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When Michele LaMasters bought a fixer-upper to rehab as an investment, she was ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work — alongside male contractors. Her take-charge attitude caught work crews off guard.

“They (contractors) assumed I didn’t know what I was talking about or doing,” said the self-described do-it-yourself fan and single mother of two adult sons in Des Moines, Iowa. “They assume it’s a lay-down when it comes to working with a woman and that’s not so with me.”

It’s the expected thing to prepare lacy window treatments but another thing entirely for a woman to hoist heavy stones for retaining walls or shove windows into place. Tradition holds that’s man’s work.

But millions of single women are poised to make home improvements aplenty.

Single women accounted for 21 percent of home purchases in 2005, according to the National Association of Realtors. This group is intent on adding value to their home through improvements and “seems to be a growing force in the home improvement industry,” said Thomas Stevens, president of the association.

Those improvements will range from cosmetic touchups to major upgrades of rooms and infrastructure.

However, many women will need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps skillwise to refurbish their home. At the least those who don’t know a hammer from a handsaw must know how to manage those who perform the work.

Her considerable do-it-yourself skills aside, the biggest bugaboo for LaMasters was overseeing recalcitrant male contractors not used to seeing women around the job site, let alone taking pointers or suggestions from women.

Although LaMasters worked well with most of the hired help, one contractor hired to finish a large deck had a “let’s-do-things-my-way” attitude. He refused to sign a contract and took months to complete work that could have been completed in a matter of days.

LaMasters eased the intimidation factor by preparing herself on the scope of work and materials. She was able to communicate what she wanted and for what price. “Know how to ask the right questions and do your homework,” she said.

According to Jim Lapides of the National Association of Home Builders, intimidation stems from not knowing enough about the home improvement process. “The best thing anyone can do to find a home remodeler is take the time to find someone they feel comfortable working with. Don’t simply rely on price as you’re buying a service, not a static good. Remember, this person will spend a lot of time in your home, so peace of mind is the bottom line with anyone you decide to hire,” said Lapides.

He also recommends checking on their business legitimacy.

The 14,000-member Remodeler’s Council of NAHB has contractor selection advice on the association’s Web site.

Fortunately, the inexperienced have plenty of available resources to acquire or brush up on skills.

In LaMasters’ case, she visited big box home stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot for free classes on a variety of home techniques and products. When no class was available, she simply asked for advice from department managers.

LaMasters took the advice to heart. She replaced floor and wall tiles, built a retaining wall, attached door trim and installed the deck railing.

Still, her recommendation to the faint-of-heart do-it-yourselfer is do the work you can and hire out the rest.

On the Web: www.nahb.org/remodel, www.lowes.com, www.homedepot.com, www.realtor.com