Buying your own materials? Yay or nay?

OyinOctober 15, 2012


From reading posts on this site, there seem to be a lot of well-informed people here who know what they want or research until they do. SO I wanted to ask how you feel about buying the materials for a remoldel/renovation yourself versus having your general contractor, designer, etc. do it. Or, if you are one of those professionals, how do you feel about the homeowners buying their own materials?

I only ask because I know exactly what materials I want to be used before I start a project and, to save time, I order the tile/appliances/hardware/lighting etc. before the project has begun and ask that our GC install them. So we get charged for labor and materials we don't see--the stuff behind the walls. My sister is currently doing a remodel and her GC is picking/buying her materials.


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And if your "guess" is incorrect you are more than willing to compensate the contractor for his time at his rate, besides suffer the delays it can cause?

Be very careful about walking in another's world.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 4:34AM
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Christopher Nelson Wallcovering and Painting

I never let clients pick materials, that is my job.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 6:52AM
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Are you actually talking about building materials (lumber, wire, switches, pipe, drywall, etc.) or finished goods (eg. appliances, plumbing fixtures, lighting, etc.)?

A client once convinced me to let him get the building materials for a bath remodel. That was too much second-guessing, running short on material when he thought he bought "enough" etc. I burned a bunch of time calculating (and explaining and re-explaing) home much material , esp. tile, was required. He bought "enough" according to his calculation (overrode mine) and we ran out of different tile pieces three times. And it was special order stuff, too.

On one other job, owner insisted on buying the marble to "save me time". Ok. Once he knew the square foot of the floor, that clouded his brain on how much tile and bullnose to buy. When I told him he needed more, more time wasted. He thought I was wasting his money, and of course we came up a couple pieces short on that job, too. He also bought a vanity that didn't fit, despite all his measurements. Never again.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 7:31AM
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It's one thing to pick OUT the materials. It's something else to pick them.

When we re-did our second floor we needed 2 toilets. I picked OUT an American Standard model & all was good b/c the plumber picked them up.

But then ... the rough-in for one bath had to be 10", not 12", to fit the existing drain line and voila, we now needed a differnt toilet for that bathroom. Again, I picked out something & he picked it up (and returned the other one).

So, even though you pick things out you may not want to pick them up because you don't know what you don't know (like that we'd have to change the rough-in on the toilet, heck, nobody knew that until we tore the floors up).

I will say that when I sent my list of faucets & fixtures I included the prices I saw online or at local stores (online prices had to include shipping) so that they knew I expected prices around that level. They had no problem with that, you might want to ask your GC about that. If something was drastically cheaper, like a $200 faucet was going to cost $400 through them, I would have taken the risk & bought it myself.

Oh! And non-standard items I did buy myself - like lighting (except the can lights in the porch & bathrooms). They wanted me to do that, so I had the bathroom sconces all ready to go when they came in.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 7:40AM
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Thanks for the responses! Snoonyb That's definitely something to consider. However, if this arrangement works for me and my GC there's no need for negative responses.

Homebound--That sounds just awful, I'm so sorry! Also, no I was referring to only finished goods based off our GC plans so I knew the dimensions etc.

Engineer Chic that seems to be an interesting compromise, thanks for sharing.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 7:52AM
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"However, if this arrangement works for me and my GC there's no need for negative responses. "
So all you wat are folks telling you how to screw up?

You KNOW every tiel in every box is perfect?

There is never any wastage>?

Every item requiring cutting cuts perfectly the first time, right?

No 2x lumber has defects at the wrorg spot for the use required?

Long ago I had a customer get a "real bargain' on the studs for his addition.

After my carpenter went through the pile we had less than half the required studs.

The customer insisted on using the discarded items in his walls.

My full time drywall installer refused to work the job, and only one of the three others invited to bid responded.

With a bid about 3 times normal.
So he could remove the bad studs and plane the others down.
It is rely hard to get a high level wall finish on studs that are not even

When work ground to a complete halt, the customer finally decided he better listen.
When the new studs arrived he was stunned how straight and clean they where.

It took more time to rip out the old junk than to put the wall back up.

