“Robbed” At Home Depot – A Survivor Fighting Back

by | BiggerPockets.com

I’ve been in real estate since 2010 and in that short amount of time I’ve quickly come to dread trips to the Big Box stores. These places are time suckers and if you’re not careful – you may actually be losing money every time you step foot into one.

If I had an app that recorded the amount of time I spent at Home Depot during my first year flipping houses I’d honestly be scared to look at it. If that app translated those hours into money, I’d be borderline furious.

In his recent blog, Glenn Schworm talked about time and how an investor’s inability to properly manage it could literally kill their business. Glenn’s 100% right and unfortunately for us, time is an elusive beast. It’s too easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re making the best use of time when in reality the things we do in our business everyday may actually be costing us money.

How Much is Your Time Worth?

I did some questionable “back of the napkin math” last year and came up with a figure – $110 an hour is what my business is paying me. Since figuring out this number I’ve been playing a little game with myself. For every mundane task I do in my business I imagine a ninja coming up behind me and progressively robbing me of my money.

  • Spending 30 minutes walking the aisles of Home Depot picking out mosaic tile ~$55 gone 
  • One hour fighting traffic to and from Home Depot and 30 minutes loading and unloading materials ~ $165 gone 
  • 15 minutes waiting in line to check out because Big Box store only has 2 cashiers working during the busiest time of the day ~ $28 gone

Like I said, the amount of money you lose at the end of the day is scary to look at.

But it doesn’t have to be this way and, if you want any crack at financial freedom via real estate and flipping houses, it must not be this way. The key is to slowly replace mundane, everyday tasks that eat up your time and money with systems that will grow your business and continue to work for you.

The most successful flippers will incrementally replace themselves from aspects of their business with the right person who is properly trained to follow a detailed and documented system. It is this process of replacement that you as a flipper and business owner should focus on.

But I have no money to hire someone, Glenn!

And my reply to you is, that’s ok! The key is to just get started on creating simple systems for every task in your business. Don’t be like me and find yourself knee-deep in four simultaneous rehabs before you sit down and write out your first system. To backtrack and figure out exactly what my business processes were at that point was incredibly painful and I only wish I had started sooner.

But I digress, this post has found it’s way into a slightly bigger topic and all I wanted to originally do was talk about Home Depot…

Fighting Back…

So, how did I solve the Home Depot time suck and how did I fend off that pesky money stealing ninja?

The answer is simple: I delegated and designated it out. In February of this year I spent an entire week creating SKU lists of all the regular materials I buy at Home Depot. I took it a step further and created “SKU bundles” that reflected the different price points that I was flipping at. Now, when I have a home that will sell at $200k after rehab, for example, I already know exactly what finishes will go in it. I simply update the quantities in my SKU list and fax it down to Home Depot for my contractor to pick it up.

It’s not a perfect system and still needs updating every once in a while to account for product availability and price changes, but for the most part, I’ve completely eliminated Home Depot from my schedule. In return, I’m able to spend my time finding more deals, talking to potential investors and lenders, and doing the things I enjoy in life – all while my business and the systems I’ve created for it continue to work for me.

How about you? What tasks in your real estate business do you dread doing and how can you find ways to systematize them? How much money are you losing every day by focusing on the wrong things and what are you going to do about it today?

Photo: Jack Keene

About Author

Glenn is the founder of Fresh Start Homes, a real estate investment company in Hampton Roads, Va. that focuses on eco-friendly rentals and rehabs. He also owns and operates BundleBaths, an online bathroom supply store catering to real estate investors.


  1. Glenn Schworm

    Good article, nice title! I was smiling the entire read as I TOTALLY understand. We are fortunate to be the largest single buyer at our local home depot, so they treat us really well. Here are some further tips and thoughts for you Glenn (nice spelling by the way 🙂 Get really friendly with the Pro Desk. Get their birthdays, take nice gifts during the holidays, etc. If you take great care of them, they will take great care of you. Since your time is money, guess what? So is the contractors. I find they love to sit around and BS with other contractors, probably about ways to screw us! So we encourage them strongly to have all of the materials delivered. Plan ahead, and make the order worth the delivery fee. In our area, they charge the fee, but then credit a purchase so it is a wash, delivery is free, the contractor does not have to leave the job and all is well. Just some thoughts…great article though, I have stood around many a day until we figured it out!

  2. Glenn – good article. If you ever need to delegate out that ninja job – please keep me in mind 🙂 I like your “SKU bundle” process, seems like it will be great time saver. Thanks!

    • Rachel,

      Glad to have helped you out in any way. Make sure you read the other comments on this article. Some BP users have even better solutions than me!

      The key, however, is to find a way to systematize your daily operations, no matter what tool you use.

