Who does it fall upon to negotiate the best prices on building materials for your self-build? If you employ a main contractor at a fixed price, then the onus will probably fall entirely upon them to supply all of the materials, though you should still be involved in the specification.

There are several advantages to this arrangement: your contractor will already have trade discounts set up at the suppliers and knows what prices to expect, and because they will do the buying, it relieves you of the burden. However, it does not necessarily assume that they will get the best possible prices. In fact, according to Chris Newby, Head of Supply Chain & Building Operations at BuildStore, it can be quite the opposite: “It is common practice for tradespeople to make additional profits by purchasing products for projects at discount and billing the products to their customers at list price,” he says.

Most self-builders, however, will manage at least part, if not all of their project – and materials buying – themselves, and end up with a long shopping list to work through. The primary advantage to negotiating your own deals is that no one cares more about your budget than you do — and no one will work harder to stay within it. Staff at builders’ merchants and other suppliers are also more likely to warm to someone building their own home than they are to someone sent on your behalf, and as long as they are getting good business from you, they’ll be keen to help. So, once you understand what level of discount you may be entitled to – and how to go about getting it – you should feel confident enough to negotiate your own deals.

Builders’ merchants

Who are they? Big chains include Jewson, Travis Perkins, Wolseley Group (i.e. Build Base, Plumb Center etc.) and Buildbase — even Wickes, B&Q and Screwfix are technically builders’ merchants. Check Yellow Pages for local businesses.

Though basically a retailer, they are a different breed to the sort of shops you might buy, say, a designer kitchen from. They target themselves primarily to the building trade, selling everything needed to build a house, from basic materials and fixtures and fittings to plant and tool hire.

Are they for self-builders too? Absolutely. In fact, in recent years, builders’ merchants have recognised just what a significant part of their business self-builders make up. Wolseley, for example, created a dedicated self-build team three years ago and has a significant presence at the National Selfbuild & Renovation Centre in Swindon. It claims to offer high-quality materials at special self-builder trade rates, and will also recommend financial experts and offer free support and advice whenever it is needed.

What’s a trade account? Trade cards and accounts are available from the vast majority of builders’ merchants, and they are usually (but not always) open to self-builders. They enable you to shop at a set discount (often 10%), which is sometimes fixed and other times negotiated at the point of application. In some cases you will earn reward points to get cash back to spend in store and be eligible for exclusive special offers.

Occasionally the card is just a discount card, but most are a credit account. Limits may be up to £25,000 and you’ll usually get over a month, say 45 days, to pay for goods once purchased or, alternatively, you can pay it off on a monthly basis like a credit card.

BuildStore has a Trade Card that offers pre-negotiated set discounts at a wide range of merchants and retailers. It is estimated that you will be able to save between 10-15% on the cost of materials for your project. Many of its partners will also automatically grant you a higher credit limit with them.

Do I need an account manager? Many builders’ merchants will provide you with an account manager. If they do not mention this when you open an account, you should ask if there will be one available. You will become their direct client, and as they know the maximum discount that can be given, they will work hard to give you the best prices, so you don’t go to a competitor.

What discount can I expect? “Most tradespeople will normally purchase most of their products via one or possibly two favoured branches to ensure discounts are maximised,” says Chris Newby — and you should do exactly the same.

One-off purchasers will usually be offered list price, so show them your floorplans. Let them know this is a significant project and they look to profit from you on a lot of purchases, and you will be able to negotiate anything up to 30% (trade), especially from smaller firms, who tend to be more open to negotiation than bigger businesses where staff may be confined to a bottom limit.

There are some merchants who simply will never offer much in the way of discounts. Wickes, for example, states that its prices are already the lowest possible.

Retailers

Who are they? Retailers are marketed largely at the consumer market as opposed to trade. At the end of the supply chain, they tend to sell products from various manufacturers, either bought directly or through wholesalers, and add on their own markup, often RRP. This can be any type of product at all, from bathrooms and kitchens to homewares.

What discount can I expect? There is no definite answer to this one. You may find you are only able to negotiate 10% at many retail chains, but this can be a lot more if they are an independent store. Many big kitchen and bathroom chains run huge sales (up to half price) on everything in store up to three times a year at the same time, so it’s worth finding out when these are.

Manufacturers

Who are they? As the name suggests, manufacturers make the products. This may be anything from tiles to windows. Sometimes you will be able to buy directly from the manufacturer, other times you will purchase through a retailer.

What is interesting to know is that there are some products – appliances and radiators, for example – that are actually manufactured by only a very small group of companies. Several brands are made within the same factories and may almost be an identical product on the inside, just with a different appearance. Appliance manufacturer Gorenje, for example, makes products for several other ‘manufacturers’.

What discount can I expect? Because manufacturers don’t have a ‘middle man’, i.e. retailer, it is here that you should be able to negotiate the best prices, as they make the products themselves and know exactly how low they can afford to go to make sure it’s still profitable for them — 30% would be a good target to aim for, but by playing different manufacturers off against each other, you could save as much as 50% off the list price, especially on joinery. Manufacturers may also have ‘seconds’ on offer at large discounts.

Inside a Builder’s Merchant

Builders’ merchants can be overwhelming for the first-time self-builder. They are big places and can seem like the preserve of the professional builder only. As a member of the public you may feel like you don’t belong there and don’t know how to engage with staff. But don’t be put off. Most builders’ merchants are now used to dealing with self-builders, who make up a large part of their business

Join a Self-build Group

Regional self-build groups are made up of individuals working together to achieve their own separate self-builds. They will locate sites, often with the intention of plot sharing, as well as sharing information and contacts and even lobbying local councils to raise the profile of self-build. But beyond this, many groups have also negotiated group discounts from suppliers. One of the bigger groups is the Bath and District Self-build Association. If there is no group in your area, you could always start one.

Brick Registration

In order to stop you going around several merchants for a different price on the same brick, when you get a quote you are often asked to give an address. This then logs you as a customer and prohibits you negotiating a better deal. To combat this, go to merchants you don’t usually shop at first, and avoid giving them your real details. You can also log onto brickhunter.com to compare the prices of different bricks before you negotiate.

The internet is a valuable tool for self-builders, and at the very least should be used as a price gauge for negotiating.

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