many free resources available and learn how you can do some home improvements DIY style.

If you decide to get the job done yourself, work closely with your local inspector and permitting team to help ensure you’re doing the work properly. Again, document your progress with photographs and keep receipts for all materials purchased during the upgrade.

Consider look-alikes

Don’t let the term “knock-off” deter you from saving money. Whether retiling a bathroom or swapping your shag carpet for a stylish hardwood floor, you can find imitation materials that look just as nice for a price that’s often less than half the cost. For example, while a solid oak hardwood floor is attractive, it’s also expensive. Consider laminate oak flooring that looks similar but costs way less.

  • Projected costs of this project: Hardwood - $15.00/sq. ft. Laminate - $8.00/sq. ft.
  • Estimated savings: A 400 sq. ft. space - $2800.00

Get thrifty

Big-time do-it-yourselfers find the best deals because they know where to look. Reap some big savings by heading to recycling centers, like Habitat for Humanity ReStores (Opens in a new tab). These stores offer salvaged materials at half-off home-center prices. Even yard sales or sites like Craigslist can be extremely fruitful if you take the time to do some digging.

Keep in mind that some contractors won’t work with salvaged items to avoid a liability risk. They might be hesitant to work with materials that they don’t know the history or quality of. Check with your contractor to see if this is a viable option.

Bid on materials

Another inexpensive remodeling trick is to check out auctions that specialize in home building products and score amazing deals on surplus remodeling materials from brand-name wholesalers and retailers. The best part? Most auctions sell everything from kitchen sinks and cabinets to trim and molding. While you might have to travel a few hours away to find the right auction, it could be worth the savings in the long run!

Plan around plumbing

Do yourself a financial favor and plan your renovation around existing plumbing. If you choose to move your toilet or sink just a few feet, you could be looking at costs well over a thousand dollars. But the cost to keep it in place? Free!

  • Projected costs of this project: Plumbers cost around $150.00/hr.
  • Estimated savings: 3 hours work = $450.00

Work with what you have

Your biggest savings could be located right in your own home. Get in the revamp mindset and give your current space a face lift instead of an entire remodel. It may be tempting to double the size of your kitchen or opt for a brand new addition, but you don’t have to go bigger to make it better, in most cases.

Install high pantry cabinets to increase your storage space, hang pots, pans and utensils on the walls and rearrange your bathroom for maximum functionality. You’d be surprised what a little bit of creativity can do. A room can be transformed with the right lighting, color, décor and storage space, so be open to affordable alternatives and reinvent what you already have.

Refurbish your furniture and décor

Instead of purchasing a new set of dining room chairs or hitting up the big stores for your wall décor, head to a local antique or resale shop for wonderful character pieces at a lower cost. Just give them a bit of paint and a little TLC to look and feel brand new!

Donate old appliances to non-profits that pick up for free

Many people opt to have old materials picked up, but this service often comes with a price tag. Even getting one small appliance picked up on trash day could cost you more than $20. Skip the charge and call up your local Habitat for Humanity. Not only will they pick up anything that’s salvageable at no cost, but you can get a tax write-off for making a charitable donation.

  • Projected costs of this project: Variable
  • Estimated savings: $20 per appliance

DIY hauling

On a similar note, instead of paying a store to drop off your new materials, pick them up yourself! Do you have a truck? Perfect. If not, ask to borrow from a friend or rent a truck from one of the many home improvement stores nearby. Costs start at $20.00 per hour. It’ll be worth it to at least compare the cost of delivery fees to the cost of renting a truck.

  • Projected costs of this project: $150.00 to rent a truck for the day
  • Estimated savings: $150.00

If you’re completing a big renovation like a new kitchen or finished basement, you’ll want to check in with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) to see if your remodeling project has added value to your home. They’ll make sure that your coverage limits are adequate and reflect how your home has been amended post remodeling work.

Keep in mind that some remodeling projects may require specific insurance. So be sure to check with your agent to add specialized coverage to protect you during your remodeling project. Also, don’t forget to update your home insurance inventory so you have the right coverage in the event of the unexpected.

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    Choosing your new apartment isn’t an impulse decision. The choice you make will have an impact for a long time. There are many different things to consider as you tour one possible home after another. On top of that, landlords and management companies work hard to make them all seem perfect.

    How can you tell which one’s the right fit for you? Here are 20 key questions to ask when renting an apartment. The answers can give you a better idea of what you’d get from each one.

    How Much is Rent & the Security Deposit?

    Any apartment hunter should ask themself this crucial question: “How much should I spend on rent?” Setting a budget ahead of the search helps narrow the possibilities. You’ll save time by eliminating options that are too expensive.

    Still, relying on online listings alone may not be enough. It’s better to personally ask the landlord, whether by calling, emailing, or visiting. Make sure to also bring up the security deposit, as well as any other upfront costs they may ask of you. This will save you from unpleasant surprises before you sign anything.

    How Much are Utilities and What Do I Cover?

