1.   Play with your design before you shop.
2.   Give yourself enough time and plan ahead.
3.   Shop around, but be careful where you buy.
4.   Read the reviews.
5.   Go to the showroom.
6.   Get the deals.
7.   Be clear on return policies.
8.   Check items as they come in.
9.   Measure your spaces carefully.
10. Carry your samples with you.

Now before we talk about how to shop, let’s make sure we know what we’re shopping for.

The Shopping List
Depending on the scope of your remodel, your shopping list might include:

Kitchen

Cabinets
Cabinet hardware (handles, pulls)
Cabinet accessories
Countertop
Backsplash
Appliances
Flooring
Lighting
Sink(s)
Faucet(s)
Kitchen accessories

Bath

Cabinets
Cabinet hardware (handles, pulls)
Countertop
Bathtub
Tile for shower and floor
Shower head & valves
Tub valve
Lighting
Ceiling vent fan
Sink(s)
Faucet(s)
Toilet
Towel bars/rings
Toilet paper holder
Robe hooks
Mirrors/medicine cabinets

General/ other rooms

Windows
Doors
Flooring
Trim
Lighting
AV Infrastucture
Furniture
Décor
Rugs
Paint colors

In some cases your contractor might order some of these items for you such as the flooring or windows. However most of these items will be purchased by you directly, and all of them will require research and decision-making. Depending on how many of the above items apply to you, you can image how much time you will spend on making your selections.
There are a variety of shopping guides available online for many of these specific products. Here we want to offer some general shopping advice:

1. Play with your design before you shop.

You’ve likely spent a good deal of time on sites like Houzz, Pinterest and HGTV.com for design inspiration. Now apply those ideas to your actual home using some clever online design tools created by manufacturers, retailers and independent firms.

  • Sweet Home 3D and Homestyler allow you to create a room with exact dimensions and place furniture and colors.
  • Lowe’s Virtual Room Designer takes it a step further by allowing you to create a kitchen, bathroom or laundry room layout and place appliances, cabinets, countertops, flooring, lighting and even accessories using their large product database.
  • Colorjive and Benjamin Moore  allow you to virtually paint a room by uploading your own photos and selecting from hundreds of paint color choices.
  • Armstrong and Shaw Floors give you an opportunity to upload your room image and apply their flooring products in various colors and patterns. 

The more you’ve thought about your personal style and design preferences ahead of time, the easier your shopping experience will be.

2. Give yourself enough time and plan ahead.

Our construction and shopping schedule tool will help you plan out when you need to make each decision so you can pace them. One of the common pitfalls in remodels is not having a product delivered to your home by the time the contractor is ready to install it. A delay in one item can delay a whole sequence of activities, and thus your overall project completion date.

3. Shop around, but be careful where you buy.

Everything is available online, and often you can find a better price online than in stores. In some cases that’s a good way to go, and in others you may regret it. Check reviews of retailers before giving them your business.

  • For the expensive, high impact items like cabinets, countertops and windows, you will want to purchase them at a local store with design consultants that can offer advice and that will come onsite to take measurements. They can also give you samples to use for coordinating your other design choices. If Yelp is a popular service in your city, it can be a good resource for finding local stores with good reviews.

4. Read the reviews.

For most of the items on your shopping list, you can find a huge array of reviews. There are many great online resources for reviews, whether you purchase through them or not. Some good places to look are

  • Consumer Reports(Some of their general content is available to the public, but product testing results require a paid membership.) Their reviews of products are quite valuable, but be prepared for not every product to be listed.
  • Buzzilions compiles user reviews from online retailers and provides their own expert reviews and product guides. They also show price comparisons of some online retailers.
  • Consumer Search also offers product comparison and expert reviews.
  • Amazon has an impressive database of user reviews on every product you can image. 

5. Go to the showroom.

It can be difficult to get a realistic idea of the look and feel of a product without seeing it in person. Make the time to go to showrooms to see the products in person. Be prepared to take some time off of work for this. Many showrooms are only open during business hours or with limited weekend hours. Even if you are not planning to buy the product at that store, don’t be shy about talking to the sales person or in-store design consultant for opinions and advice. This is particularly the case with tile, flooring and paint.

6. Get the deals.

Deals can be found through a variety of ways: comparison-shopping, negotiating, and timing it right. 

  • Before you purchase an item, check websites of large retailers that sell that type of product to see who is offering the best price. Don’t forget to factor in shipping costs.
  • If you are purchasing a number of items from the same store, such as several appliances from a local retailer, but sure to ask about discounts. Sales folks will often offer a price break for large purchase. This can also be the case with online retailers. It doesn’t hurt to call that 800# and ask.
  • There are a few times a year that are known for sales. Some great deals can be found around the holidays, especially on black Friday and after-Christmas sales. Like with car sales, deals can also be found on appliances when the next year’s models come out. September and October are typically the best months for this. If you have a local retailer you like to use, ask them when they have their big sales. 
  • 7. Be clear on return policies.

    Particularly if you are purchasing products online, you want to make sure you know what the return policies are ahead of time. It is common for return policies to only accept returned items within 30 days and charge a restocking fee on returned merchandise. If you think you might want to return an item, but sure it is not installed and that all of the original packaging is in tact.

    8. Check items as they come in.

    With so many items to purchase it’s likely that you’ll order a number of products that sit in the box after they arrive, until your contractor is ready to install them. Don’t wait for your contractor to open the package when he needs it. Inspect the items as soon as they come in to make sure they are (a) what you ordered and (b) look like you thought they would. This is both to make sure you don’t miss the return window, and to give yourself as much time as possible to get replacement items.

    9. Measure your spaces carefully.

    For items such as tile and flooring, either have your contractor place the order for you (if he gets a contractor’s discount to offset his markup) or ask your contractor to provide measurements so you order the right quantity of materials. You may find kitchen or bath accessories that you love, but before you buy them make sure that they will fit well in your space. For example before you order the oversized Jacuzzi bathtub, make sure you have the dimensions of where it is going!

    10. Carry your samples with you.

    When you are putting together the products and finishes for a kitchen or bathroom, you need to try to envision how all of the pieces will come together. As you select cabinets, countertops, backsplash, flooring and paint color, carry samples of each of the products that you’ve already selected to see how they fit with the next.

    Next: Organize your shopping schedule to make sure you don’t delay your project with products arriving late.