Questions about buying materials online

buildiva22June 9, 2012

I am a newbie here. We just closed our lot 2 months ago and have picked out and purchased our floor plan. Yippie! DH and I are overjoyed! We will be doing cost+ contract with our builder and are given allowance to use on certain items. For example, our builder has shown us a preliminary quote from a supplier on different plumbing fixtures and based on that he gave us the allowance. For the same plumbing fixture or sink, we can find much better deals comparing to the quotes that the builder got, considering the builder has a relationship with the supplier with discounts already.

Did any of you buy most of the materials online yourself? How does that work if you buy your own fixtures online for the builder to use? Were you still be able to roll your expenses into your mortgage?

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Nothing wrong with buying your materials online, but there are some things to know--

1) The builder will not warranty the item--only the install. So let's say you buy your faucets online, the builder's plumber installs and the faucet later fails causing a flood in your bath or kitchen. If it's determined that it was the faucet and not the install that was responsible, you are on the hook for replacing all damaged items--cabinetry, flooring, handling the warranty stuff to get a new faucet, etc. However, if you got the faucet through the builder's supplier and it failed, then he and the plumber are responsible for replacing all the damaged items--cabinetry, flooring, warranty on faucet, etc.

2) Not all, but most builders jack the price on supplies & even labor up by a percentage. So even though he showed you this invoice, it likely already had an additional percentage added in for him to take right off the top. Suppliers are willing to provide jacked up invoices like this for repeat customers. There are actually 2 invoices--one for the client to see and the one that actually gets mailed to the builder for payment to be made. I know you're cost-plus, but this is an easy way for him to make extra $ and you never know the difference. Many will say that it helps cover their costs in the event that something does go wrong like that faulty faucet possibility. Anyway, that's one of the reasons why you can find better deals yourself most of the time. Many builders also rely on you hearing that you're getting the builder's discount and assuming its the lowest price available so the client doesn't look any further into pricing.

3) Buying your own items, may mean that the job gets held up. If there's a clause in your contract on how long the build will take, and the materials you order yourself do not arrive on time, then that clause ifs now practically null and void. You are now holding up the job, wasting interest money and workers' time by the materials not being there when needed. In fact, many subs will just move on to the next job and will get back to yours "when they can" after the materials have finally arrived. Keep in mind that the next job may be much larger and more complex than yours and may put your schedule off by weeks or even months.

4) When the builder quotes you a price on building the house, he has already included all that "extra" percentage into the quote he gives you. If you then take that "extra" cut out of the equation, he will not be too happy--especially if it's alot of money we're talking about. So don't be surprised if the original quote for labor magically goes up when the actual bill comes in, or the original quote for windows/columns/brick/etc magically goes up when the final bill arrives. The builder is going to recoup that money somehow, someway because he was already counting on it. Again, this applies to not all, but many builders.

As far as rolling those out of pocket expenses into the mortgage, a lot will depend on how your construction loan is set up. Are you carrying the loan or is the builder? If you are, then those expenses could come out of your 20% down payment money. Additionally, once you start drawing from the construction loan, you should be able to provide your receipts for materials to the lender and receive a draw just like the builder can. Make sure you discuss this with the lender before signing the loan documents. Also make sure the lender checks with you before cutting any checks to the builder even if they have sent their man out to ensure the work has been done. If the builder is carrying the loan, it can get sticky and you'll need to go through him to see what can be worked out.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 11:04AM
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Sophie Wheeler

If you don't know enough to be able to judge quality differences between products like windows for instance, and don't understand how to put together a complex system like a multi head shower and all of the proper trim for another instance, then leave it to the pros who do know how to select the correct products. Part of their standard markup of the product goes towards the time needed to select, transport, store, and read and understand all of the manufacturer's installation directions and removing that "profit" from their compensation will mean that you are the one that will need to assume those responsibilities.

If you buy the product, you must have the informed knowledge base to assume the responsibility for all the headaches associated with choosing all of the compatible components, any shipping damage, finding the storage space and possible damage during storage, and eventual warranty issues. You're simply hiring the labor to install what you provide, with you assuming all of the risks.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 3:09PM
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mydreamhome, thanks for your explanations, that was very helpful.

hollysprings, thank you so much.

