Managing unexpected home repair costs

Wooden toolbox filled with tools

As a homeowner, you know you will eventually have to deal replacing the air conditioner, getting a new roof or replacing busted pipes.

But few of us actually budget for home repair costs, so even if we have emergency savings, we still feel the sting of paying to fix these problems when they happen.

Here are some strategies for keeping unplanned repair costs in check:

Assess the severity of the situation. Do you need to repair it right away, or can it wait? Waiting can help you factor the cost into your budget. It also gives you time to shop around.

If the gutter falls off the back of your house during the dry season, it’s not an emergency. On the other hand, if you see water seeping out from under your garage door and discover your water heater is spewing everywhere, you can’t ignore it.

Decide if you truly need professional help. When choosing between a do-it-yourself job and a professional job, you’ll always have to sacrifice something.

Given the situation, ask yourself what you can most afford to sacrifice -- time, money or workmanship?

If your roof is leaking, maybe you don’t really need a roofer -- maybe you just need to climb up there yourself with a caulk gun. But if a swarm of bees has invaded your tool shed, it’s probably not worth the cost in bee stings to try to deal with the problem yourself.

Shop around. Even in an emergency situation, you can often stave off the problem for long enough to call three different vendors.

If there’s a serious plumbing problem, you can shut off the water. If you saw a gigantic roach in your kitchen, you can make some noise to scare off any of its siblings while you call three different pest control companies.

Most contractors will be reluctant to give you any kind of price over the phone, which is understandable since it’s hard for them to assess a problem they haven’t seen in person. But you can often get them to disclose a range of prices for a best to worst-case scenario.

These conversations give you a chance not just to shop for price, but also to get a feel for the contractor’s attitude and level of customer service.

The next time something goes wrong with your house, don’t panic -- you do have control over the cost of fixing it.

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