How To Buy A Steel Building

No graphics -- No hype -- No fluff. Just the best information on the web about how to buy a steel building and avoid costly mistakes!

An industry insider with 17 years of experience will tell you the 7 most common mistakes people make when buying a pre-engineered steel building. 
Learn how to buy the right product for your needs and save time, money and aggravation.

"The thinking man's website for information on how to buy a pre-engineered steel building."

Avoid These Seven Common Mistakes Made When Buying Steel Buildings

The Top 7 mistakes people make when buying a steel building:

        1. Buying the wrong type of building for your specific needs

        2. Not figuring your total cost

        3. Trying to buy the cheapest building

        4. Buying on the spur of the moment

        5. Not checking references

        6. No building experience

        7. Not getting the proper building certification paperwork 

1. Buying the wrong type of building for your needs
This is by far the number one mistake most people make! Before you buy any building, you need to answer some very basic questions about how YOU plan to use YOUR building. Many people forget that the building is there to serve your needs. If you don't define those needs, you don't really know what will work for you.

You can avoid most mistakes if you'll just take some time and figure out what you want your building to do for you. (By the way, congratulations on finding my website! There's a bunch of information here that you simply can't get anywhere else. After you finish here, it will be easier for you to figure out what kind of building will be best for you.)

As an example of what I mean by "defining your needs", think back to when you bought your house. Before you ever talked to a realtor, did you have an idea on the style of house you wanted, square footage requirements, bedroom configurations, price range, lot size, neighborhood, and so on? I'll bet you did. Or what about when you bought your computer? Didn't you give some thought to the type, memory requirements, speed, etc before you bought? You need to do give that same thought to your building! You need to consider some basics:

What's this building going to do for me? (Not what it is -- workshop, storage, garage, business, church, hangar, etc -- but what it will do? What in my life will be better if I have my building?)

What size building do I think I need? By the way, no matter what size you get, it'll never be big enough!

What door size will I need for all my stuff? And should it be an overhead type of garage door or a sliding door?

Where should I place those doors ? On the sides or the ends?

How tall do I need the building?

Will I insulate the building?

Will I perhaps ever want to add on to the building? If so, would I likely want to add to the length or to the width? Or maybe both?

Would I want a second floor?

What overall appearance do I like? What color? Do I want to have the same exterior as my house?

What shape: do I want a square building or more rectangular? Curved quonset hut? Straight-wall quonset?

What about roof pitch? Do I want a flat roof or more peaked?

Are you going to use your building for a specific purpose -- airplane hanger, horse arena, church, retail store, etc,? If so, then you'll have even more considerations based on your specific end use.

Will I need a building permit for my building?

Do I plan to erect the building myself?

Do I plan to pour the concrete foundation myself?

Will I need financing?

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2. Not figuring your TOTAL cost

Buying a steel building "kit" and putting it up yourself can save you a ton of money. In fact, I suspect saving money is probably one of the top reasons that people even consider buying a kit building. You still need keep in mind that the actual kit is just one part of your total overall cost. If you see an ad or talk to a salesman about a such-and-such size building for some ridiculously low price, be prepared! You're going to have to spend more than that! You will have additional expenses for:

Concrete foundation

Doors (may or may not be provided by the building company as part of your package)


Delivery of the building (can be expensive: a complete pre-engineered steel building might weigh 10 tons and take up the better part of a flat-bed semi truck!)

Erection and assembly of the building (however, most people looking into "kits" expect to do it themselves so this may not be an expense issue, just a time issue.)

Taxes on the purchase

And, depending on your end use, you may have additional expenses for:




Interior finishing

The every present 'miscellaneous" stuff.

Since everyone's situation will be different there's no hard and fast rule about these additional expenses that is going to apply to everyone in every case. I'd suggest you analyze your situation and sit down with a pad and paper and list your expected expenses. After you arrive at that figure, add 10% (for the 'miscellaneous" stuff), then ask yourself: Can I live with spending this much? Is it going to be worth it to me?

