Becoming An Educated Shopper
Becoming an educated consumer of home improvement and construction products is time consuming and not nearly as fun as picking out colorful fun materials, unless you’re a techno-nerd. If you are, you’re one of the special people, we all know it. Please don’t gloat. For the rest of us who don’t find reading spec sheets our idea of a fun filled evening, I have some advice.
There are three main ways to shop for products and materials once you’ve gotten your idea binder started.
1. The Internet- Of Course
The internet has a lot of information regarding product specifications and makes the preliminary hunt much more efficient.
For plumbing parts and appliances, I recommend going directly to the manufacturers websites. For many products (appliances, plumbing, lighting), you’ll find a tab titled “spec sheet” or some similar PDF file. When you find products you like, print out photos, spec sheets, and any other information you can find. Put it in your project notebook.
The manufacturer’s sites show their products that are still available. You’ll be able to find the latest and greatest functions for appliances and plumbing materials. The manufactures sites will give you a better idea of style trends for all products. If you are looking to get the best value for your investment, you’ll want to start in the future. Similar to buying a car, last year’s model will save you a bit in the front end, but you’ll lose the savings when you sell it. The exception to this is if you are going to run this car into the ground. In that case, last year’s models that are new in the box can be a very good value, but you should still be aware of what is coming down the line. More often than you think, pricing decreases or additional features for no additional costs, make the close outs less attractive.
Make notes regarding your preference for style, colors and material. Technology changes and manufacturers of home products are constantly changing their product lines. No one is expecting you to become an expert from reading some websites and I hate to break it to you, but you will not become an expert from watching HGTV either. If you do your homework before selecting your construction team leader, you will have chosen a team leader and expert who will be there to consult with you.
That said, finding out about product availablity and an idea of what things are going for in the market place can help you arrange your priorities.
Look, take notes, but don’t buy no matter how good the ” deal” seems to be. There will be other sales.
2. Local Show Rooms
I’m a huge fan of supporting local business’s for a variety of reasons that will be a future post. For now, suffice it to say that when you find reputable, dependable, service orientated local vendors, you want them to stay in business.
Doing your homework so that you know where your interests lie, will save you a lot and gas. You’ll be able to find the local store that has the product lines you are after. Go to the show room and ask for an experienced and knowledgeable person who can share their expertise with you on the products you’re considering. The vendors will tell you if particular models have been untrustworthy. If there have been problems, they wind up having to take it back from you, jeopardize their relationship with you, and then ship it back. Sometimes their customer service efforts cost them more money than their mark-up for the item. Vendors, in general, do not want to lose living breathing customers over bad products.
But at this stage, again… look, take notes, but don’t buy no matter how good the ” deal” seems to be. There will be other sales. Trust me.
3. Your Contractor
Your contractor can be a very good source of information. She won’t have had experience with all of the models of products out there, but she can find out what is being said behind the scenes. Her vendor will tell her what products give the best performance for the price tag.
A word of caution about website prices, show room sales, Craig’s list deals, etc.; don’t by any “great deals” anywhere, before giving your contractor a chance to look it over with you. I’ve had some very disappointed clients who’ve scooped up a prize, only to find out that it isn’t going to work in their project for a variety of reasons. Some manufacturers make an inferior product to sell to the big box stores. It looks the same, is named the same, but it isn’t the same. Plumbing products are very commonly found to be this way. Clue: The same faucet at a box store can weigh noticeably less due to plastic guts instead of brass.
One client of ours purchased a whirlpool tub on the internet only to find that the motor placement had been a special order and didn’t match the specifications for that product found on line. When it was time to install it, the $500 he saved cost him all of that and then some because of the expense needed to move the access and plumbing supply lines.
Always use your Contractor as a resource before making your final purchase. If your contractor reads the spec sheet and decides that the product is going to work for your project, the ultimate responsibility for the decision rests with him. That’s better than resting with you, the owner, no matter how educated you believe you have become.
And one more little piece of advice that has become a mantra of mine:
Don’t buy anything until you have selected everything.
I’ll explain more on this in another post.
Do you have any information to add to what I’ve written that can help others when shopping? Please share your valuable experience.