Did you put off home renovations during the recession? There are some projects that may be worth the (lesser) cost now.
KITCHENS: Whether they cook like Mario Batali or order takeout nightly, Americans invest in their kitchens. And these days the $12.6 billion kitchen remodeling industry is offering plenty of ways to economize, from volume freebies to remnant countertops.
Haggle this: Some cabinet makers are responding to the drop in demand by reducing or eliminating surcharges for custom-size cabinets, decorative finishes and higher-end wood types.
Buyer beware: Homeowners trying to save by sourcing materials directly from a manufacturer could make costly mistakes. If measurements are even a half-inch off, or if homeowners don't understand all the variables, they could pay much more for return shipping and a redo.
Discount alert: Custom cabinets are down 20% to 30%, thanks to lower material costs and cabinet-maker discounts. Counters are down 30%, as installation costs have fallen.
BATHROOMS: Even in a sluggish home market, homeowners recoup an average 53% of the cost of a bathroom remodel at resale.
Hot tip: Spa showers, with their multiple water streams, can now be installed less expensively with already plumbed "shower tower" kits that require only one hookup to water.
Buyer beware: Some dealers may try to justify the porousness and pockmarks of lower-end stone as naturally occurring imperfections that are a stylistic choice, say contractors.
Discount alert: Granite prices are down 50%, as inventory backlogs and new foreign competition drive down prices. Porcelain sinks are down 50% as well, due to a surge in Chinese imports.
OUTDOOR ROOMS: With the housing market still anemic, experts say homeowners are continuing to focus upgrades less on recouping their investment than on the enjoyment factor. It's a trend that has more Americans "dining out" at home -- often in an outdoor space.
Hot tip: Many gas fire pits are portable and can cost several thousand dollars less than a custom hearth.
Buyer beware: To compete with cheap imports, some U.S. grill makers are sending production offshore. That has led to some recalls, although the manufacturers involved say the situation is now under control. Some sustainable woods used in decking have drawn complaints about their lack of durability.
Discount alert: Installation is off 20% or more. And with landscaping-industry revenue down 60%, it's easier to haggle.
Don't even ask: Synthetic decking. Plastic prices are at precrash levels, according to research firm Freedonia Group.