Budget will be especially important if you are going to use your building as a part of a business venture. Payback and profits are determined by several things, including overhead expenses. Your building will be part (maybe a big part) of your initial overhead and/or start-up expenses. And unless you're able to pay cash for everything (there's always one guy out of a hundred that doesn't need to borrow money for a building or a house or a new business) you'll need some definite numbers on the finished project to get a loan. Some building companies even offer financing, although it would only cover financing the building product kit itself. The tough economy has forced out the crummy manufactures but allowed the good ones to survive, and some of the good ones do offer financing.

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3. Trying to buy the cheapest building.

The famous economist John Ruskin once said, "Good things are seldom cheap, and cheap things are seldom good. The common law of business balance prevents you from paying a little and getting a lot." In other words, you get what you pay for!

If the first question you're asking the salesperson is "how much is it?" you may be guilty of focusing on the price instead of the cost. Depending on how you want to use your building, the cheapest purchase price may not be the cheapest overall cost. (Price and cost are different!)

For example, I've seen many people buy a quonset hut steel building because they're so darn cheap. But then they have to insulate the thing (which is like trying to insulate the inside of a giant tin can) which drives up the cost considerably. Even after spending the money for insulation, the R value isn't all that great and so they spend much more on wasted energy over the next 5 years than they would have saved in the first place if they would have bought a more initially expensive (but much more appropriate for their use) type of steel building.

Of course, just as you can under-build, you can also over build. If all you want is out-of-the-weather storage for hay or farm equipment, you can't beat a quonset for price and ease of assembly. Why over-pay? It all comes back to your needs and determining what it is important to you in your building.

And why do prices vary so much? If you're looking for a 40 x 60 building, you're gonna' get quotes from $8,000 to maybe as high as $37,000. That's a huge spread! That amount of variance is only because you're not comparing apples-to-apples. It's kinda like saying, "How much is a truck?" Well, what kind of truck? New or used? Big or small? Loaded or striped down? Or it's like looking at a picture in a computer catalog and asking, "how much is that one?" You need to know the chip speed, RAM and ROM memory and a whole bunch of other stuff to make sure you're getting a fair price. I'm sure you get my point: you need to get a valid comparison. After you've done your comparisons, you'll find that in most cases the prices will actually be very close. Competition, in steel buildings as in everything else, drives the quality UP and the prices DOWN. The key is to get a level playing field to insure you're making a true comparison. Since the downturn in the overall economy in ’09 and ’10, a lot of steel building companies went under. And lots of brokers and middle-men type companies got pushed out and down. The ones remaining are generally running a pretty tight ship and they can’t afford to be over priced (even a little) because everyone wants the best deal and everyone is looking. You can absolutely bet that every manufacturer (and broker) knows exactly what their competition is selling and how much they are selling it for. They know if they are NOT competitive they will go out of business.

Frankly, the two easiest things to compare are price and size. They're just numbers, and you can get those numbers in 10 seconds looking at an ad or talking to a sales rep, 'cause every building has a size and every building has a price! And you know what? Most people quit right there! Price & size -- that's the extent of their research. And that's why so many people make most of these "7 Common Mistakes"! You need to take some time and compare the buildings, determine what is important to you in the building, and THEN go forward and compare the prices ALONG with everything else about the building.

While on the subject of buying the cheapest building, here's a good tip. Ask yourself, "If the price of each building where exactly the same, which one would I buy?" And why? When you answer that, you'll know exactly what you really like. I mean really try this – just stop and think about what you really like and why you like it. I challenge you to actually do this! Think!

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4. Buying on the spur of the moment.

For heaven’s sake, you are going to spend a lot of your money so make the right decision!

Buying on the spur of the moment is usually only a problem if you're dealing with a "pushy" type of salesperson. I don't have a problem with salespeople; in fact, I have a great deal of respect for 'em if they are the right kind of salesperson. Times have changed. There a lot more options out there. There's more competition. You need to find an "enlightened salesperson", one that understands that times have indeed changed with our new economy. The best salesperson will work with to help you decide what's best for you. The worst salesperson will simply work on you to get you to buy his product.

