The Kapickas could not wait for the economy to turn around.

The Kapickas could not wait for the economy to turn around.

With a toddler and a new baby, the couple had outgrown their two-bedroom house in Sacramento, Calif. Despite the financial uncertainty that has gripped most of America, the Kapickas needed to either move or expand their house to fit their growing family.

"We weighed all the options," said Stuart Kapicka, an online entrepreneur who works from home. "I was trying to make an office out of a kitchen nook, working around kiddy gates. We had to do something. We could buy a big, foreclosed home with a pool in the suburbs or we could stay put in a charming neighborhood we love and remodel."

After much deliberation, Stuart and Christal Kapicka chose to add a second story, doubling the size of their modest ranch/Tudor-style house to about 2,200 square feet.

Their timing could not have been better; they saved thousands of dollars.

"Our bids ranged from $250,000 to $350,000," Kapicka said of the project, which included other major upgrades to the home. "It just shows you the range that's out there right now. Some contractors are still sticking with prices at 2003-04 levels. ... But you can get a lot more bang for your buck."

The current economic downturn has created a window of opportunity for people looking to remodel their homes and who can still afford the investment. Skilled crafts-people — once too busy for small projects — are looking for work. Lumber is bargain-priced.

So tackling that kitchen or bath makeover may never be cheaper.

"It's a buyer's market out there," said contractor George Henley of Henley Homes, who is working on the Kapickas' makeover. "It's all about supply and demand. People are really maximizing their dollars."

Henley conservatively estimated that most homeowners could save 15 percent or more compared to what the cost would have been for a similar project two years ago. The Kapickas' addition averaged $180 per square foot, not counting the whole-house upgrades.

"There's never been a better time to remodel," said Henley, who has been in the home-construction business 30 years.

Henley and many other contractors have experienced the ups and downs of the building market before.

"It was bad in 1980, again in 1990, but never this bad," he said. "Business might slow down for building new homes, but remodeling usually stayed steady. Now, we're seeing a slowdown for remodelers, too. I'm blessed at the moment to have work."

Bill and Janet Nagel decided to tackle the bathrooms in their house. Bill, an avid do-it-yourselfer, had done several projects, including a large tiled atrium.

"But this was major plumbing; it was beyond the scope of what I could do myself," he said.

The major remodel included lots of granite, custom-glazed maple cabinets, a walk-in closet and other high-end features such as a Jacuzzi tub and glass vessel sinks. The project was completed in November.

"If I had known then what was about to happen, we may have waited," said Bill Nagel, chief loan officer at a bank. "But I'm glad we got it done. There's no buyer's remorse."

Contractor Todd Sarkisian of Sunset Remodeling handled the project.

"Originally, we were looking at more than $100,000," Nagel said, "but we got it down to about the mid-80s."

The Nagels now are taking advantage of the buyer's market by making other upgrades, such as new recessed lighting for the kitchen and granite counters in the laundry room.

Sarkisian, who has experienced building cycles before, appreciates the business.

"I've seen it slow down before," he said. "I went through the Carter-Reagan years; that was particularly bloody (with several builders going out of business). In 1990 during the invasion of Kuwait, everybody got so apprehensive it was crazy. Now, big builders are forecasting gloom and doom. The remodeling business is definitely hurting; banks aren't lending even to people with good credit and good jobs.

"But if you're thinking of remodeling and you're in a good financial place, now is the time to do whatever you want," he added. "It will never be cheaper."