How to Save on Hardwood Flooring Costs

Hardwood flooring looks beautiful -- but it's an expensive look. If you're thinking of replacing your carpet or tile or even updating your old hardwood floors, you'll want to do a fair amount of research. In other words, don't make any sudden moves if you don't want to blow up your bank account.

After all, you have a lot of things to consider, from the cost of labor and installation to the price of materials. You might spend anywhere from $3 to $14 per square foot, just for the materials, and another $3 to $8 per square foot to have somebody install your hardwood flooring. That adds up. Hardwood flooring can cost thousands of dollars, depending on whether you're having one room or multiple rooms done. The price also goes up depending on the type of wood. Brazilian walnut and mahogany, for instance, are typically three or four times more expensive than pine flooring.

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How to Save on Hardwood Flooring Costs

There are several strategies you can take to save on hardwood flooring costs.

-- Comparison shop.

-- Buy the materials -- and then hire the contractor.

-- Offer to pay cash.

-- Do it yourself -- if you know what you're doing.

-- Read the fine print.

Comparison Shop

Yes, comparison shopping can be a hassle, but you aren't going to know what's out there unless you talk to several contractors or more than one home improvement store.

As for finding a contractor, consult your friends and family and see who recommends whom. Read contractor reviews, but take them with a grain of salt, recommends Beth Seeber, marketing manager for GoodGuyFlooring, an online flooring company.

"Keep in mind that many times people will not review a company unless things went remarkably well or tragically awful for them," Seeber says.

She advises looking to see how the reviews trend. Are there more positive reviews than negative ones? And if the company responds in a polite and professional manner, that's probably a good sign, according to Seeber.

Of course, you could just go to a home improvement chain and let them do all of the work -- but many home experts say that's costly.

"I would not go (to a) big box store unless you want to pay for the assurance of additional warranties on your hardwood product or installation services," says Jonathan Faccone, founder of Halo Homebuyers LLC, a New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania real estate development and investment company.

"The box stores will basically do the same thing that you would do, which is to have their third-party flooring subcontractors complete the install," he adds.

That said, if you do hire someone on your own to put in your hardwood flooring, make sure you've vetted the person carefully. There are many horror stories of homeowners hiring bad contractors. As Faccone notes, "There is a saying in the residential development space when it comes to choosing subcontractors: 'Price, quality and speed is what we are after, but you have to choose two.'"

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Buy the Materials -- and Then Hire the Contractor

That's a possible strategy if you want to save money, according to Faccone. "There are many online dealers that offer very good prices compared to retail stores. My suggestion then is to find and purchase the material yourself -- and then hire a flooring subcontractor to do the install," he says.

If you take that approach, Faccone adds, "To begin the job, most contractors will ask for some type of deposit. However, since you are purchasing the material directly from the supplier, I would keep the deposit as small as possible. There is no need to pay an installer a large deposit when they are not shelving out much of their own money for materials."

That's one way to do it. For some people, it may be another argument to go to a big-box store, so they can do everything and hold your hand throughout the process. But, again, you probably won't save money.

Offer to Pay Cash

Doug Mitchell, a financial advisor and owner of Ogletree Financial Services in Auburn, Alabama, says that a few years ago he and his spouse decided to have all of their floors redone, including three bedrooms that had carpet changed out to hardwood. "A pretty expensive venture," Mitchell says.

But after all of the negotiating was done and the price was agreed upon, Mitchell asked the contractor if the price would come down if he paid cash -- instead of using a credit card, which charges fees to the merchant.

The contractor agreed. Mitchell ended up saving $2,000.

That said, some industry experts argue that you're better off paying by credit or debit card since you're establishing a firm paper trail that you paid the contractor -- and something could always go wrong with the project later.

Do It Yourself -- If You Know What You're Doing

"Installing hardwood floors is a relatively simple do-it-yourself project," Seeber says.

That is, it's relatively easy if you're skilled at DIY projects. If high school woodshop was one of your least favorite classes, don't do this yourself.

"Installing hardwood floors isn't as easy as it looks," says Connie Heintz, a real estate agent in Toronto. "It involves a lot of filling cracks, shellacking and sanding. The sanding part is the hardest. If you're not a whiz with a belt sander, you could end up sanding too much and creating bumps and divots on your floor."

Do that, Heintz adds, and you could pay for it even more someday when you try to sell the house, and prospective buyers aren't too keen on buying a house with uneven floors.

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Read the Fine Print

Make sure you understand the contract you're signing, and that there aren't any surprise fees. For instance, will the flooring installer move your furniture? And is there a charge for that?

You also want to be certain that the floors will be installed within the budget you have mapped out.

"A good flooring expert can lay down hardwood floors with as little waste as possible. And they'll have the job done fast, so you don't have to worry about paying extra for labor," Heintz says.

But if you hire the wrong person to install your hardwood floors? You might end up being floored. "You could end up with a surprise bill later on," Heintz says. "I've seen it happen over and over, where someone thinks they're paying a certain price and then it turns out to be way more."

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