One tip: does the guy mention a sale or a deal within the first 10 seconds of the conversation or meeting? If so, be careful. He’s pushing a product on you without even knowing if it’s the right one for your needs! On the other hand, I once watched a sales guy in his office talk to a fellow for over 35 minutes, just asking questions and taking notes. And after all that the salesman suggested the prospect buy a simple open sided “lean to” for his horses and hay. A product this salesman didn’t even sell! He took the time to determine his needs and they both agreed that the product he did offer was simply not the best fit for that customer. Now that’s an enlightened salesman! (And a very successful one, at that. True, he didn’t get that sale, but he will get most of the other sales when his product does meet their needs. )

So remember, you're buying a building; not a bunch of sales hype and pressure! You're going to hear all kinds of stories designed to pressure you to making a decision. This is especially true if you are going are considering a quonset hut steel building. You'll hear about "there's one on the loading dock now" and "someone canceled their order and you can have it at such-and-such a price if you buy it right now" and "there's one left over from the state fair promotion". It's all "buy today, buy now, last chance, don't wait, hurry up.. bla...bla...bla." These tactics are designed to pressure you into making a decision immediately. Separate the information you need on the building from the hype about being pressured to buy the building.

Most potential customers are very in-tune to such tactics, and they don't really work anyway. But it's still nice to know what's going on so you can be prepared.

On the other hand, remember that ALL companies do occasionally offer legitimate promotions and sales that might, in fact, save you some of your hard earned cash. Have you ever bought anything on sale? If so, then you know what I mean. For me -- since I'm so cheap -- I usually don't buy UNLESS it's on sale! For example, I bought my new lawn mower on sale at Sears in the fall, my wife buys our kids clothes in the off-season clearance sales, and the last car I bought was discounted since I bought last year’s model. So I'm always looking for a sale and a way to save money...are you the same way? This seems especially true with this slow economy we've been in the last couple of years. Almost everyone is looking for deal, a way to save money, trying to get full value.

Is the salesman offering you a "deal"? If so, then use your common sense. First, and most importantly, ask yourself, do you like the building? (Never buy a building that you don't like just because it is cheaper than the one you do like.) Is the price legitimate? Is it a comparable price to others? How long has the company been in business? Are they, in fact, truly a manufacturer or are they a broker? Also keep in mind that every company that sells stuff or services has sales. It’s just the American way! Look at your mailbox or inbox or Sunday paper. Lots of ads. Lots of deals. Every company offers deals.

When you get down to it, it's going to boil down to a matter of trust: you gotta' trust the company and it's salesperson. And you gotta' like the building at the price it's being offered. If you can answer "yes" to those questions, then it's just a matter of details: making payment and arranging delivery and puttin' her up!

As a contractor and manufacturer’s rep with years of experience, I can tell you that most people do, indeed,  procrastinate. That’s why salespeople have to give incentives to get a decision. Good salespeople understand this and use this – to the benefit of the customer! Most people need the incentive to make the decision easier to make. It's not good or bad, it's just reality. Deal with it! And take advantage of it. After you've agreed to a price always ask you salesman if there's any way the price can be lower.

I've been called out to homes with bad roofs that have been literally leaking like a sieve, with buckets all around to catch the rain. And still I'd hear "I want to think about it." Or “I want to get another quote”, after they’ve already gotten 14 quotes!  I've was involved in volatile west-coast real estate markets in the late 80’s that had seen the prices of homes go up $5,000 a week. I've experienced lightning-fast sales of lots in hundred unit developments that sell out in a week. And people still are loathe to make any decision. I've seen rocks with more common sense than some people when it comes to making a decision. They don't want to make a mistake, and making a decision involves the potential to make a mistake. However, they don’t realize that by NOT making a decision, they are, in fact making a decision. And there is risk to that.

So don’t rush, but when the time is right, then buy it. When you like it, when you can afford it, when you trust the company and the product, don't procrastinate. Say yes. Get ‘er done! Send in a deposit check or give the salesman your credit card info.

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5. Not checking references.

