Has slobbering over all the house porn on CandysDirt.com gotten you fired up to redo your bathroom or kitchen? Do you swoon for Gaggenau clutching a Hotpoint purse? I know I sure do, so what’s a boy or girl to do? Read on of course, read on…
What Kind of Buyer are You?
There are two kinds of buyers who rarely meet. There are the price-is-no-object folks (of which I’m rarely one) and then there’s me, a design geek who wants what he can’t afford. For those with the purse to pay full-price, this column will amuse you to see the lengths folks like me go to in order to eke out some high-end coolness.
The other criteria to consider is whether matching appliances matter to you. If they do, about all you can do is see if there’s a sale near the time you’ll be renovating because the tips I’m imparting make it unlikely you’d find a matching suite of anything.
Personally, I don’t care about brand-matched appliances because I buy some things for specific reasons. Side-swing ovens (only available from Gaggenau/Bosch), Induction cooktop with real knobs (only Viking/Bertazzoni), built-in fridge with bottom freezer (Viking, Sub-Zero Liebherr, Thermador, etc.). Of course items like master bath faucets and sinks would need to match – I believe in keeping Austin weird, not my bathroom.
And sometimes I buy things that are required for specific renovations. In this case a flush-to-ceiling extraction hood and electric/induction cooktop (no gas in building). My goals of cost-saving and specific requirements means that when it’s important, I’ll pay more (like the hood and cooktop) but I adopt other strategies for things that are waaay outside of budget (like ovens and refrigerator). Having a budget and a Richter scale of importance are just parts of renovating balancing act.
As a serial renovator, I’m always looking for cool products to use. I’m a little like a crazy cat lady. I collect items I know I’ll use sometime. Here’s an example. I’ve made no secret of my love of Gaggenau ovens. But as much as I love them, their prices are (checks lottery tickets) way outside my budget. My first Gaggenau ovens were purchased and stored for years (and hauled across country) before I had a house to put them in. I bought the oven because I got a steal (like 80 percent off retail) on a new, but discontinued model.
My current ovens, installed about 18-months ago, were discontinued over a decade ago. Again, I was able to purchase them for pennies on the dollar and they followed me for 10 years – I knew I’d use them sometime. Friends thought I was crazy … well that part is true … but I have a pair of “new” Gaggenau Ovens that cost me $1,500. Retail at the time was over $3,500 each. And because Gaggenau design is so simple and they’re not seen every day, no one would guess their age.
Note: There’s a risk here too. If something is too old, parts become impossible to get. A minor repair could turn into a costly replacement.
If you don’t have that kind of commitment, start small. Perhaps there’s a faucet you lust over? Snag it on the cheap for later use. I paid $165 each for my $1,100 Dornbracht master bath faucets. They also sat in boxes for many years and look just as wonderful today.
Don’t have that kind of time? There are other ways…
It all starts with lists, lists, lists. Create a list for each room you’re looking to spruce up – bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, whatever. Walk through your bathroom and make a list of everything – sinks, faucets, shower heads, valves, tile, mirrors, vanities, drawer pulls, door knobs, lighting, etc. etc. Do the same for a kitchen – appliances, cabinets, sinks, faucets, door handles, lighting, etc. etc.
If you’re a citizen of the internet, start assembling ideas by visiting manufacturers’ websites for each piece required – pay little attention to prices, manufacturer’s suggested prices rarely reflect reality.
You can use sites like Pinterest to keep track of your finds, but I’m old-fashioned and “right-click” on the image and “save image as” and store it on my hard drive. TIP: I’m anal and setup a main folder for the room (e.g. Master Bath) with sub-folders for each piece – faucets, sinks, etc. Saving everything to one folder can be overwhelming and difficult to search.
Once you’ve got your internet ideas, my next step is to try to see and feel each of the items. You’ll be only partially successful because no brick and mortar store will carry a manufacturer’s full line. Do your best, but sometimes it’s a leap of faith. Only you can decide how comfortable you are with this (possibly tempered by online store return policies).
After you’ve seen all you can see and have started culling your 500 faucets down to a handful, it’s time to start seeing what kind of deals there are out there.
General Searching and Narrowing Down Prices
www.google.com/shopping is the place to find “street” prices. Enter in the manufacturer and part number. When your list pops up, use the drop-down menu on the upper right of the page and reorder the results to cheapest first. Sometimes your search will return a bunch of piece parts that are part of your item…scroll past these until you get to the cheapest. This gives you a baseline price but it’s just a first step.
Note: There are other sites like Nextag and Pricegrabber, but I find them larded with ads and not nearly as detailed nor accurate as Google shopping. This is telling as I’m not generally a Google fan.
Another site to check is eBay. If you have time, setup alerts for the specific items you are searching for. Depending on your pickiness, you can set alerts as granular as you want – e.g. Gaggenau Oven or Gaggenau BX480. Sometimes you will see used items, but you will also see new items that are being sold by retailers who have had item returns, end of season, discontinued, or display models. This will give you another data point on price. Without a doubt every item on your wish list will wind up on eBay, it’s just a matter of time. It took nearly two years for a Kallista bathroom sink to pop up.
TIP: eBay can be a place to go for big discounts For example, built-in microwaves require specialized trim pieces that are obscenely expensive (for what they are). It’s pretty easy to pick them up on eBay for a quarter the MSRP. It’s also great for recently discontinued items. I picked up the above-mentioned Dornbracht faucets and a pair of (steeply discounted) brand new discontinued Grohe shower valves.
Armed with the Google and eBay information, start to group your purchases together by retailer (not necessarily manufacturer). For example, if you need three sinks, three faucets and a dishwasher that are all carried by one online store, email them and ask for a better discount. Dear XYZ, I’m looking for Part A, Part B, Part C, etc. and would like to know if you can give a better price for the grouping. This is not foolproof. Some online retailers won’t answer … but some will. An extra 10% is pretty easy, but a 20% or 30% discount from the already lowest price isn’t unusual. Tie in free shipping and no sales tax, and you’ve got some real savings. One online retailer I used a lot is www.homeclick.com, but there are certainly many, many others.
Note: Once I have what I believe is the best deal, I take the quotes to local retailers and ask them to match the price. If they can, I’m very happy to spend with local retailers. Always give local shops a chance.
For the real wild west, try Craigslist. You never know. One of my Gaggenau ovens came from a Craigslist ad. Some discounter had gotten a lot of old display models (in this case from the Great Indoors) and one was the exact oven I needed. I’d never used it before and was a little desperate for the second oven, and there it was. (Even with that “find”, Craigslist has never made it to my A-list.)
Stay tuned for part two on Friday, in which I’ll tell all my secret places in Dallas to scrounge for gold.
Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (now that they’re legal in Texas)! firstname.lastname@example.org