1. Do Your Homework.
Before you hit the stores, surf the Web. Many manufacturers have their own Web sites, so you can learn about their products in a comfortable environment and feel more knowledgeable when speaking with salespeople. Study the latest products in magazines. Mark those features that appeal to you, and ask the salesperson to show you which products include them.
2. Think About How You Cook.
For example, if you rarely use microwave ovens and don't think a new one would make you use it more, a basic model will probably be fine. On the other hand, if microwave ovens are integral to most of your cooking, you might be happiest with a larger, more powerful model with more options.
3. Don't Let Resale Potential Determine Your Purchases.
Simply by updating your kitchen or bath, you will likely recoup some of your investment when you sell your home. You won't, however, increase that potential by trying to guess which dishwasher your home's future owner will prefer. Instead, you'll end up choosing so generically that your kitchen or bath won't feel like your own. Or, you'll waste money on fancy equipment and features you don't need.
4. Compare Like Models.
Not all products are priced the same way, so be sure to figure costs accordingly. For example, some flooring materials are figured by the square foot, others by the square yard. Similarly, stone is typically sold by the square foot when it's used as flooring. Countertops, though, are priced by linear foot, so be sure to convert your figures for tile and stone for accurate comparison.
5. Recognize What Determines Price Differences.
For some products, such as kitchen cabinets, construction methods and finishes reflect the difference. Faucet prices are determined primarily by the product's inner workings; appliances differ mainly when it comes to features and styling. Within each category of flooring and countertops, quality accounts for price differences.
6. Identify the Must-Have Features.
When you're shopping, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of all the latest appliance features, cabinetry finishes, and faucet styles. When each upgrade seems to cost so little more than the previous one, you may not realize how quickly they add up. It's wise to make an exploratory shopping trip to check out features, then go home and make a list of those that interest you most.