Unless you are contacting a local dealer who will come out and try sell you a building in person, when you first talk to a building company it's just a voice on the other end of the phone from miles away, even across the country or maybe even overseas. How do you know that you are getting 1) a good building, and 2) a good price? And even if you get both of those, how do you know if you'll get any service after the sale if you need it? One of the best ways is to ask a lot of questions up front and check the references of the building company.

How long have they been in business?

Is making buildings their only business?

How does their literature look? Lots of photographs of various buildings?

Does their literature do a good job of explaining how the building assembles?

Are they members of their local Better Business Bureau? If so, how long have they been members? Do they have any un-resolved complaints against them? (This is a big one to check. Good businesses know that it costs them business to have unhappy customers!)

Do they have actions or judgments against them by the attorney general of their state? (I know of one big name seller of buildings that had over 150 complaints against them with the attorney general of their state – and that was just ONE state! One phone call or a click on your state’s website would save you BIG headaches…if it was me there would be no way I’d ever deal with a company like that. But most people won’t check!  I feel sorry for the guys that never find my website and never know the power of information!

Do they have any industry affiliations or references?

Are they members of any steel building industry organizations?

What is their guarantee?

Do they work directly for the manufacturer, or are they a dealer, distributor or broker? (This is a BIG question, and, frankly, the one that most salespeople fudge. Most of the people out there selling buildings are simply brokers. You’ll see pictures of a factory and they’ll make it appear they are selling for the factory…but they are simply brokers. They get your order and your money and then they will shop it around to find the cheapest manufacturer to fulfill your order. And you’ll never know what happened. This is THE biggest misleading tactic that consumers are not aware of. Most the companies selling buildings do NOT make the product they sell!)

Do they have any buildings in your area?

I realize that's a pretty long list. So, when checking references, what's one of the most important questions to ask? Actually, it's the last one: do they have any buildings in your area. You'll learn more in 5 minutes looking at the product or talking with an actual customer than you will in an hour talking with some sales guy.

It also can be a big tip-off if they DON'T have anything in your area or won’t provide a reference to talk to. Frankly, most people buying a building don't want to be pioneers -- especially a building kit that they likely will be erecting themselves. They want to know that other people in their area have bought buildings from the same company. They want to know that they are built to withstand the local conditions. They want a building that looks nice and will last. They want a company with a quality product, fairly priced, backed with reasonable customer service.

It's OK to ask the company directly, "Can I look at one of your finished buildings?" (Not a model! Those are always perfect and staffed by expert salespeople...never bring your wallet to a model building!) Of course, don't expect every neighbor down the street to have one, but the company should be able to provide a reference. If you live out in the boonies somewhere you might have to expect to take a drive maybe even a couple of a hundred of miles, but it will be worth it. Or just call a couple of clients.

This can be an important step, and you shouldn't do things backwards. Since it is your time you are investing in your research, get all your basic questions answered first: then go look at a building. Get the size, height and door configuration figured out, make sure the building is within your budget, and make sure you like the company and the building style BEFORE you go look. You want to be fair to yourself (and the company) and be serious about making your purchasing decision. Looking at the building should the last thing you do, not the first. So get all your groundwork (no pun intended!) done first.

And then go look! Ask questions, take notes, find out what they liked (and didn't like) about the building. Find out how the company treated them, did they have any problems, if so, were they resolved quickly and fairly. Check on the how the delivery went, how the erection and assembly of the building went, etc. Another huge advantage of talking with an owner of a building is the fact that you'll be talking to an actual building owner, not some commissioned salesperson. You'll gain incredible insight. And you may not even have to look at his building: sometimes just talking on the phone can be a huge benefit. So if the company doesn't have any buildings in your area, or if you don't want to spend a whole lot of time driving and looking, maybe a phone call would be the next best thing.

One last comment about looking at buildings: for some people this step isn't at all necessary. It can be overkill...and it may even be a big waste of your time. If you're comfortable with the aspects of the building, the company and the rep, you don't need to look at a finished building. And that's O.K. Not everyone needs to go look. Frankly, most people don't need to look! (I had a friend recently buy a brand new '11 truck ...and he never even took it for a test drive! In fact, he never actually spoke with anyone or even sat in the driver's seat until after he bought it and they handed him his new keys. He completed the entire transaction over the web.)

