To Rent or To Buy - That is the Question

Words: The renting vs. buying dilemma emerges all around us in everything from housing, fine china, ponies and bounce houses to construction equipment, cars, boats and airplanes. And there's a case to be made on both sides of the issue in every instance. People who rent all their lives have avoided property tax liabilities, major repair expenses, and in some cases, having to own a cadre of power tools and lawn and snow equipment. For this, they sacrifice the mortgage deduction, property appreciation value and other perks of home ownership, and the numbers can be convincing over the long haul for either option. In the world of masonry and construction, there are a few more considerations beyond the financial. Just because you can afford something, doesn't mean you should buy it. The company's long-term goals and objectives, along with job volume and the usage frequency are but a few considerations. Financially speaking:
  • Buying can be cheaper over the long term
  • There may be a return on investment selling it down the road
  • Depreciation expense could be attractive
  • Potential tax incentives, favorable interest rates
  • Equipment always available to you
But renting has benefits as well, like:
  • Latest equipment available
  • Only pay for when you use it
  • No initial investment or down payment
  • Someone else handles maintenance, storage, insurance
  • More choices of models and sizes
Renting conserves capital, which is especially appealing for construction equipment that is not in constant use, like scaffolding and rough terrain forklifts needed intermittently during a building or renovation project. "One of the major advantages to renting equipment is that you only pay for it while you have it on rent," states Amelia Pearce of Ahern Rentals, the nation’s largest independently owned equipment rental company with 87 locations across the country. "This means that as a contractor you can add the rental price to the cost of the project." Elizabeth Graves, sales manager with Spec Rents based in Hamilton, Texas, points out: "There is a lower initial investment required for renting equipment. Ownership of equipment has expenses like maintenance and operating costs, insurance, government licensing (dependent on the machine). When you rent, these costs are typically included in the rental cost. Renting is generally an inclusive cost, but given that a rental company has to turn a profit, you should consider that your rental fees will include the purchase price and the cost of ownership, both marked up." Renting equipment takes an acute sense of project timing, so you're not paying for something before or after you really need it. Of course, the ideal flow chart doesn't always flow ideally given myriad permits and legal maneuvering, weather conditions, subcontractor dependency, equipment failures and human factors. One advantage of owning your own equipment is having it available when you need it. The corollary downside is that you must store it, maintain it, license it, if applicable, and transport it - all of which are usually handled by the rental company. Give it a Whirl "Renting is a great way to assess a piece of equipment that you might be considering as a purchase," Pearce explains. "Ahern Rentals regularly adds new equipment to the fleet, providing access to the latest industry developments. We offer both rental and purchase options on all of our equipment, meaning that we can guide our customers to making the most efficient decision for them based on the length of time they will be using the equipment." Spec Rents started as a masonry company in 1987 and attributes part of its success to having invested in quality equipment. "It increased productivity and safety," Graves says. "In 2012, we started Spec Rents, an equipment company that focuses on equipment and supplies that help contractors improve their safety and productivity through the right equipment." While its customer base is mostly in Texas, some customers travel to other states. "We want to help them when we can, but also have a large network of other dealers that we reach out to for specific needs. The most important thing is getting the customer taken care of whether they use us or someone else," she adds. "Renting probably makes more sense if you’ve got a short job or you need a specialized piece of equipment that you might not typically need," Graves explains. "You will have a wider range of equipment available when you rent."   