Fine Print 

2007 National Repair & Remodeling Estimator

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Edited by Albert S. Paxton

(Craftsman, $53.50)

2007 National Home

Improvement Estimator

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Edited by Ben Moselle

(Craftsman, $53.75)

Like death and taxes, if you own a home, one of the certainties in life is having to call a repairperson. Unless you're preternaturally gifted or specifically trained -- and I'm neither -- when you hear that cringe-inducing "uh-oh" coming from the kitchen or laundry room or bathroom, you know it's probably time to call somebody to come fix something.

Just as certain is the feeling you'll get wondering, when the repairperson tells you how much it's going to cost, if you're getting fleeced. Multiple estimates are essential to protect yourself, but sometimes there's still that insecure voice coming from somewhere deep in your brain whispering that you're about to make a big, expensive mistake.

Welcome to home ownership!

For people like me, the National Estimator books by Craftsman are essential references. The series is directed at companies making estimates rather than consumers -- which actually makes it perfect for the homeowner. They are manuals companies can use as their price book, itemizing nationally how much to expect labor, materials, and equipment to cost for specific jobs.

The National Estimator books calculate what they call "area modification factors," based on how materials, labor, and equipment costs vary depending on the part of the country in question. For example, for Memphis the book suggests a 1 percent markup from its national estimates based on the city's higher costs for labor (though Memphis is cheaper for materials and equipment than the national estimate).

Literally every repair job you can think of is in the National Repair & Remodeling Estimator (the 2007 edition is now out, with updated pricing information). It doesn't matter if it's a carpenter, electrician, plumber, or roofer you're calling. You can get a better-than-ballpark idea of how much you should expect to pay for the work. The information is broken down into individual costs for materials and labor. (Since the book is made for repair and construction companies, it even estimates how many laborers should be needed and the number of hours to complete the job. It fascinates my analytic mind.)

Of course, not every time you call for estimates means something messy broke in your home. You could also be planning some renovations or improvements. Here's where the 2007 National Home Improvement Estimator comes in. If you want to, say, put down bamboo-plank, prefinished flooring in your den, the book can tell you how much it will cost per square foot. Don't forget your bamboo-flooring molding: It's listed too, broken down by styles, from quarter round to stair noses. For each section, the book also gives definitions and tips for the choosing and installation of whatever it is you want to do.

The cost of the books might seem prohibitive, but if you're planning on shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars for work on your home, it's a great way to protect your investment and your checkbook. ■ -- GA

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