Nine home improvements you should always negotiate

Negotiating prices of home improvements isn't the same as negotiating car prices. But some home improvements, like projects you could do yourself, lend themselves to price flexibility. 

John Badman/The Telegraph/AP
Construction worker Cory Cheek uses a nail gun Thursday to preassemble a wall in Roxana, Ill. Price negotiation for home improvements isn't super flexible, but some projects can easily be negotiated.

Contractors aren't easy to haggle with. You can't negotiate the price of home improvements in the same way you can with car salesmen. But that doesn't mean you're locked in to whatever the contractor first says.

When negotiating the cost of home improvements, it helps to start off with a solid idea of what you want to pay. Be honest about your budget, and your contractor will do his or her best to complete the project accordingly. If they can't meet your price exactly, then you can examine where some cost savings lie. Perhaps you don't need the high-end granite countertops, after all. Maybe you can do the painting later on your own. If you show flexibility on your end, the contractor may show some flexibility on theirs.

Here's a look at some of the home improvement jobs that might offer opportunity for price negotiations.

1. Anything Big

The larger the job, the more ability you have to negotiate. Contractors want big jobs and know they can lead to additional work down the road, so they're not going to walk away from a project over a few dollars here and there. When my family hired someone to build an addition to our house, we saved several thousand dollars by haggling over the final cost in advance. We chatted about the cost of every aspect of the project, and were able to find savings in a variety of areas, from the windows to the carpeting and the type of deck stain. The key is to discuss the total cost beforehand and make sure everything is outlined in a contract so there are no surprises.

2. Jobs That Your Neighbors Are Considering

If you're getting a new roof installed and you know that your next-door neighbor needs a new roof as well, use that as leverage. If you can promise to give your contractor's name to your neighbor, the contractor might be willing to knock off a few dollars from your price. Some contractors even promise discounts if you give them future business through referrals.

3. Any Job Where You Are Getting Multiple Bids

If a contractor knows you're seeking bids from other contractors, he will be more inclined to be flexible on cost. This usually works for larger jobs — you're not going to get 10 bids for a clogged drain, for instance — but also be prepared to humbly come back to the contractor if the other bids aren't any lower.

4. Jobs That You Can Complete Yourself

Let's say a contractor is building you a new deck. Are you willing to paint or stain the deck yourself after it's constructed? If a plumber had to cut a hole in the ceiling to fix a pipe, can you replace the drywall later on your own? Figuring out what you can do yourself can help reduce the price of any job.

5. Winter Jobs

Many contractors will find themselves busy as bees during the spring and summer months, but twiddling their thumbs in the cold months of winter. That's because many homeowners never consider improvement projects until the weather is nice. Contractors may be more flexible on price if they aren't as busy, and you may find that they can do the work sooner for you as well.

6. Jobs Where You Are Not Picky

The more particular you are, the less negotiating flexibility you have. If you can relax on certain aspects of a project, you may save money. Perhaps you're not too concerned about getting top-of-the-line carpeting in a room that doesn't get much foot traffic. Perhaps you don't need as many electrical outlets in a family room as you first thought. Negotiating is a two-way street, so know where your flexibility lies.

7. Bundled Jobs

Last year, my family had contractors handle a number of repairs. They were unrelated jobs, but we were able to save some money by convincing the contractor to think of them as part of a single project. A contractor can save money on labor costs by working on several projects at once, and may also be able to save on bulk purchases of materials. (See also: Save Time, Money, and Hassle by Bundling Your Home Repairs)

8. Jobs That Don't Require Materials

Sometimes, you can get a contractor to perform extra small jobs that require nothing more than a little extra sweat on their part. For instance, if they are at your home for a major renovation, then maybe they will be willing to power wash the exterior of your house (it helps if you provide the power washer), clean out your gutters, or trim some tree branches. During a recent big project at my house, a contractor took the time to label the switches on my circuit breaker box at no extra charge. These might be jobs that take very little time, require no extra expense on their part, and can be squeezed in while workers are on a job site anyway.

9. The Kind You Can Pay For in Full Early

Contractors, like all people, love getting paid for their work. In most cases, they will not ask for full payment until a job is complete. But they may be willing to offer a discount if they can get the majority of funds early on. This requires some trust on your part, and you should withhold at least some payment until a job is complete. But if you show that you're able to pay promptly, contractors may show their appreciation with some price flexibility.

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