We were thinking of ordering mainly like lighting/plumbing fixtures or appliances and definitely not the windows or other building materials. The fixtures or appliances are actually the same brands (may be just slightly different style) as what the builder has pre-selected for us to come up with the initial allowance. The builder told us that it's just an allowance and we can select anything we want from the supplier. I was just surprised to see how for the same item, I can find it at a much cheaper price online. May be this is something we should talk to the builder and see but like mydreamhouse said, we are also worried if we get certain stuff on our own we might cut the "extra" and make the builder unhappy. Dilemna!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 4:04PM
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We plan on buying quite a few of our materials online including: appliances, door handles, sinks, faucets, tub, steam shower assembly and I'm sure there are many more as well.

We have not yet even finished our plans, but we have talked to our builder about this, and in fact he recommended it for some items as he acknowledged the price is better than what we or his contractors, can get some items for.

That said, these are all items that we feel comfortable buying and storing. In fact, many of the same items we bought when we remodeled our current home, and some we installed ourselves.

Our builder is not charging an additional markup on these types of items so he doesn't have a problem with it.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 4:14PM
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We are expecting a shipment of lights tomorrow. We took advantage of a big Memorial Day sale and free shipping without realizing that all the lights would be bundled into one big shipment. Tomorrow afternoon a BIG truck is going to pull up in front of our tiny rental duplex and drop off a pallet of lights. Luckily, we do have a garage to store them in. Unfortunately, we do not have access to a skid steer to get the pallet off the truck. Hopefully, the trucking company was able to get our shipment onto a truck with a lift gate or we are going to be in the back of the truck handing down boxes one or two at a time (maybe I'd better have a decent "tip" handy to thank the driver for his patience).

I think we got a great deal on the lights and were able to get more interesting and varied lights than are sold at the big box stores (which are basically the only options in town). But, think about how and when delivery is going to happen and where you are going to store everything. It will take up a lot of room.

Our builder gives a standard allowance for lighting and most of their customers choose and purchase their own lights. We did ask for an allowance to purchase our plumbing fixtures. The manager at the plumbing supply house that we worked with actually took the time to call our plumbing sub to make sure there would be no hurt feelings if we placed the order through the supply house directly and not through the sub.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 1:28AM
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some companies depending on who is shipping the parts will charge you a huge $ number if the driver has to wait there longer than what the delivery should normally take!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 8:18AM
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The owner's dream of saving money by supplying their own fixtures has created a sea of aggressively priced low-cost internet look-alike suppliers.

Many manufacturers make lower quality models that look like better quality models just for online and big box stores. There are rarely full specifications available for these fixtures. As for how this is handled with the contract it depends entirely on the type of contract.

The use of Allowances in a Fixed Price contract is where most homeowners get into trouble. Since there is no price protection for this part of the work, it defeats the purpose of a Fixed Price.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 8:47AM
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We ran into the same thing. Prices on internet sites were a lot cheaper, especially plumbing. They were the exact same model numbers, so not an inferior product.

Our builder didn't want us to order everything online. Would be pretty difficult for him to sort through everything and ensure it was there on time, etc, and he did not trust me to make sure the valves fit the trim kits, etc. (I understand his fear, though I am pretty detailed and doubt I would have made a mistake).

I did order some things online that are simple and easy to store and transport. I saved $600 on two Franke sinks (axact same model #s as plumbing store) and about $400 on a couple kitchen faucets. Bathtub, shower valves, toilets, etc. we ordered from the plumbing store even though there was a mark up. I will order my towel bars, soap dispensers, etc.

I will order my lights online, probably. The lighting stores in town have very limited selection and all their fixtures look really dated and are expensive.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 9:01AM
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While I appreciate the words of caution, I would add that this is a 21st century 'building your own home' & not a paper mache project.

Therefore, I would expect a owner to be able to use all the tools at their own hands to get the best pricing & be most knowledgeable about all aspect of the project.

Big investment shouldn't mean less due diligence nor lack of planning or continually managing your contractors & every1's expectations.

We've seen so many advice on how to manage the construction project's cost here on - so for ordering your own supplies to be a caveat seems a bit ill-informed.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 2:15PM
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Posted by Renovator8 (My Page) on Mon, Jun 11, 12 at 8:47

The use of Allowances in a Fixed Price contract is where most homeowners get into trouble. Since there is no price protection for this part of the work, it defeats the purpose of a Fixed Price.

Can you explain what you mean by this please?

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 2:21PM
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We did buy some of the items online for our build. But here are some tips on what to do. Think logistics.