      Happy investing,


  3. john milliken on

    did you know HD has an pro app that does all of this for you now? it keeps sku’s, tells you how many in stock, and where items locations are in the store. it’s amazing. time waste no more.

  4. Steve Johnson on

    After reading “The E Myth” I really took to heart what they said about creating systems for everything. I’ve started to do that although haven’t finished it as well and detailed as I like. I wrote down what the system is for finding leads, finding mailing addresses, checking lead status, quantifying costs. They are all pretty lame but its a start. I think what I really need is to write down what I need to do to keep making systems a part of every task

    • Steve,

      A smart man told me once to keep a journal of the tasks I do in my business everyday. Take a day or two every week and look over those tasks – slowly start making systems for each one.

      As long as you keep a running journal of what you do, it will be easier to know what you have to write processes for when you do take the time to sit down and worn ON your business.


  5. There is a new app that just came out called the pro app.You can keep track of each house separate with the sku numbers pricing store location where merchandise is in.submit to bid room for volume pricing,check invoices order on smart phone and have it ready on will call for pick up when you get there.Also a speaker feature on app you say the product you are looking for and it will give you all the options.

  6. Glenn,

    I’ve spent years managing network infrastrcuture projects as floored about how few controls and systems are in-place in the renovation and construction industry … at least at the small level at which we operate.

    I have built a database of the primary materials we use in renovating and maintaining our properties. Each item is stored with its SKU code and contractor price at each of our three primary suppliers {there are additional slots available for other alternate providers}. This allows me to e-mail/fax a materials list to each of the providers and receive a project-based quote.

    It’s taken me the better part of a year to get my primary contractor and subs on-board with doing advanced material orders {thinking further ahead than what they need this week}. In the end, it took me tracking several jobs and demonstrating how money could be saved with a little advanced planning and having our materials priced and sourced prior to commencing a project.

    In the end, I had to indicate that I would be sharing the pain of extra costs arising from poor planning and extra trips (mostly be me) for supplies with each of them (since they provide the input into the materials order and planning). This seemed to have gotten the message across. On our current project, I have only had to make two unplanned trips: one was for an unforeseen issue that arose once the slab was cut to update plumbing and the second was due to a miscalculation by our rep at the building supplies depot.

    Of course, we are far from finished.

    • That should have read:

      “I’ve spent years managing network infrastrcuture projects an was floored by how few controls and systems are in-place in the renovation and construction industry”

    • Roy,

      I’m very impressed by what you have been able to accomplish. There is a lot of moving parts in materials procurement part of construction and thats what makes it so challenging.

      A lot of great businesses have been built when people who are experts in one field adapt the principles they know into previously unventured industries.

      Would love to talk more about what your systems.


      • Glen,

        I don’t think we are doing anything extraordinary. I expected my initial renovations to come in over budget for the following reasons:
        a) I was new at it – other than owning my own home, construction/renovation was a whole new domain;
        b) I have a habit of “while I am here, I might as well fix this”; and
        c) My partner and I adopted a mission statement of energy/resource efficiency when we started our {rental} real estate business. Our objective with each of the older (60 – 120yr) properties we have acquired is to improve their energy efficiency by 50-75% and make them healthier more affordably homes for our tenants.

        However, when subsequent renovation/retrofit projects failed to show any significant improvement in materials procurement and related schedule disruptions … not to mention waste reduction and cost overruns, I just assumed the difference between us and other investors/renovators is they had their act together and had the materials procurement under control.

        In another life, when building (inter)national communications networks we do advance site reconnaissance for all nodes on the network, then we procure and drop ship all needed equipment – along with backup and “what-if” materials and equipment – to the site in advance of the installation. Once the work is complete any “extra” materials are return shipped to the suppliers. In my naïvety, I just assumed the same was done in the construction/renovation/retrofit industry.

        The part that has amazed me the most is the resistance from many of the trades to our implementing of these simple measures. In some cases (plumbers, electricians), there was resistance to providing us with itemized invoices or having us source the materials (I can only assume they are marking up their materials). I am tenacious (plus I have the chequebook), so in the end I will prevail. We have won over some of our subs and have one who now wants to use our database and materials quote requests for his other jobs (where I presume he will continue to mark up his materials and offset the margin he no longer makes with us).

  7. I liked this one a lot.
    Hit home with me as I have had more than a few wasted days at the Depot…

    Luckily my top contractor is the rate one that is actually a good project manager as well.
    He does order most of the materials in advance and gets deliveries or has his low wage laborers get them as needed (Orders all the stuff expected for the entire job but gets it as needed to get the volume pricing). So I don’t make any trips on his behalf.

    Need to work on developing more of my systems. At a bare minimum it will be good to make sure that I am doing things the same way each time and hopefully can outsource some more simple activities once I have it down to a simple checklist.