My electricians, plumbers, and drywall guys all ended up getting some nice overtime on his nickel to recover his schedule.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 11:12AM
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I am happy to let the client pick their own tiles, plumbing etc. Indeed, I've been pleasantly surprised to see some of the choices they've made. But please leave the ordering to me so I'm sure it's on site when needed in the proper quantities and the chosen item actually fits the space or rough-ins, as in the case of plumbing and is of satisfactory quality. (Sorry, no Chinese w.c.s)

Where conflict may arise is when the client's real reason for choosing and buying the items themselves is to cut the contractor's margin. If that's the case, I'm happy to build for a fixed management fee and save you every cent I can consistent with using quality materials and labour.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 5:03PM
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...when I sent my list of faucets & fixtures I included the prices I saw online or at local stores (online prices had to include shipping) so that they knew I expected prices around that level

If you contract me for a new house (or new bathroom) I'm not breaking down the cost of each fixture etc. so you can see if you can E*Bay up a cheaper price. In fact, when I ask the plumbing sub for a price, fixtures and fittings included, I don't ask that info either.

But there are all kinds of contractors and in tough economic times some will bend over backwards till they break their backs.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 5:13PM
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Hi Worthy,

I wasn't clear - I sent a list of every item we'd need for the bathrooms (the rough-in valves, trim, etc) with the model numbers & the rough price I'd seen online. At the bottom, it was totalled up. All I cared about was that their total was close to my total (and heck, if they'd gotten the stuff for less then they win). This was all fixtures (except vanities) for 2 full baths, so I think it came out to over $5k.

"In fact, when I ask the plumbing sub for a price, fixtures and fittings included, I don't ask that info either. "

But - you do give them a list of all the fixtures required, right? Heck, even toilets vary from $100 - $1200. In our reno I had an allowance for plumbing fixtures & we wound up $200 under (which we then applied to some other upgrade).

So, no, I didn't ask for line item quotes but gave them the info so they knew what I expected to pay for the whole shebang. Do you work differently with your clients? How do you handle a fixed price for a bathroom without finding out what they plan to use for items that can vary so much in price? Even just for the tub ... it could have been a lot more or less for the tub/shower faucets depending on the kind of valves I wanted (we went with thermostatic with separate volume control, and of course that costs more).

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 8:13PM
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I am sure they will be glad to supply the cheapest crap they can find for you, and when it fails not answer your calls.

I would have told you to find someone else or do it yourself.

You want to appear so knowledgeable.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 8:51PM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

My contractor was a family friend. He came, measured, gave me a list of materials including the fudge factor. I ordered from his list. I know that he picked little things up about every other day; I suppose items he didn't have in the truck or that he wanted to see when he bought them. He's worked on so many houses I know he got ideas as we went along. It's those little details you want to do at the time, not later when it's too late. I bought all my own fixtures.

My remodel was a bit different from most on here as it was both DYI and contractor in his spare time. The goal was a total gut, make it better than it was and get out ASAP. We both won. This worked very well for me but for those who feel they have to hover, it probably won't work. My farm sink was a first install for him and it's perfect. I wasn't here. Going in I knew he had enough experience that those things we all know will happen could be taken care of without a day of work lost while he waited to get the OK from me. The deal was whatever came along he should do whatever he thought best. I'm old. He's old. We've both remodeled before. I smile every time I think about that kitchen! It's serendipidy when it works.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 9:04PM
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I've just interviewed three GCs for my remodel and all of them are fine and even suggested that I can buy my finish materials. They will let me know how much tile, etc. and I go buy it.

When I remodeled the last house my contractor stated upfront that I buy tile, fixtures, cabs, etc., and that's exactly how I wanted it. I got measurements and conferred with the tiler about design and how much to buy, including overage.

All the contractors offer to go shop with you if you wish. I'm in the west coast, maybe a regional thing?

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 11:00PM
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Nobody wants to take on the task, hassle and responsibility of fulfilling that list for the same price as what you saw online. Gas, time, phone-calls, voicemail, double-checking, scheduling, coordinating, being the pointman, checking delivery lists, dealing with order screw-up's, addl. parts needed, damage, safe storage etc. Then, if anything is wrong, more hassle to rectify it. Think about how it feels if one is getting zip for doing it. (it's not made up by the install costs, either). Dealing with it all involves opportunity cost and one is losing money unless there's a way to cover it. BTW, who's expected to take the call when something is not what was expected, etc.? More time spent.