And, of course, recognize this secret that is often missed by common sense: the company would NEVER provide a reference that would say bad things about it's own product. So you may not have to go look, since you know everything will be fine or the company never would have provided the reference in the first place!

While on the subject of references, here's a neat tip that I learned recently from another contractor friend. Years ago, when he first got started as a contractor, he was in the process of buying some expensive custom components from an out-of-state company. The liked the particular building and the  price was fair, but he still wasn't convinced since they didn't have any buildings in his area. So he checked directory assistance to see if the salesman (not the company) was listed in the phone book! He figured that if the salesman had an unpublished number, he's got something to hide. In this case of my contractor friend, the salesman did have a listed phone number and everything worked out fine. On other occasions in other dealings with other companies, he's also directly asked for the salesman's home phone number. And do you know what? Lots of salesman won't even give out their home number when asked! (Which isn't fair at all since they call YOU at home, why can't you call them at home?)

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6. No building experience.

Most steel building kit packages are designed for the "do-it-yourself" market, so you shouldn't have too much difficultly even if you are a complete novice. However, if you are planning on a building that is very wide, say over 60 feet (20 meters) or very tall, say over 20 foot (6 meters) or if you have an unusual configuration, you may have some challenges in erecting the building yourself.

In any case, you should ask the company rep detailed questions on how their particular building goes up to check if any procedures are going to be a problem for you. Ask the rep to carefully explain each of the steps necessary for the complete erection of the building. Even ask for a copy of their assembly and erection manual. Ask about what’s included.  Is everything included? Are end walls included? Doors? If so, is all the hardware for the doors included ? Are all the fasteners provided? Is all the trim included? Is the exterior sheeting pre-cut to the exact length? Do you have to weld anything? Drill anything? Cut anything? What type of foundation do you need? Do you need a crane or any heavy equipment to unload or erect the building? What do I have to buy locally? (There's always something!)

Frankly, lack of construction experience doesn't usually come up very often as one of the "Top 7 Mistakes", since most people that are considering a steel building kit are doing so because they are specifically seeking out a building they can erect themselves or they have a contractor buddy already lined up to erect their building. It's like using your own "sweat equity", since you can do all (or most) of the work yourself or with friends and save a boat load of money. Steel building kit buyers usually expect to erect their building themselves or with friends.

If you are a novice, you'll want to pay close attention to service AFTER the sale. What are the hours of the company? When you call, do you get a "real person" or voice mail? Can someone answer your questions right away, or do they have to call you back? If so, are your calls returned promptly? Is the organization oriented just to sales? (Some brokers may not be as interested in your after-the-sale problems as a factory rep or distributor, for example.) Do they have on-staff customer service people? How about on-staff engineers? What kind of "feel" do you get when talking with the company? Are you "just another guy to sell a building to", or do you really feel the company or it's salesperson is really looking out for your best interests? Do they have a local office? Do they have a video to help explain the erection process? Do they have any erected buildings in your area? Do they have any customers that you can talk to?

Here's another tip: How you've been treated BEFORE the sale can be a great indicator of how you'll be treated AFTER the sale. How fast did the brochure arrive? Or, if it's a local company, how long before the rep stopped out to see you? If you call the company, how long before your calls are returned? Do they have “online chat”? If you send an email, how long before they respond? (I’ve heard stories of some companies that never respond to emails!)  Did the salesman take a little time to talk with you about how you wanted to use your building and what was important to you? Was he concerned about your door height, square footage requirements, door configuration, (and your budget)? Did he immediately try to sell some size on sale? Where all your questions answered to your satisfaction? Were the answers direct and specific? Did he help you buy your building (best), or did he sell you the building (worst)?