  8. To keep my employees out of the home depot, I have commercial accounts at the local lumberyard and plumbing supply. Yes, they’re a hair more expensive – but they’re literally around the corner, and they don’t waste my people’s time. No, my employees don’t make $110 an hour, but there’s an opportunity cost – when they’re at the big box store, they’re not doing other useful work I need done.

    I also do a fair amount of business with “HD Supply” – used to be Maintenance Warehouse, the Home Depot bought them, it became HD Supply, then Home Depot dumped them. I have a punch list of the usual stuff, and it doesn’t take long to get an apartment turnover’s worth of stuff winging it’s way to the complex. I can do the equivalent of two hours walking the aisles plus an hour of fighting traffic in 15 minutes.

    – Jerry Kaidor

    • It (HD Supply) has been quite good. Their prices are competitive, they do free shipping if you order more than some small $$$. And they ship *fast*. They have a nice website where you can save your lists. There have been a few times over the years when they shipped to the wrong location – but I can’t say 100% it wasn’t *my* fault.

      I used to save all their emails in a file called “mwh”. When I wanted something I’d ordered before, I’d search for the string in that file, and grab the SKU. Then they started sending their receipts as PDFs, and that didn’t work any more.

      They have an especially good selection of window coverings. I made up a spreadsheet with the size of every single window in my complex. Give me an apartment number, I’ll tell you what size the windows are. Because the tenants trash the miniblinds, every time. The time savings over going to the store and shuffling through the racks is *enormous*.

      – Jerry Kaidor

  9. If your contractors are like the ones we have here in Las Vegas… Let me say good luck with your math. They will eat you alive with that list being over the amount of the material needed even if you know that is not right.. They will steal from you on the heart beat in YOUR FACE..

    • I don’t understand your point. My contractors only buy what I want them to buy. If there is a question regarding the amount of construction materials, we negotiate that up front and I still pay for only what I buy.

      I understand there can be a markup in construction materials when contractors want to buy materials from their own sources. That is something you as an investor have to stay on top of. At the end of the day some contractors will steal what they can but that is only if you run a company in which something like that can happen.

      • I tried the same thing you do with home depot many times and my contractor would tell me to buy more and more. I would stay all day checking so they dont steal the material or make sure that everything was being used. Then I noticed that they would always order less material so I could go to home depot and buy more. They always stole material in the end of the job. They would go to the car and steal material under their shirt no joke.
        I just got so tired of all this that now I get quote with the material. I will not go to home depot. They take care of everything. It cost me less in a long run trust me. I dont have to be waiting my all month making reports or spend my time sending fax to home depot. My contractor give me his price and I get on a agreement how much I will pay and the job is done without me being worried about stealing.

  10. One thing we’re having a problem with right now is refrigerators. At one complex, I had a good appliance supplier. They’d come out and try to fix our stove or fridge. If they could fix it, they would, and if they couldn’t, they’d cart it off and sell me a reconditioned one.

    At another one ( in another town ), I couldn’t find anyone like that, and we wound up cruising Craigslist looking for deals, having my maintenance guy drive out & buy them. It was a hassle looking for the fridges; It was a hassle to get the cash to the maintenance guy, it was a hassle when he’d drive out and find that the merchandise was crap. And of course he was billing me for his time.

    Now it seems like my good appliance supplier has become less than good. He comes out, looks at a fridge, says “this can’t be fixed” and carts it away. Even if it *can* be fixed. There’s more money in it for him. So I guess we need to start a search for appliances out there. Too bad, we’ve done something like $50K of business with the guy over the years.

  11. Karin DiMauro on

    Hi Glenn – great job, as always!

    I think one of the key takeaways here is that it’s never too early to start building systems. You make an excellent point about how difficult it was to try to establish a system when you were up to your eyeballs in 4 projects at once. I’m wrapping up my 2nd rehab and have the 3rd lined up, and I’ve been making notes on my materials and prices, what works in drawing up contracts, what doesn’t, the best way to stay on top of a rehab budget, etc. Our goal – same as everyone else, I imagine – is to build our business to the point where we’re doing multiple rehabs at once, and right now’s the time to set up systems. We could shrug our shoulders and say we’re just little guys … but if we did that, our business would always be little! I’m happy to report that, so far, our 2nd rehab has gone much smoother than the first. I credit that to us finding an excellent contractor (he’s also an investor so he gets it), but also to us paying attention and making notes on everything, the good and the painful, on the first go-round.

    Also, kudos to some of the great comments on this blog. Some really helpful hints. I’ll be looking for that app! (Is it available for Droid?)

    Keep up the great work. 🙂

    • Good tips Al!

      Another tip in that Gift Cards (At least at HD) count towards the price to get the financing deals. For example you have a small order that is only like $250 if you buy a $50 GC then you can get the purchase floated for 6 months at 0%.

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