Buying Building Materials

Take into account these considerations when thinking about which building materials to buy.

If your designer has specified all the fixtures, appliances, and building materials needed for the job, you may not have to do any of the buying. If you have a general contractor on the job, he or she may handle the ordering and delivery of goods. Yet in most jobs, the homeowner, by choice or force of circumstance, ends up going shopping. Perhaps the goal is to save money; maybe it’s to make sure one or another product is to your taste. On the other hand, if you are acting as your own general contractor, you’ll need to arrange for buying and paying for a wide range of materials.

Whether you’re buying one light fixture or truckloads of lumber, you should keep in mind these considerations:

Discounts
When you begin shopping, ask each supplier—the lumberyard, the electrical supply store, the plumbing supply house—whether they give a builder’s discount. As a remodeler, you are a de facto builder, so you should act like one and get the benefits. Your suppliers probably won’t complain (after all, you are not asking for anything more than many of their other customers get), though if your project is a relatively small renovation, don’t be surprised if the answer is no.

Some suppliers have monthly minimums to qualify for builder’s discounts (typically, a thousand dollars or more at the lumberyard). Some suppliers have a scale, with deeper discounts for the contractors that do a big volume of business. If the supplier tells you that the preferred builders’ terms are not available to you, ask why not and what the required qualifications are. Discounts vary greatly, but a 10 percent discount on lumber and millwork is common, while with lighting fixtures the savings are often much higher. Ask the question.

Delivery
Many suppliers will deliver at no charge. Make sure to establish that they do, and if not what the charges will be. If there is a delivery fee, shop around a bit to see whether other suppliers charge one.

Beware of “sidewalk delivery.” A familiar concept to apartment dwellers, it means that your giant new refrigerator will be delivered only as far as the sidewalk—even if your kitchen is on the third floor. That may (or may not) be acceptable to you, but if it is, you’ll need to know when the truck is coming and arrange for the manpower to bring the goods inside.

Schedule
When ordering materials, consult often with your GC or subs about the schedule. There’s little point in having materials piled at the work site waiting to be used, since the sooner you get them, the sooner you have to pay for them. Stacks of goods can also be very inviting to thieves—in the jargon of the business, they have a tendency to “walk away.” On the other hand, you need to be sure that supplies are available when they’re needed in order to keep the job on schedule. If the materials aren’t on site when required, work will quickly come to a halt.

When researching options, ask suppliers about availability. Find out when you have to order that special tile and odd-size window in order to have them available. Cabinets and heating equipment are most likely to require the longest order time, and their absence can, again, slow down the job.

Payment Terms
You can pay for goods at the time of purchase. Most suppliers will take a local check or a credit card. However, you may want to open an account. If so, the supplier will check your credit (it’ll probably ask which bank loaned you money and for other credit references). Having established you are a worthy credit risk, most suppliers will then offer at least a thirty-day term in which to pay, meaning that goods that arrive this month at your house won’t have to be paid for until next. That can be helpful in managing the flow of cash during a renovation. Find out exactly what each supplier’s terms are as some suppliers also offer a 1V2 or 2 percent discount for speedy payments.