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Building With EBay, Piece by Piece

Do-It-Yourselfers Increasingly Turn to Online Auction Site for Deals on Household Products

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 27, 2004; Page F01

Peggy Norris was in the final stages of building her West Virginia mountain getaway, still searching for the remaining flourishes to showcase the treasures she has collected in years of traveling the world.

For one thing, she needed a sink for her basement, which she is decorating to evoke a Tuscan cavern. And late one night, she found the perfect one -- a gorgeous onyx vessel, flecked with gold, green and brown swirls.

Peggy Norris stands in the basement of her West Virginia mountain getaway with the sink she bought on eBay. It's an onyx vessel, flecked with gold, green and brown swirls. It just spoke to me, she says. So she bought it for $374. Onyx sinks usually retail for $800 to $1,500. (Courtesy of Peggy Norris)

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"It just spoke to me," she said. So she bought it for $374. Onyx sinks usually retail for $800 to $1,500.

Where did she find such a deal? EBay, of course.

Norris, a government contracting consultant who lives in Dunkirk, Md., is one of a growing number of people turning to the online auction site not for knickknacks and trinkets, but for serious hardware and building materials.

More than $1.7 billion worth of goods trades hands in eBay's Home and Garden category each year, and the company said there are more than 600,000 active listings in the section at any time. Building supplies and tools are a subset of this category, which also includes furniture and pet supplies.

One could conceivably build an entire house using supplies and tools picked up on eBay. A casual search turns up the fun stuff -- antique crystal doorknobs, tin molding, Mexican tiles, a swinging monkey chandelier -- as well as the fundamental -- gas furnaces, insulation and roofing shingles. And from one of our weather-weary friends in Florida: one bag of 20 Plylox hurricane clips, a nail-free way to secure plywood to fragile windows. Yours, for as little as $29.99.

Offerings constantly shift, but visitors to the site will find a steady supply of many popular items. EBay sellers, both individuals and companies, appear to have all of the major systems of the house covered.

For starters, the plumbing section isn't limited to fancy sinks. There are plenty of faucets, showerheads and fixtures, including bidets and restored claw-foot tubs. Tankless water heaters also appear to be listed frequently.

For more substantial remodeling jobs, or if you're ready to bring your lakeside cabin into the modern age, you can pick up plenty of ball valves, fittings and braid hoses. The one thing you're likely to have to head to the hardware store for is piping. Weeks of watching didn't turn up a single listing for lengths of copper or PVC.

The most expensive plumbing listings are generally for whirlpools, which are sold new and used. For instance, "Productlady" in Boca Raton, Fla., will sell you a 75-gallon Jacuzzi Aura with a heater for $3,650, plus $100 shipping.

While you're working on the water, you can update the heating and air conditioning. EBay sellers are happy to ship you a new heat pump, a few window units, a high-tech thermostat, some "vintage" cast-iron radiators or maybe a new gas-fired boiler. The discounts on the latter are particularly striking, but even the most frugal of homeowners should consider that shipping will cost several hundred dollars, and it won't include lugging that 300-pound monster inside the house -- or hauling the old one out.

EBay's electrical supplies are more limited. Basic items are always in circulation, though, including circuit breakers, panel boxes, Romex wire, switches, dimmers, receptacles, outlet covers, timers and connectors (5,000 wing nuts, anyone? Only $150!).

Lighting fixtures are classified separately, with the ceiling fans. The selection is extensive, with sellers offering wrought-iron sconces alongside chandeliers made from deer antlers.

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