I had a client that wanted to order their toto toilet themselves from a local showroom. I gave them the rough-in measurement. Then it got interesting when the vendor asked them to check clearance off-center from the supply (which was coming out of the floor). (This model had a large base and required the supply to be 8" or 9" off-center.) Now I'm asked to make a trip and check that, confirm it will fit, explain to the client what this all means, deal with some client uncertainty on this toilet, etc. Then, when it arrived at the plumbing supply, they asked if I could pick it up because there was a $75 delivery charge they wanted to avoid!

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 11:39PM
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"Thanks for the responses! Snoonyb That's definitely something to consider. However, if this arrangement works for me and my GC there's no need for negative responses."

You are certainly welcome.

You see, "Forewarned is for-armed".

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 12:09PM
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Fori is not pleased

So when I did a kitchen remodel recently in my last house, was my GC secretly pissed because I already had appliances and a faucet and a cabinetmaker? Most of them were reused from the old kitchen so he had to remove them gently which must have added insult to injury!

But seriously now, let's not all get defensive. It's definitely something that should be cleared up before a contract is written so everyone knows what their tasks are and what risks are involved in accepting those tasks. It's simple when you're first sitting down to say "so do I buy this or do you buy it?".

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 12:43PM
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"Secretly pissed", depends. To what extend did he become involved in the cabinet guy's installation? For example, if those cabinets got dinged or there were any issues with the install, was he involved?

Also, it can be annoying to remove/reuse things, but it depends.

Here's another example. I did a bath remodel where the client wanted to use a tilesetter that her designer was familiar with. They were a big, professional outfit so I reluctantly agreed. Guess who got stuck with dealing with tile guy, tweaking the kneewall dimensions at the last second once I saw his subway tile plan, addressing a few loose and/or uneven mosaic floor tiles, etc.? Sure, I could have waited for the homeowner to return after work and discover these things, but getting it done wrong would only slow me down. Guess who got called with the "what can we do about this" questions after the tilework was complete? Sure, I wanted to punt, but I also needed it resolved asap to get on with the rest of the work.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 1:31PM
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I think fori had the best response, one involving the most common sense. Establish the rules before starting the game.
So many people think that builders/contractors/plumbers/electricians are going to mark up materials SO MUCH and maybe rip them off. Consider this;
I rebuilt a fire damaged house in 96' and did the fire/smoke damage work myself, with a lot of homework beforehand, and without the internet.
The drywall guy brought and bought the drywall. Benefit? He disposed of the waste.
If the guy marks up the material, brings it to the job [or has it delivered] Isn't that worth something? What if he buys too much? What if YOU buy too much? Can it be returned?
There will always be areas where this can be an advantage, and others where it is not. In our area, you cannot buy insulation for what you will pay a company to provide and install it. You be a fool to buy/do it yourself.
Do your homework, and discuss it ahead of time.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 9:21PM
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I just read through this entire thread and found the responses very interesting.

Oyin, I personally find NOTHING wrong with buying your fixtures, tiles, appliances and other "seen" things in advance of the GC arriving to install them. In fact I have read so many threads on GW and wondered to myself how people just hire someone who gives them a number (tens of thousands of dollars usually or higher) with no actual choice of materials being made and trust that they are going to get something that they even like or is going to be quality material.

I would think that if you had the materials waiting for the contractor and it was agreed upon in advance that most contractors would see this as an opportunity for an easier job in which they weren't running around handling additional orders, pick ups, scheduling deliveries and such. I realize from the backlash that you have created from this post that yes, there is some markups being lost, but the contractor knows this up front and can work this out in their quote.

I also resent the implications from the contractors in this thread that non contractor can not figure anything out on their own. I am a DIYer and while at this point I have actually laid 4 floors, I have NEVER (even on the first floor) come home short on wood or tile.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:16AM
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most contractors would see this as an opportunity for an easier job in which they weren't running around handling additional orders, pick ups, scheduling deliveries and such

The way I look at it is that the more legwork I can do myself, the more time my contractor has to actually be on site and do the job I hired him for. I'm doing a whole house remodel and my contractor is very happy to outsource all finish material research and purchases to me. I bought all plumbing fixtures, tile (checking square footage beforehand with the tile subcontractor), flooring (using square footages supplied by the flooring subcontractor which turned out to be wrong the first two times around), vanities, appliances, kitchen cabinets, light fixtures, windows and doors. I purchased all the bathroom counters and arranged for them to be templated, fabricated and installed. For the kitchen island, I bought the marble and am using my contractor's fabricator to do the fabrication/install.

