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Home Improvement Guide 2007
Get ready
Before starting any home improvement project, research and planning is the key to successful results.
Remodeling costs depend on location
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Another major price factor: supply and demand. When the economy in an area is booming and home prices are climbing, homeowners have the confidence to take that equity and reinvest in home remodeling projects, says Winans.

But for homeowners, it's not always the money. "Remodeling is extremely emotional," Winans says. "It's not always a rational decision people make."

Nationally, prices for remodeling are up 15 percent to 20 percent from a few years ago, says Winans. But that money isn't going into remodelers' pockets.

"Every single cost is higher than two years ago," he says.

"I keep reading that there's no inflation," Winans says. That's not the case "in our business," he says. While he believes that the $3-plus-per-gallon gas prices are a factor, "the cost impact isn't as much as the uncertainty it creates," he says.

Homeowners' control
Homeowners will play a big role in determining the size of the bill, especially with the two most popular projects: kitchens and bathrooms, says Nagel. Costs, he says, are project-driven. "You can buy a $100 faucet or you can buy a $700 faucet."

And, except for some specialized areas such as tile, labor costs will be roughly the same, no matter what level of product you choose. "Typically, it doesn't cost more for us to install a $300 cabinet than it does a $1,500 cabinet," says Nagel.

In the Chicago area, labor is costing "$65 to $80 per hour per man," he says."Can you get it cheaper than that? Yes, but the buyer needs to be careful when shopping price only."

A homeowner wants a professional who's responsive and experienced and who uses highly skilled labor to get the job done right. But a real pro is also going to have business and operating costs, insurance, and continuing education and benefits for employees -- all of which "drives up the hourly rate," says Nagel.

While a homeowner needs to shop around, the lowest price isn't always a good bet.

"Part of what you're buying is the ability to call the contractor to service the project," says Winans. And he's noticed a "direct relationship between how little you pay and how unresponsive a contractor is after the job is done."

-- Posted: April 4, 2007
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