Availability and Flexibility One of the main selling points for purchasing equipment is having it available all the time. "When you own the equipment, you control where it is and when it’s available. This allows you to quickly react to last-minute changes that occur and take on jobs that pop up with less down time," Graves explains. "Equipment ownership can also have a positive impact on your ability to get projects. When a prospective client sees your equipment, they know your company is adequately equipped to do the job. Building a relationship with a trusted rental company can provide you with these same benefits. As with any other supplier, the more you use a provider, the more willing and able they are to help you out with last-minute needs." Pearce says another key advantage of renting can be flexibility. "As a contractor, you can call off the equipment at any time, and the rental payments stop. At Ahern Rentals, we have very flexible contracts with no long-term commitment and no penalties for early return." If you are not interested in buying certain pieces of equipment for the cost, maintenance, storage, transportation and other ownership responsibilities, reputable rental companies will work with you on availability and prompt delivery. "Ahern Rentals maintains an extensive delivery fleet to provide responsive equipment transport at competitive rates," Pearce declares. "With our innovative floating fleet concept, rental equipment can be shipped to any of our locations nationwide, ensuring the right equipment is always available where it is needed. Should you elect to transport the equipment yourself, our knowledgeable personnel can advise on a suitable vehicle type. We also offer trailers for rent specially designed to transport our equipment."   Safety and Training The highest incidence of death on construction sites is from falls, and falling is the second most common non-fatal injury in the industry. Additionally, some 20,000 people a year are injured in forklift accidents and thousands more in a variety of work-related accidents. Ahern Rentals specializes in high reach equipment and as such treats safety as a priority. Their range of safety training classes can be conducted in a classroom setting or on-site and include video, hands-on training, written test and a Certificate of Completion for forklift operation, industrial trucks, booms lifts and manufacturer specific lifts. Southwest Scaffolding, based in Bridgeville, Penn., southwest of Pittsburgh, rents and sells scaffolding and hoists and has a team of certified technicians which can keep customer hoists in compliance with annual inspections. According to its website: "We offer on-site sales visits to recommend the best and safest equipment to complete your project at the height of efficiency. We also offer a complete line of safety and fall arrest equipment." Safety is indelibly linked to productivity, and having either people or equipment or both out of commission can seriously impact the project, timeline and your bank account. One of the potential advantages of owning equipment is having your own people trained and proficient. "If you rent different brands and types of scaffold and other heavy equipment, it will be more difficult to make sure your employees are safe and productive using it," Graves shares. "Whether you own or rent your equipment, employees will generally need to be trained to use it properly." "We provide installation and dismantle services," Graves continues, "as well as installation and dismantle supervisor services, which allows contractors who may be new to the products to have an experienced technician assist with training. We also can provide adjustment during construction, as necessary." Ahern Rentals has one of the most extensive selections of work at height solutions in the industry. "We find that many of our customers know what they need for their project, and we have a 24/7 hotline to our highly trained customer service team. We also have a field-based team of sales representatives nationwide who can visit job sites and help identify the safest and most productive equipment solutions." At Spec Rents, they both rent and sell Malta Dynamics safety products, specializing in fall protection. "This is an added service for our customers since many general contractors now require 100% fall protection over six feet, above and beyond what OSHA requires. We pride ourselves on being able to find the safest, most productive and cost effective solutions for our customers for whatever safety challenge they may have. Most customers purchase the majority of our safety equipment," Graves continues, "but renting products such as 100’ Self Retracting Lanyards (aka "yoyos") and The Grabber - items a client might not always need - might be a better option." Across the board, renting equipment can present a tremendous opportunity to get equipment like mixers, cement finishers, scaffolding, forklifts, power saws and even hand tools on the job site for short-term use. Masonry and building machinery and apparatus can be rented by the day, week or month, and sales specialists at every rental company can guide you through the options. Complex projects may require submitting plans and copies of permits, but you can rest assured that the rental folks know their equipment and can match your needs to the best, most safe solution. Joanne M. Anderson is a freelance writer and magazine editor with more than 1,000 articles and blogs in print. She especially enjoys home improvement and building topics. SIDEBAR: Popular equipment and brand rentals and sales from Spec Rents []:
  • M-Series, P-Series, F-Series mast climbing work platform
  • Hydro Mobile
  • Non-Stop Scaffolding
  • EZ Grout products
  • Husqvarna
  • Malta Dynamics
  • Makita
SIDEBAR: Ahern Rentals Equipment [ ~ request a catalog online]
  • High reach
  • Material handling
  • Lawn & garden
  • Earth moving
  • Trucks and trailers
  • General equipment
Words: Joanne M. Anderson Photos: Spec Rents and Masonry Magazine
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