1) Check and make sure with/in your Contract as to how much money you will save if at all, if you go down this route.

2) If you delay getting your item, then what is the impact to the budget. For example if you are missing a shower valve. That delays bathrrom sheet rock, and tiling. Will there be a charge, and a delay on the build?

In general buying things yourself is work and alot of it. The advantage is you get the things you like, rather than some default.

For complex items like plumbing, I would use a proper shop which will coordinate with your Gen Contractor. You do not want expensive plumbing parts on site until they are needed. Damage, loss and theft are all issues. Even if you have the parts deliverd to your own address. You will then have to drive to the site and hand the items over to the contractor. You will also have to make sure you got the right parts. Any error in the logistical supply chain and you will eat the cost. Worst of all if you order the wrong part!!! You will have to return it, order a new part, and hold up your whole build. Again eating cost.

For simpler small things like door knobs you can order online. The trick here is a spreadsheet and focused attention to detail. Inswing, outswing, left hand right hand, which finish etc. How many? Then you need to encode this into an order number which may look like Baldwin-4637B-OilRubBronz-Insw-Left or some code number like that. Any error you eat the cost. We did this, and so long as you are precise and extremely careful you can say money. The parts should be deliverd to where you live, not to the site. When the builder needs the parts, drive over and deliver them. Note avoid any type in web page. Do your order in a spreadsheet. Then having checked it over, FAX it at the company. Then follow up with a phone call. It is easier and less painful for you and the guy putting your order together.

The store I used to love was Home Depot Expo. Cheap prices, and lots of stuff all in one place to. Sadly these stores where closed. If you do order from Home Depot, try and learn their ordering system. No kidding! By the end of my build I got so good at it, and you need to be that good, you would present a spreadsheet, printed out with all the SKU order numbers, pallet sizes, number of tiles etc. Last thing you want is some Home Dept clerk messing up your order. Any delay, wrong part, you eat the cost! Even if you can return it. Try returning a pallet of Garden Rock!!!

As a side note, my daughter now hates Home Depot. This is because we spent so much time in those stores trying to order parts!

Final word: Be Precise, Accurate, and Think Logistics and you can save money and get what you want.

Good luck on your build, Best Mike.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 3:09PM
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Our lights arrived today. The delivery guy had his own skid steer and a lift gate. He was terrific! He went above and beyond what we hoped for. He was willing to back up our narrow lane to get closer to our garage. He even waited while we opened the FIVE boxes that had been damaged so he could note it on his bill of lading (he says he sees that type of damage a lot with this specific company we ordered from), luckily I still have almost 8 weeks before we will be ready to install the lights so I'm not too stressed about getting the returns taken care of).

I know we are going over our lighting allowance, but we amazingly are slightly under our plumbing fixture allowance so I'm content.

I say go for it, but just make sure your builder and subs are okay with it first. By the way - we didn't buy our own fixtures with the intent of saving money, we did it to upgrade over the standard fixtures our builder offers as part of his building package.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 7:11PM
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shmeal - where did you order from?

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 8:10PM
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We bought a LOT online. I bought everything for fixtures online except for the shower valves as our builder asked we buy them from his person in case there were missing parts. So far there are some backorder issues with faucets but because I ordered so early they will come on time. I know there are some concerns for folks about warranty but our builder will still warranty our fixtures because he uses these fixtures all the time and he approved them.

I bought tile online and saved tax and $500 which helped-no issues and was the same as the tile we were buying from the builders person.

I also bought all our lighting online as I did not like anything from the builders list and he had no issues with extending the warranty.

In general, I would say feel the builder out on this. I was very blunt and asked the builder point blank if he would not warranty the items. He looked over the things I bought and approved it all and so should be no issues-but we worked together and he understood there were budget contsraints.

I like qualitybath for fixtures, (saved about $1000) (I bargained with them a lot and free shipping and no tax) and RH for vanities (only on sale or at outlets) and I used Crown Point cabinets for my kitchen (my builder has never worked with them, but saved money on tax and delivery which would have been around $2500 local). I also ordered my front door online. I used Our builder did not like the door as much but I did save around $1000 as opposed to the local guy so I took the savings.

I hope this helps!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 10:47PM
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I am interested in this question as well. We are doing a custom build , so there are no default selections, all the decisions on fixtures are ours to make anyway. We have a garage built already, partly so that we would have a dry secure storage space. Would either of those factors affect the advice offered here?

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 12:58PM
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