It's not that I have a limitless budget, but I temper my expensive taste in bathrooms with discount shopping. A look around my master bath is a primer on where to find bargains: display models, clearance sales, Craigslist, eBay and architectural thrift stores (also known as repurpose or re-use stores).
"It was the luck of the timing," said Diamond Spas Inc. owner Stephanie Bennett. The company was selling its display models before moving into a new facility in Frederick, Colorado.
I picked my tub up in person, but many other buyers only saw photos and then paid to have their purchase crated and shipped, Bennett said.
While that's riskier, I've done it too. After seeing an ad for the Kohler WaterHaven shower, I searched online and found one on Craigslist in Minnesota. With a $6,300 retail price, it features dual telescoping shower heads, four body-sprays and a hand shower. I paid $1,000, including delivery, since the seller's brother was moving to Colorado.
Research is key to a good deal. Learn if the item will have a manufacturer's warranty and, especially with plumbing, comes with all the components, or what their replacements will cost. Inspect items carefully for dings and defects, and decide if you can live with them.
Since many contractors — including plumbers, electricians and designers — buy items discounted and then charge customers full price, know beforehand if the workers you hire are willing to forgo that markup and use your products.
Cathy Ratschowsky of Fort Collins bought granite for her vanity remodel at an auction. Before that, she priced out remnants and compared bullnosing costs. She also asked about charges for picking the piece up from the auction site. That gave her an idea how much she could spend and still get a bargain.
"I had to be flexible," she said. "I couldn't fall in love with just one piece."
Discount renovation shopping isn't for everyone. It won't work for those who have set ideas what they want, or those on a tight schedule. It takes patience and persistence.
When I was working on the bathroom remodel, I'd stop in to a repurpose store every few weeks, and check its website and Twitter feed to monitor new donations.
That paid off when I found a 58-inch concrete trough sink that was perfect for our space.
I wanted to know if it had been donated because of a defect, so I called the manufacturer. It turned out it was a demo they'd made to try out a new design. I also learned it hadn't been sealed, so I factored in that expense.
Interior designer Carin Atterbury of Surface shops for her clients at the Pratt & Larson Tile Outlet Store in Portland, Oregon, where handmade ceramics sell for about 75 percent off retail.
"There needs to be some design forethought into using their close-out material, because the colors are limited and the quantities are limited and there is no trim," she said. But "it's definitely a great resource if you need a small quantity for a pop of color or a pop of design."
Tile is often available at clearance sales, faucets are sold off floor models when the style is no longer current, and display boards with towel bars and toilet paper holders cost pennies on the dollar when they are retired.
Some bargain-hunting hints:
— Ask plumbing and bath stores if they sell floor models or seconds, and if they have clearance sales.
— Subscribe to mailing lists for auction houses.
— Use the Internet to track down an item you like. Set up an alert for the item on eBay.
— Scrutinize items before buying. Most are non-refundable.
— Check the spec sheets and see if your contractor is willing to inspect the item. A plumber I know found hairline cracks in a clearance-room bathtub, and my sink faucets required expensive metric connectors.
— When possible, buy from a business. If there are problems, they're more likely to help you sort it out.
— Make sure you buy more tile than you'll need to allow for breakage. An extra 10 percent is recommended.
— Consider delivery or shipping costs, and think about where you'll store the item until it's time for your remodel.
Since renovating on a budget requires flexibility, I ended up with things that didn't work. For instance, a Dorbracht floor-mounted tub filler that I bought at a tent sale before I bought my soaking tub turned out to be too short.
Since I couldn't use it, I did what anyone on a budget would: I resold it to a fellow bargain-hunter.