I ordered doors and windows directly off the architect's plan and had my contractor sign off on the quote before the order was placed. I used my contractor's usual supplier for interior doors which helped make the casing order go a little more smoothly.

The remodel is basically going fine, should be done in the next couple of weeks. I made sure all materials were on site well before they were needed with the exception of the tile. The tile sub didn't want the tile on site until the last minute because he didn't want it to get broken, so it was delivered the day before he started tiling. The flooring mistake caused some last-minute scrambling but fortunately my supplier had extra in a warehouse 100 miles away that the flooring sub agreed to pick up.

The biggest issue was that one of the toilets I bought required a 10-inch rough in; my contractor didn't check the box but instead went ahead and had the plumber put in a 12-inch rough in. Fortunately the online store agreed to take it back even after 4 months. A minor issue was that a vanity was damaged during delivery but the damage wasn't noticed until my contractor went to install it; I was able to return it and bought another one quickly enough so that we didn't lose any time there.

I've observed on my job that the most common way screw-ups can happen is in communication on the boundary between the trades. If the homeowner inserts herself or himself into the process and talks to the trades directly, the contractor isn't as invested in making sure the trades are giving out the right information and in coordinating areas where there are dependencies. If my contractor had bought the toilet, for example, he either would have purchased one for a 12-inch rough in or he would have told the plumber he needed to do 10 inches. If my contractor had bought the flooring himself, I think the flooring sub would have still screwed up the square footage (he seems to be geometry-challenged). Who knows... By ceding a little control, I think my contractor wasn't as concerned about the details as he might have been otherwise. But then again he's not a detail kinda guy.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 6:44PM
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I didn't ask for line item quotes but gave them the info so they knew what I expected to pay for the whole shebang.

Your negotiating tactic worked for you. But allowances are typically based on the price the contractor is charging you, not the cheapest offered price from who knows where on line. If the customer feels he can do better with another contractor, he moves on. I do it with subs all the time!

Fortunately for me, I don't do renos anymore for other than myself. (Severe pet allergies.) I build whole houses from specs or project management where I don't even know what the owners paid for certain items, such as windows and doors, cabinetry, security systems, tiles etc.

This works out well as long as the client is working with a reputable supplier providing builder-approved brands. With the cheapest price on the internet, not so much!

I wonder what would be the reaction should I try this out next time my vehicles go in for major repairs: I'll figure out the needed parts, Google up the cheapest prices, itemize them and tell the garage owner this is my bottom line. And, oh, I'll order the parts.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 8:09PM
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the client wanted to use a tilesetter that her designer was familiar with

It's hard enough dealing with your own trades!

Client on a project management build insisted on using their own final lot grading and drainage guy. Turned out he was the son of the guy they had used one time and his main skill was hotdogging the Bobcat on two wheels up and down the street. Neat when he crushed his own wheelbarrow!(Better that than a neighbourhood tot.)

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 8:22PM
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I also resent the implications from the contractors in this thread that non contractor can not figure anything out on their own. I am a DIYer and while at this point I have actually laid 4 floors, I have NEVER (even on the first floor) come home short on wood or tile.

Good for you, but the contractors' viewpoints have the advantage of being based on multiple experiences with many types of folks and jobs. The old saying "you don't know what you don't know" still applies.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 10:22PM
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I'm more than happy to work with clients who wish to supply some of their own products if they will buy everything in advance, in the right quantity, with no missing parts, and will supply the spec sheets for the unfamiliar products to the trades in advance and pay a markup fee for them to read and understand them. If they are willing to basically "certify" that they know what they are doing, and are willing to pay the trip charges for any trade that arrives on site and things are NOT correct, then they are assuming the correct financial burden that any trade would do.

However, when you start talking $150+trip charges for possible errors, that's when most homeowners decide that they maybe really don't know enough to pay extra if they don't. My cabinet guy charges $300 just to show up on site and do nothing if it's beyond his 4 site visits that he builds into a job. So, if a homeowner measured and ordered his own cabinets, and then decides after he's faced with the sea of boxes that he maybe really doesn't want to tackle installation, if he didn't order the right stuff for the job, he's going to end up paying a lot more than if he contracted for a professional measure and install from the beginning of the project.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 7:54AM
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Let the contractor handle it. If they are a quality contractor, they will buy quality supplies. And often the quality items they buy will be even cheaper than the junk you might pick up at a home store.

