If you have ever built or extensively remodeled a house, it probably crossed your mind that, yes, it is possible to have too much of a good thing: The choices to be made can verge on the endless.
Consider: I recently received a copy of Builder magazine's annual Buyer's Guide issue--more than 400 pages consisting of mostly manufacturers' listings and contact information for companies that produce just about anything that could go into the structure of a house. Take flooring products as a random example: The guide lists 241 manufacturers.
Most home buyers, of course, don't want to know how to contact 241 flooring manufacturers and don't need to, anyway. Builders tend to narrow the search significantly by specifying the companies or even individual products they work with. Even then, the decision-making process can be daunting because builders also typically offer a range of alternatives or upgrades. No matter how they cut it, there are still lots of decisions to be made.
A recent trend has been for builders to open elaborate "design centers" dedicated to helping buyers make these decisions with the aid of trained designers. But, historically, the only alternative for the consumers who want to decide for themselves whether the builder's standard product is truly up-to-snuff, or for the client who craves a completely customized house, has been to travel from showroom to showroom to showroom.
The Internet would seem tailor-made for shortcutting the process. But even then, where to start? Trying to wade through individual manufacturers' World Wide Web sites could be as time-consuming as visiting all the showrooms. One option is to start with the enterprising "umbrella" sites that not only group manufacturers by category, but also may offer "clip and save" features for stashing away information about items of interest. They may highlight individual products that seem worthy and link the user to manufacturers' Web sites for more details.
But this being the Internet, the breadth of these umbrella sites varies widely. Some are fairly exhaustive. Some are sketchy. Some have only paid "listings" that are essentially advertisements, while others claim editorial independence. My advice is to use them as very valuable starting points, because in all likelihood you're going to want to see and handle the real thing before making your purchase decision, anyway.
Here are some of the sites:
* Builder magazine has put its Buyer's Guide online via its own site, www.builderonline.com. This site is part of the "supersite" www.hbrnet.com that also accesses the sites for some of publisher Hanley-Wood Inc.'s other magazines, including the Old-House Journal, Remodeling and Residential Architect. The site also features a daily summary of new products and offers access to a database of 1,800 magazine stories about products.
* Building Blocks Interactive Corp. is the parent of HomePortfolio, www.homeportfolio.com, which is a more consumer-oriented database in two parts: The main page claims to present an "independent editorial selection of the world's best," while another area presents what are essentially sales brochures of "paying clients." There are several ways to search here, such as by style and by brand. Although my inquiry about the aforementioned flooring yielded only a handful of companies (compared with builderonline's 241), this fairly new site will greatly expand its database by year's end, according to company officials.
* Buildscape Inc.'s agenda encompasses anything and everything related to home building, including paid listings for builders, real estate for sale and other concerns. Within the realm of building products, www.buildscape.com claims to have references to 64,000 products from 3,000 manufacturers. It also has an online auction of building products, which at this point shouldn't cause eBay executives to lose any sleep.
* ImproveNet is a resource for screening contractors and for online remodeling advice. But the site, www.ImproveNet.com, also has information on building products, though my sample quest for flooring turned up only a couple of manufacturers. Consumers can build a "personal idea file" for storing away ideas, and the site invites users to submit suggestions of manufacturers for inclusion in its list.