4 Materials prices have dropped.
With the falloff in demand, construction materials are readily available, and many have come down in price. Between January 2007 and January 2008, framing lumber fell 15.6 percent, insulation 3.6 percent, and wallboard a whopping 22 percent. That makes taking a weekend to beef up the insulation in the attic or finally finishing off that corner of your basement a particularly cost—effective project right now. You can also get some items more quickly. “When we were running full tilt, turnaround times were 14 to 16 weeks,” says Vince Achey, vice president of sales and part owner of Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry. “Now they’re 8 to 10 weeks.”

5 You can cut a deal on labor costs.
To fill their calendars, some contractors have begun discounting their services. “We’re offering a number of 10 and 15 percent off programs,” says Brian Hutto, a vice president of Home Depot’s Home Services, the company’s installation services unit. Increasingly, the home center has been discounting labor at its 2,000 stores, and independent contractors around the country report scaling back their prices similarly.

6 Some of the bad apples are gone.
When the home-improvement business was going gangbusters, anyone with a pickup truck and a metal clipboard could call himself a general contractor. He didn’t need experience, skill, or good working relationships with subcontractors to find business. Times are tougher, and it’s the marginal guys who have gone under. “The contractors who are still standing are more likely to be those who have been around longer, who are more professional, who produce more accurate bids, and who are better at customer relations,” says Harvard’s Kermit Baker. Of course, you still need to do your due diligence and check references so you don’t wind up being a failing contractor’s unfortunate last client. Also, be wary of new-home builders trying to drum up renovation business; they may not have experience with older houses or working directly with homeowners.

7 You can enjoy the results.
Given the state of real estate, you’re probably not going to be selling for a few years. And that means you can truly enjoy the improvements you make. “We’re in an era where, rather than stretching for a trophy home, we can think about ways to modify the houses we’re already in to make ourselves happy,” says Daniel McGinn, author of House Lust, a book about how America became obsessed with McMansions, vacation houses, and “investing” in real estate during the boom. Let’s face it, after all the expense and stress of a kitchen remodel, wouldn’t you like to settle down at that honed-granite breakfast nook for a while?
Ask TOH users about Befores and Afters

Contribute to This Story Below