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6 Clever Ways for House Flippers to Save Big on Remodeling Supplies

By Gabriel
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by | BiggerPockets.com

My husband and I have flipped numerous houses, doing much of the work ourselves. We look for bargains when choosing materials to use. Why pay $20/sq ft for glass tile if you can find something suitable for $5? Your 100 square foot backsplash just went from $2,000 to $500 instantly.
I don’t mean to suggest that you go with bottom of the barrel finishes or that you do subpar work to save money. And I am most certainly not suggesting that you cut corners. Do it right and up to code, but shop around. Home Depot can have some really great deals. We put 18″ travertine tiles in our kitchen for $2/sq ft. I could have paid $18/sq ft for the exact same look, but why?

And, of course, remember: If you are flipping the house, you don’t have to love the finishes.

Here are some of my favorite ways to save money on supplies.

6 Ways to Save on Remodeling Supplies for Your Flips

1. Buy Off-the-Shelf

I have two big box home improvement stores in my town. They both sell “off the shelf” cabinets, which are made by Hampton Bay. They only come in about 30 sizes, but combined with spacers, you can make it work for most kitchens. There are 6 different finishes with a basic door style. The fronts are solid wood, and the sides are plywood covered in a thin veneer. This may sound unappealing, but unless you are using custom cabinets, most cabinet boxes are not solid wood.

In one instance, I was able to get almost everything I needed for my kitchen through this off-the-shelf cabinet line, but they didn’t offer a refrigerator panel, and I needed one for my layout. I noticed another custom cabinet company had what looked like the exact same color that I was choosing. I compared the samples as best as I could, took a leap and ordered the refrigerator panel.

Since wood is a natural product, color variations are normal. The panel is an almost exact match, and the slight difference can be contributed to natural variations in the wood. I spent $2,000 on the off-the-shelf cabinets. The custom brand would have cost more than $5,000 for almost the exact same thing. Sure, I would have had more size options, but I prefer that $3,000 in my pocket.

2. Check Out the “Oops” Paint Selection

Do you know most places that custom-color paint will make mistakes from time to time? This is your chance to swoop in for a bargain. Using quality paint is a lesson I learned the hard way a long time ago. I bought the cheap $15-a-gallon paint and ended up putting on 5 coats to cover the darker walls. 5 coats! Never again. I now use the paint-with-primer, which is about $35-a-gallon, but covers in one coat. Twice the price, 1/5 the work. Sold.

Except it isn’t always twice the price.

I am in home improvement stores a lot. (Once, the cashier said to me, “You look familiar…” to which I replied, “Yes, I am in here every single day.”) Whenever I have an extra minute, I swing by the paint department, even if I am not yet to the painting stage. I check out their “oops” paint section, the shelf where they put the paint they mis-colored. Maybe they used the wrong base paint; perhaps it wasn’t the right finish. I really don’t care what the problem was because I can have them replicate it if I need more than one gallon. I like the $7 price tag.

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If there are several cans of the same or almost same, I buy them all. I can get a 5-gallon plastic bucket and mix them all together to create my own custom color. (You can only do this if they are the same finish. Don’t mix flat with ultra gloss.) Those same stores where you bought the paint have empty paint cans for sale, so you don’t have to store that giant 5-gallon bucket when you are done.

3. Don’t Write Off Big Bargain Stores

Did you know that Costco sells tile? It isn’t guaranteed they will have it in stock now, but from time to time I find some pretty amazing mosaic tile. My kitchen backsplash was purchased at Costco for $5/sq ft. It is glass, travertine (a perfect match to the travertine floor) and emperador marble. It looks beautiful with my honey maple off-the-shelf cabinets from Home Depot.

They also sell wood and laminate flooring at very competitive prices, in addition to light bulbs, light fixtures, faucets, garbage disposals, toilets, etc. Their inventory changes quickly, and just because they sold it in the past doesn’t mean you will be able to find it again. So keep your eyes out, and you may be surprised to see some great bargains on materials.

4. Spruce Up the Property With Hearty Plants & Discount Mulch

In the spring, everyone sells plants. Landscaping companies, home improvement companies, even the grocery stores. A few well-placed plants can make a huge impression. My all-time favorite is the Purple Fountain Grass. I bought it last year when I was installing my own landscaping. Each plant cost me about $6. I live in Colorado, which is considered high desert. Despite what you may think, we don’t get all that much precipitation, and I was looking for drought-resistant plants. Enter Mr. PFG. He grew to an impressive 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide in only one growing season. Even when he was first planted, he looked beautiful. Another winner is Salvia, which is also drought resistant.

Once your plants are in, cover up the surrounding areas with mulch. In the spring, you can find bags of mulch for around $2.50 a bag. But wait! Those big box stores use forklifts to move pallets of mulch around. Sometimes the forklift goes right through the bag. Instead of throwing that bag away, they tape it up and add it to the pile of ripped bags. They sell those for $1. I like to stockpile those whenever I can find them. I use the same color all the time.

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You can get mulch even cheaper at those landscaping places, where they will deliver it to you in large quantities if you happen to have one near you.

5. Get Suggestions from Friends

When I lived in Chicago, I saw ads for Tile Outlet on almost every TV station. They were cheesy, low-budget ads and always featured the same woman with blond ’80’s hair. They all ended the same: “Tile Outlet. 2444 W. Fullerton in Chicago, just 3 blocks west of the Kennedy Expressway.”

When we started flipping houses, we asked friends where they bought their supplies, and they all said they bought their tile at Tile Outlet. Every. Single. One. So we took a drive, and our jaws dropped. Absolutely gorgeous tile at ridiculously low prices. On some closeout items, they require you buy the rest of what is there, but mostly there is such large quantities, you only need to buy what you will use.

But based on their silly commercials, I wouldn’t have gone in there on my own. Asking our friends garnered some pretty amazing suppliers.

6. Repeat What Works

We have come up with a great color palette for our flips. We use the same materials over and over because we know how to work with them. I use the same cabinet knobs in every house, because they look good, yet are inexpensive. They are sold in packs of 10, and it doesn’t matter if I only need 21 for this house; I have some left over from the last one. Or I just used up my stash, and I buy 30 because I know those extra 9 will be used in the next place.

We use 18″ travertine tile because it is cheap. It’s a natural stone, so there isn’t anything to match because none of it matches. It looks stunning, and doesn’t cost much more than plain ceramic. If I have too much left over from the current house, I just store it in the garage until we buy the next one.

Flipping houses can be exceptionally profitable. Save money where you can, so you can spend it when you need to.