If I were a contractor, I would get pretty frustrated if I had to try to do a quality job with inferior materials.

So focus more on getting a good contractor. The rest will naturally fall in place.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 11:46AM
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And I speak from a recent experience. The electrician I just hired described the outlets he bought. They cost about what I would paid at a home store, but they were 10 times better (and safer). What I would have supplied him would have basically been "junk" by comparison. Being a contractor he gets a bulk discount rate. That is what I meant. I did not mean to imply that homeowners are completely incompetent. But face it, the contractors do their trade for a living - they know a lot more about what they are doing than we do as homeowners.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 11:52AM
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Interesting responses here. When we did our renovation two years ago the GC handled all the major building supplies and I handled all the pretty stuff. The GC's plumber sub had only builder-grade fixtures to choose from at a very high markup so I ordered all of our plumbing fixtures, including a toilet, very early on in the project and had the GC and plumber approve them when they arrived. We also used a friend (who is a professional tile setter) for the tile work but our GC made it clear that he and his work was our responsibility, which worked out fine. In fact the GC was so impressed with his work that he has hired him for other jobs.

I still think it's easier to let the GC handle most of the ordering and certainly the sub management and frankly it's a load off your mind as the homeowner. I didn't get a discount from the GC because he didn't have to manage the tile guy. I also didn't expect one. But all this is why you hire a GC in the first place right? If you're going to order building materials and manage a lot of subs yourself then you might as well act as your own GC.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 8:55AM
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Yesterday I was again reminded that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong.

I'm doing a small bath remodel and my had my client deal with the granite fabricator directly after I made a template. They came and met the client and took their own measurement. So wouldn't you know it that the sink ended up being 1/2" off center from where it was supposed to be (in relation to tile, etc.) and this was a job with no extra backspash so it couldn't be moved. It got sent back and we're dealing with the blame game now. Lesson relearned. Grrr.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 9:58AM
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If you want to buy your own materials, schedule their delivery and deal with shortages, overages, wasteage and delivery schedules, you might as well be your own general contactor. All that's left to do is to find, schedule and supervise all the needed sub-contractors. It will save you 25%-30% and you will be responsible for all of your headaches.

Good luck with your project!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 9:04PM
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Going through a major remodel now and doing both. We bought the appliances, light fixtures, faucets, etc. We're letting the GC handle the cabinets, tile, flooring and anything else that needs accurate measurements. We don't want to be responsible for over buying or under buying or purchasing the wrong material.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 2:17PM
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Wow. First time home owner here. I bought a really old house that I knew I would need to put a lot of work into which, for me, meant a lot of money because I am nowhere near a DIYer. First up was the kitchen. I had the kitchen measured, went to Lowes and bought a bunch of cabinets. Then I interviewed about twenty different handymen and contractors before I found one that I liked to install them. I had no idea how to work with a contractor but I did know how I wanted my kitchen to look. He allowed me to buy some things and he took care of the rest and I was pretty pleased with the final result. I asked him to quote installing the master bathroom and not only was his quote very high, his finishes were also not broken out and I suspected they were basic builder finishes. While looking for another contractor for the bathroom, I started accumulating things that I liked from Craigslist, eBay, thrift stores and online suppliers. By the time I found a contractor, I already had the majority of the materials I needed. I explained my vision for my bathroom and showed him all of my materials. He was absolutely fine working with what I had. For the remaining items, if I didn't have a preference, he would buy it but if there was something specific that I wanted, I would buy it for him to install. Anything that was the least bit questionable, he would look at it before I bought it. It is certainly taking longer due to scouting out materials but he understands that this is not a builder bathroom and has bought into the vision. Now that I've been through it, I wouldn't work any other way with a contractor. I stayed in touch with the first contractor and while we both agree that he would have had the bathroom done by now, we also agree that I wouldn't love it as much as I will when it's done because he wouldn't have allowed me the kind of flexibility that this contractor does.

That was a very long winded way of saying that I agree with what was stated up-post in that if you can find a contractor that will allow you to purchase materials and you clearly establish who is responsible for what, it can work out quite nicely.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 11:05PM
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I do everything myself, purchasing, demo, elec, plumbing - everything. It's all code and its all good. I wouldn't do it any other way, until, I am unable to do it myself anymore. Hopefully by then, I won't have anything more to do.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 3:25PM
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