contractor shows homeowner plans for remodelIf you've had your eye on the housing market lately, you know two things for sure:

1) The construction industry has been hard hit over the last few years, leaving many contractors out of work. And ...

2) ... So have home values, leaving many homeowners upside down in their homes (i.e., owing more than they could sell the place for), or simply possessing less equity than they did a few years back (sometimes considerably less).These two unfortunate real estate worlds may be colliding this holiday season with a fortunate result. All over the nation, homeowners who would like to sell either can't or are deciding not to. Instead, of selling and moving, many Americans are simply staying put and deciding to repair, remodel and upgrade their homes. At the same time, contractors who need the work are seeking remodeling clientele to replace the home-building work that has largely gone the way of the subprime loan and the dinosaur (i.e., extinct), and the government stimulus plan includes a little-known clause to boost contractors' business. The result? Three holiday season "deals" on home improvement:

1. Cheap Contractor Services. These recession realities are intersecting with contractors cutting the costs of their services for homeowners who are doing everything from remodeling their kitchens to adding on square footage this holiday season.

Grady and Theresa Johnson, homeowners in Bakersfield, Calif., thought they would just replace their dated kitchen counters and light fixtures and some cracked bathroom floor tiles, but ended up remodeling their entire home last month. "Every contractor that came out to do one thing did amazing work at prices so far below what we'd been quoted a couple of years ago, that we would decide to look into doing another project. When we mentioned our thoughts to the tile guy, he gave us numbers for a bunch of his contractor buddies -- they all seemed very motivated to find work, so they were eager to cut us low, low prices on really high-quality services."

2. Tax Credit for Energy-Efficient Upgrades. Smart homeowners take note: If you've been contemplating installing any energy-efficient upgrades, like windows, doors, roofs or water heaters, the federal government will help defray the costs, but only until Dec. 31. The tax credit for homebuyers is long gone, but one remaining provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) creates a 30% tax credit for these energy-efficient home improvements, up to $1,500.

3. Off-Season Home Improvements at Bargain-Basement Prices. As you try desperately to bundle up against the cold, air conditioning might be the last thing on your mind. And the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) contractors are well aware of this, so every year when it gets cold, many implement their own "stimulus" plans to get AC unit sales and installation jobs jumping. It's not at all uncommon for air conditioning installation to run as much as 50% or 60% off during the winter months. If you've been wanting to install or replace your air conditioning, this is the best season in which to do it. Added bonus: If your new unit is energy efficient, you might also qualify for the 30% tax credit discussed above. Double deal!

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