The Best Money-Saving Advice I Got From My Contractor Father

updated Mar 4, 2020
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(Image credit: Pablo Enriquez)

My dad is a general contractor and house framer, specializing in new, custom, often high-end homes. He and my mom started their family business, Bowling Construction, 30-some-odd years ago, and you don’t do that without knowing a thing or two about how to spend money wisely. While I, unfortunately, didn’t inherit any carpentry or construction skills from my dad, I have absorbed some handy money-saving advice, which I’ve put to good use in my own renovation projects over the years.

His best advice sounds counterintuitive, but it actually makes sense. It’s the good, old-fashioned idea of doing it right the first time, with the right tools and the right people—even if it costs more up front.

I’ve taken the low-cost route before, and I usually regret it. When my husband and I renovated our house in Detroit, I hired an affordable handyman to replace our crumbling plaster ceilings. At the time I thought a pro was cost-prohibitive, so I went with someone cheap (who I randomly met in the checkout line at Home Depot).

Cut to the end of the project. He finished the ceilings, but left plaster dust and debris on every surface, as well as stuffed into contractor bags so heavy they burst when I tried to move them. I wound up paying someone else to remove them from our second floor apartment, and then spent untold hours cleaning plaster from every nook and cranny. It wasn’t worth the money I saved by hiring him in the first place.

When we bought our next house, I’d learned my lesson. We are tackling my old Victorian home one project at a time, as we save money. The goal this time around is good craftsmanship. One of the projects was a total bath renovation, which we gutted all the way down to the floor joists. We needed someone really skilled to do the shower tile work (because you don’t want to mess around when it comes to water, especially on a second floor) and got a couple quotes. One guy was significantly less, with a quicker turnaround. The other freely admitted he wasn’t the cheapest, and explained the care and detail he puts into his work.

I sent my dad both quotes for his input, and talked it over. He, too, is often the more expensive option, and also makes no apologies for it. My dad agreed with my gut feeling that the more expensive of the two was the right choice, so that’s who I hired.

Even though the project wound up more complicated than any of us originally thought, the guy hung in there, even working late into the night over a holiday weekend to finish by my hard-and-fast deadline. The finished product is absolutely gorgeous, and even better than I dared to hope.

When my dad next came to visit, I was excited to show him the final bathroom. He is not prone to praise, doesn’t mince words, and will tell you exactly what he thinks, so I was a little apprehensive. I knew I made the right call when, after using the shower for the first time, he had just one comment about the finished job. “There’s not a single thing I’d change about it,” he said.

Yes, we could have probably spent less on the bathroom. But, this time around, there was no buyer’s remorse, no extra work, and definitely no redo needed. Plus, it added a lot of value to the house.

My dad’s advice is spot-on. You save a lot of grief, and probably money, if you do things right to begin with.