    Every apartment complex handles utilities differently. Water, electricity, air conditioning, heating, gas, and more may be split between landlord and tenant. Then there is the matter of which ones you’ll need to get yourself. Your apartment may come with cable and wi-fi, but you may be responsible for them on your own.

    Only your landlord will know for sure, and they should be clear about what’s expected of you. Before leasing an apartment, you should ask what utilities are available and which ones are covered. Record the answers, factor the costs into your budget, and look for the place that offers the most for the least.

    How Does Parking Work?

    Some apartment complexes have their own parking lots, with many spaces reserved for tenants and a few set aside for guests. Others may give residents access to a dedicated structure, providing greater security — but possibly at a higher cost. Others still may only offer street parking, which can be expensive to maintain.

    In short, parking may be a complex situation involving specific locations and extra costs. If you have a car, don’t just ask if parking is available. Get the details. As you weigh your options, consider what’s best for your car as well.

    What’s the Pet Policy & Is There a Deposit or Fee?

    The pet policy won’t matter to every apartment hunter. If you have a furry friend or might want one someday, make this one of their first questions to ask when touring an apartment. A “no” answer is no deal, no matter how great the other perks may be.

    Some landlords may allow pets if you pay a one-time deposit or additional monthly fees. Make sure to keep that in mind during your search.

    What Amenities are Included?

    Utilities cover the most vital parts of a home — the things that make living there comfortable. Amenities are the complex’s welcome bonuses — the things that make living there enjoyable. Common examples include clubhouses, swimming pools, public kitchens, communal laundry machines, and fitness rooms.

    Amenities are great for those who use them, but their presence can justify higher rent. As your landlord takes you through each selling point on your tour, ask them whether these perks are included with your price. Also, make sure to consider if you’ll even use them.

    Do I Need Renters Insurance?

    Home insurance is for houses. If you live in an apartment, you look for renters insurance instead. In fact, some places make it mandatory for all residents. Be sure to ask your landlord in advance so you can make any arrangements you need.

    This practice is all about liability. Landlords have their own insurance, but it’s based on their duties and would only cover their share of the damages. Renters insurance offers protection for your living space and your belongings. Even if it’s not required, getting your own policy could bring you peace of mind.

    Can You Describe the Application Process?

    Applying for an apartment can be complicated and time-consuming. You might have to pay fees, undergo background checks and other screenings, and more just to see if you qualify. This may be preferable to the alternative: apartment listings that promise no credit check may be scams.

    You could always learn about each step of the application process as you go. Still, it never hurts to know ahead of time, especially if there are any fees and risks. If anything is unclear, the landlord should explain it to you.

    What Should I Know About Rent Increases?

    A variety of factors can change the value of an apartment. Examples include market shifts, new installations, repairs and replacements of fixtures. Your rent will likely not change for the duration of your lease. Once the time comes to sign again, though, your monthly payments may very well go up.

    This may not seem like a pertinent question when starting a lease. Still, making it one of your questions to ask when touring an apartment could be useful. How your potential future landlord approaches the matter can tell you what to expect. At the very least, it can help you choose whether to look for a new place well before your lease ends.

    What are the Lease Length Options?

    How long are you looking to stay at your next apartment? One year, two years, longer, less? Not everyone has a plan in mind, which means the apartment’s available options may give you an idea of what to expect in the future.

    Landlords always inform apartment hunters about the duration of their lease. However, you might need to probe them for other available options. Be sure to make this one of your questions to ask before leasing an apartment, even if they only mention one length that sounds good. They might have something better.

    Can I Make Changes to the Rental Unit?

    Your apartment may come pre-furnished, but it’s unlikely to be pre-decorated. Few people are content with blank walls and sparse spaces. Most prefer to personalize and beautify their home with art, decorations and other belongings.

    Unlike houses, apartments usually only have temporary residents. The building’s owner may not allow certain kinds of changes, believing they may hurt the unit’s future value. Take the time to go over policies. That way, you can get a better idea of how you’ll make your space feel like a home.

    How Do Maintenance Requests Work?

    Besides rent, tenants might only interact with their landlord through maintenance requests. After all, it’s the complex owner’s duty to keep everything in their apartments running smoothly. If your shower stops pumping heated water or your lock gets sticky, maintenance will get it fixed.

    Asking about the process of filing maintenance requests can give insights to how landlords view this responsibility. Does the process seem straightforward or complicated? Are approvals easy, or do they require a great deal of evidence and demonstration? The answers may reveal how long this landlord will let you live with inconvenience. Few questions to ask about apartments are more revealing than this.

    What’s the Guest Policy?

    In most cases, a guest policy doesn’t apply to someone who’s just visiting for a few hours. It covers situations where someone might want to stay at a tenant’s apartment for a few days or longer. Depending on the terms of the policy, you might even need permission for someone to spend the night.

    Don’t just assume that any landlord would be okay with your best friend crashing on your couch for a while. Get the details on the guest policy before moving in. They’ll tell you what permissions they’d grant and how you can get them granted.

    What’s the Neighborhood Like?

