(Money Magazine) -- In this extreme buyer's market, you
can talk down the price of everything from flat-screen televisions to summer
rentals. When it comes to home improvement, though, haggling is as risky as
ever. Even if contractors are more willing to lower their prices nowadays,
they're still liable to get angry and to cut corners on the job.
To find out how consumers can safely play this
give-and-take, we asked dozens of home-improvement pros around the country
what approaches would work on them. Most didn't want to talk about it, but we
persisted, and a few revealed plum tips.
Get at least three bids so you know the market price range
for the job. Tell each contractor that you're getting other bids, so he's
motivated to give you a competitive number.
Choose all of your project details - the tiles, fixtures,
hardware, everything - before you ask contractors for bids, so they're pricing
the same things rather than guessing at parts of the job. Then ask for
itemized bids, compare the costs apples to apples, and respectfully point out
--Paul Wallerus, Contractor,
Ask if you can pay the contractor's subcontractors and
suppliers directly. That's good for him because he won't have to lay out the
money - and for you because he won't be adding his markup to their fees.
--Ron Graham Jr., Carpenter, San
Be flexible about timing. Exterior work is cheaper in the
fall; interior renovation and decorating jobs January through March.
--Steve Brennan, Contractor (and Ph.D.
in economics) Chicago
Help him save face: Suggest that he ask his subcontractors
or suppliers for better pricing. Then he can say, "I pushed back on my subs
and got you these savings," even if the money is coming out of his pocket.
--Bill Hirsch, Architect, Cary, N.C.
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