Fix your home without
breaking your wallet
When the toilet starts to leak,
the cabinet door falls off or the tile starts looking simply too
shabby, it's not just a nuisance. It's also an expense.
Owning a home is supposed to be a good financial move.
But suddenly it seems like a financial minefield as the plumber
putters around, charging you for every minute of his time. Well,
what if you could take care of some of these problems yourself?
You probably can do many of these jobs, and with the
investment of a few evenings of your time in a home-repair class,
you can easily save hundreds to thousands of dollars in contracting
Back to school for home improvement
Across the country, community colleges and continuing-education
programs offer low-cost classes in home repair -- and the classes
are so popular that many have waiting lists year after year.
"A leaky toilet is a basic repair job,"
says Howard Jeser, a remodeler and home-repair instructor at Elgin
Community College in Elgin, Ill., for the past 12 years. "So
is repairing cracks and holes in drywall, installing new sinks and
doing a basement remodeling project."
How much would that cost with a contractor? A simple
crack along the joint in drywall will run $100-$200 to repair, and
a contractor will charge a minimum of $75-$100 to come over to a
home to cover his time, even if it's a minor repair. After taking
a class, you could deal with that crack on your own.
"I've had a lot of friends and neighbors who've
been taken by contractors, charged outrageous amounts of money for
jobs they could do themselves," Jeser says. "One of the
reasons I started teaching this course was to teach first-time homeowners,
widows and elderly people jobs they can do on their own."
For many remodeling projects, you can save 25 percent
to 60 percent of the cost of the contract by doing some of the simpler
"A lot of contract expense is demolition work.
So if you do the demolition and present the contractor with a clean
space to work, you can save a lot," says Jeser, who is a carpenter
registered with the union hall in Elgin.
"You can find a contractor who's willing to work
with you" and take on only the parts of the project that require
specialized skill and experience, he says.
Knowledge is power .. and money
Home-repair courses generally meet in the evenings or on weekends,
and the cost ranges from $25 for a six-week plumbing or electrical
wiring class at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City, Iowa, to
$49 for one day's instruction in basement remodeling at Elgin Community
College in Elgin, Ill., to $115 for a new-home repair course at
Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Mass.
North Seattle Community College charges $75 for a
basic home repair course and $65 for a woodworking class, and administrators
there say the classes always have waiting lists.
Most classes in individual topics are less than $150,
while some extensive home-repair series that cover everything from
plumbing to installing ceilings can run around $250. But does the
cost of the class pay off?