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7. Not getting the proper permits and building certification paperwork

Getting permission to build is usually a two-step process: the first step is zoning and the second step is structural. Zoning is usually a size and appearance issue. Your local zoning officials may limit the size of your building (square footage as a percentage of the main dwelling or as a percentage of the lot size) the height (blocking views), outside appearance (color, shape, finishing materials) or door configuration (making sure you have multiple egress doors in case of fire) or setbacks (making sure your building is set back a certain distance from your property line) or wetlands issues (you can't build on or close to a watershed) or any one of a number of other issues specific to your particular area.

Zoning issues are often consistent in a given area. One of the easiest ways to check if it'll be OK for you to put up your building is to just look around and see if other similar buildings (similar in appearance only, since at this point that's the best way to compare) are already erected in your area. If so, you shouldn't have any problems clearing zoning for your building. Others have gone on before you, and if someone else has already received permission to build, they certainly can't deny you. If your neighbor has a woodshop or a garage or a shop, YOU can have a woodshop or a garage or a shop.

In some situations, you may not even need to worry about zoning or permits if your building is for agricultural use or if you live out in the sticks where building permits aren't even necessary. Or, in these areas, if there is a building permit required you might just have to fill in a form and shell out ten or twenty bucks to help fill the local coffers. It’s just a formality.

After you clear zoning, you'll need to clear the second step: proving to the building inspectors and permitting officials that the building you want to put up is structurally sound for your local conditions. Depending on where you live, this might be a VERY critical part that may determine what type of building you'll buy or who you will buy it from. Some areas of the country (for example, Florida or metropolitan southern California) have VERY strict guidelines covering the wind and seismic ratings of buildings. This is especially true for buildings that are designated as high-occupancy buildings, likes churches and retail stores. Do you live in an area that gets a lot of snow? Then you'll have to make sure the building will comply with the snow load ratings for your city and county. Are you right on the sea coast? Then you'll have hurricane high-wind requirements your building must comply with. In "tornado alley"? Then you gotta' comply and make sure your building meets the requirements.

How to check? Ask the company if they provide certified, stamped engineered blueprints, plans and calculations for the building. These blueprints (which are independent of the general assembly blueprints) are "wet-stamped" and signed by a licensed engineer or architect. (Important: they must licensed in the state in which the building will be erected, and be stamped with that state's particular stamp). And you'll probably need at least three originals -- photocopies generally are not accepted. These plans prove the building will meet the local loading conditions. If the company can NOT provide these stamped blueprints, you should wonder why. Be careful. (Speaking personally, if they can't provide solid, independent proof on the quality and structural integrity of the building, I'd immediately hang up the phone, walk away or give the guy the boot out of your house! Why in the world would you buy a building if it can't be proven and guaranteed to meet your local conditions?)

Some of the best manufacturers will guarantee their building will meet the structural requirements of you area. That’s huge. Some will tell you that YOU need to find out the loads and requirements of your area and then YOU need to make sure that which you order will meet those requirements. That is, as my uncle used to say, “ass backwards”.  The best companies will take that pressure off you. I had a client once in Santa Barbara that ordered a building, got the plans, got the building delivered and then the county said it didn’t meet the structural loads. What did the company do? They told him it wasn’t their fault, that they built what he ordered, and they wouldn’t do anything to help the guy. It was $25,000 out the window for the client. It would have taken many months, maybe even years, to sue the company! He sold it for scrape.

Here's another tip: in addition to stamped, certified blueprints for the building, you may need stamped, certified blueprints for the foundation. By definition, a pre-engineered building already has been designed, tested and is ready-to-go. Building companies design and build the structure, and it’s all engineered and designed for the wind and snow and loads of a particular area, but that structure may be erected in a sandy lot or swampy backfill or on bedrock. Obviously, the soil conditions will vary with each specific location. If you need certified foundation drawings, you'll want to make sure the building company can help you.

Most other types of permits are usually independent of any specific building. For example, plumbing and electrical permits. If you'll need permits for these, the type of building is not usually an issue. A bathroom is a bathroom whether it is in a quonset hut or a pole barn or a steel building or a house.



Well, you have just learned "How to Buy a Steel Building"! Do you still want one? If so, click over to our contact information and finish your education!

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