    The oldest real estate myth holds that three factors must guide where you choose to live: “location, location, location.” There’s more to it than that, as this list of questions to ask when renting an apartment should make clear. Still, the area around the complex is important to consider.

    Getting info on the neighborhood is valuable to any apartment hunt. Try to get your landlord’s perspective about any areas of concern. We also recommend exploring on your own, both by car and on foot. See if any useful places are close by, such as grocery stores.

    How Soon are You Looking to Fill the Unit?

    In most cases, you won’t be the only person viewing an apartment. Others have likely received a grand tour, and others may be waiting in line to see the place as well. Landlords might be screening you as much as you’re screening them.

    Landlords are also usually interested in starting a new lease as soon as the current one ends. One way to get noticed is to strike quickly: ask when they’d want you to move in. You should still weigh your options, but don’t procrastinate.

    Do I Need a Cosigner?

    People with rental history have a record that landlords can review. If this is your first time paying rent, they won’t know if they can trust you to make payments on time and consistently. Adding a cosigner to the contract can make it easier. Their signature promises that even if you can’t pay rent, someone else can pay for you.

    Many renters with no history may worry about background checks and credit checks. However, there are some landlords who won’t ask for them. While the answer will likely be a yes, it doesn’t hurt to have it on a list of first-time renter questions.

    What Payment Methods are Accepted?

    Rent payments can take a variety of forms. Before you make any assumptions, though, you should double-check what’s allowed. Each place will have its own policies. Some offer more payment method options than others.

    You might be able to set up a regular automatic withdrawal from your bank account. You might have to do it online. The landlord might accept checks or cards (warning: anyone who only takes cash is likely a scammer). There’s only one way to know for sure.

    What Furnishings & Appliances are Included?

    Preparing for the big move is a big task. It’s not just deciding what to take, but also figuring out what you need to get. Each apartment is different: some come fully furnished with appliances, while others only have a bed.

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    How Much Notice Do You Give Before You or a Representative Shows Up at the Property?

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    What’s Your Late Fee Policy?

    Accidents can happen. Paychecks can come late. You might have temporary money problems. Most apartment contracts provide some leeway for late rent payments. But they might charge a late fee.

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    What’s Your Subletting Policy?

    Subletting is when a renter temporarily moves out and lets someone else cover their lease. A landlord may refuse to rent to your candidate if they don’t meet their requirements.

    Even if you don’t plan to leave during your lease, you may still want to know your apartment’s subletting policy. Life may surprise you. Being aware can save you some time and trouble in looking for someone to take over.

    Know the Best Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

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    Renters Insurance from American Family Insurance

    Even while you’re still apartment-hunting, it’s never too early to start thinking about renters insurance. If you have any questions about that, feel free to contact an American Family Insurance agent. Once you’ve learned what we have to offer, you can get a quote online and get protection for your next home.

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    Woman sitting at table writing a home inventory for homeowners insurance.
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    Your home is more than a roof over your head. It’s where your dreams grow, your family thrives and memories are made. But the possessions you keep inside are important, too.

    Whether you’re renting an apartment or own your home, you’ve most likely got an insurance policy designed to protect your dwelling and the things inside. Should the unthinkable happen and you have to use that insurance policy, it’s important to have a plan in place. And a home inventory list is a great way to get started!

    We’ll walk you through how to create a home inventory so — in the event of the unexpected — you’ll be more prepared and have a streamlined recovery.

    What Is a Home Inventory?

    Quite simply, a home inventory is a complete list of all the items, especially valuables, in and around your home. The best home inventories include photos, descriptions and dollar values of each of your belongings. The more detail, the better! It’ll help you provide a comprehensive list to your agent of items lost in the event your home is damaged or destroyed, allowing you to get the most out of your coverage.

    When your describing the items in your list, remember that the more information, the better. Here’s a quick reference list of the type of information you should include in your home inventory list:

    • An in-depth description of the items. For example, rather than writing down “diamond ring,” be more descriptive, such as: “an emerald cut diamond ring, with white gold shank, accent stones and initials inscribed below the bridge.”
    • Make, model, and/or serial number of the items.
    • Date of purchase, receipts and photos.
    • Estimated replacement cost if you bought it today. Do note that the value of the items might be different today than it was when you first bought them. This is especially true with jewelry, and other valuables.
    • Appraisals at time of purchase. Especially if your items were appraised for insurance purposes.

    Why Do I Need a Home Inventory?

    Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, everyone can benefit from a home inventory!

    If you ever have to make a claim, a home inventory is a great asset to have, especially after stressful events like theft, storm damage or a fire (take a look at how one renter used their home inventory after facing an apartment fire).

    When you make a claim, you typically submit information on everything that was lost — which can be difficult to do off the top of your head for all your possessions. Remembering to replace your TV or computer are no-brainers, but when it comes to remembering each piece of jewelry in your jewelry box, things tend to get overlooked. Having a personal property inventory will help, along with knowing how to properly insure your jewelry.

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    Your roof is old

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