I’ve found eBay to be a great source of cost-effective materials for my renovation project. Not only do online retailers use such auction sites as a means of offering new goods at cheaper rates than you’ll find on the high street, but there are quite a number of quality and one-off second-hand items available too. My most recent purchase was a new (unused!) toilet for £20 — so there are bargains to be had.
Before looking on such sites, it’s good to familiarise yourself with the typical costs of the material in question. (Looking at prices online or throughout the articles on this website should give a good indication.) Using this knowledge as a bar of comparison will ensure you’re not paying over-the-odds. It’s always best to decide on the top price you’d prepare to pay and stick with it, as it can be all-to-tempting to get caught up in the moment and place a higher bid in the closing seconds.
Distance is another factor — if you’re travelling 25, 50, or more miles to pick up materials, it’s important to consider whether the additional travel costs (particularly if you’re towing a trailer) really do stack up. Unless the item represents really good value, I’d keep things fairly local. (It’s also worth contacting the seller prior to bidding to establish their location — a city obviously covers a vast area, and could see you driving miles out of your way.)
Bulky items (think a job lot of roof tiles, or a bath for example) may require use of a 4×4, pickup, trailer, van. etc. If you don’t have a means of transporting these bigger items, then the cost of hiring a van can again bump up the price. I’d always advise on measuring up first, too — I made that mistake once, only to find the item wouldn’t fit in the boot!
Quality can be hard to assess without seeing the item in person and you may have to take a bit of a punt on some items, although it’s worth thoroughly checking items that are ‘sold as seen’ before handing over the cash on collection. And, if it’s a high-value item, perhaps think about visiting the buyer prior to making a bid.
Also try Preloved, Gumtree and Freecycle — it’s amazing what turns up on these sites. Friends in the trade are a very useful source too. It’s amazing what materials and items builders, plumbers, etc. get asked to take to the tip after a job.
Finally, keep at it and be determined. Searching for cost-effective materials on such sites does take time, and I’ve found it best to check in daily or every couple of days to see what’s new.