Important things we learned:
1. Shop around.
We found that the best price came from a big box store, but we actually preferred using a local business. When we told the local guy of the better quote, he was able to match the price.
Also, every single place we got a quote from gave us different measurements. We found that the big box stores had computer systems that seemed to make the measurements most accurate. This can make a big difference in the cost when you are getting different quotes.
Don't forget to ask about warranties. Make sure you are comfortable with this aspect of the deal before you sign the dotted line.
2. What's in a slab?
Big box stores (like Lowe's or Home Depot) can tell you the approximate color that your granite will be. Think of it this way: granite is cut much like a loaf of bread. The big box store will show you a representation of the "loaf", but not necessarily your "slice". There may be differences or imperfections from one slab to the next in a large sample of granite.
We are fortunate to live within driving distance from a granite warehouse and were able to pick our exact slab, which was one of the reasons that we liked the local business. Shopping for our slab was so much fun!
I was also concerned about having seams in odd places, so you may want to ask about that if you have large sections in your kitchen/bathroom. Thankfully, all the stones in our kitchen are one piece.
Big box stores sell granite per square foot because they might be using parts of different slabs to complete your order.
Local businesses in my area sold entire slabs of granite. If you have a lot of counter top surface area, you might need to purchase two slabs.
Be wary of deals that sound too good to be true. They probably are. If you are going to use a local business, find someone who has been in business for a long time. Find testimonials. Read reviews. Visit the showroom. Ask lots of questions about warranties & workmanship. Are they bonded and insured? Do they have a rating with the Better Business Bureau? If something seems fishy to you, don't buy from them!
4. Hidden Costs
Everyone we got a quote from charged extra to remove the old counter tops. I assumed that installing new granite would include removing the old surface, but it doesn't. Expect anywhere from $100-$250 for this service. Some places charge a flat fee, others charge per linear foot. Of course, you could do it yourself. We didn't want to go that route...just because we didn't want to accidentally ruin our cabinets in the process.
If you are getting a new sink, you will have to pay extra for the plumbing to be reconnected. It costs even more if your new sink will be deeper than your old one because the plumbing will have to be reconfigured. More work = more cost to you. The big box stores include this cost in their quotes. Local businesses ask you to find a plumber to do the work, or they may recommend a good one.
Some companies include a new sink for "free", but others charge quite a bit extra. One company we visited charged an additional $250 for the same sink that everyone else included for free.
If you have a breakfast bar or island that will need to be supported (because granite is really, really heavy), expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $150 per corbel, depending on how fancy or custom you decide to make it.
Speaking of how heavy granite is, you may need to have your floors reinforced to support the weight. Support beams may need to be added under your kitchen floor. As you can imagine, this can get expensive. However, if you have a concrete foundation, this will not be an issue for you.
Don't forget to think about the back-splash area. Are you going to have a 4-inch granite back-splash? That can cost more, especially if you are buying granite per square foot. If you are having tile work done, don't forget to add the cost of that to your budget. I hear that tile is an easy project, but we decided to hire someone to complete ours (it was a small and tedious job). Even if you do it yourself, natural stone tile can be pricey. Shop around for that, too.
After all is said and done, you will probably have areas of your kitchen walls that will need to be repaired. You can easily do this with a putty knife and some compound, but after you finish sanding, you will need to paint again. This can add to your total budget as well.
Before you even start shopping, decide on a budget for everything. Stick to that budget. You can easily be wooed by more expensive and more beautiful materials. Don't be afraid to admit that you have a budget when you are getting quotes. Ask if certain slabs are on sale. Find out what is included in every quote. And don't ever underestimate the power of competition. You never know, one reputable company might want your business enough to beat the lowest price you find.