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Top 10 Tips for Purchasing a Memorial, Marker, Headstone or Gravestone

Historically this has predominantly been a "family owned" industry. Many things we do have been done the same way for decades. As our world seems to get ever smaller through technology, websites have started popping up all over the place claiming to have the best deal on a memorial. As our industry has started to shift from family values to corporate or foreign priorities, some important aspects of memorialization are being overlooked or even lost. I decided to put together my top 10 tips for those looking to buy a monument, marker or any type of memorial stone. Hopefully after reading this article you will at least have a better understanding that not all memorials are created equal. - B. Moore

  1. Know your restrictions. So you've been looking around and really want that upright monument? Before you go and purchase it you will need to confirm the cemetery will allow it. Cemeteries are allowed to make certain reasonable restrictions and in my experience they do not always seem to convey those restrictions to their customers very well. When I speak with families who are not aware of their restrictions and I am unfamiliar with that cemetery as well, I always ask them to describe to me what the memorials next to their plots look like. Odds are if all of the markers by your plot are flat, yours will have to be as well. Cemeteries will readily tell you what the restrictions are if you call them; just don't be surprised if they try to sell you something at the same time. See our Cemetery Rules page for more details.
  2. Understand the process. I won't go into too much detail on the fabrication side of things, but it's important you know what the typical process is so you know what to expect and can know when you are being given the run around. Once you actually place the order, the design process is the first stage. Some companies will do part of this before an order is actually placed, as in the case with www.BuyMemorials.com. At some point during or after the design process the order is turned over to fabrication. If a blank version of the memorial is on hand, then the fabrication process will pause until an approved design is submitted by the customer. If there is no blank on hand then the piece has to be made or purchased. Depending on the color or material, this process can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to 6 months or even longer if sculpture is involved. If you are concerned about the turnaround time you will need to find out how long the particular material you ordered will take to produce. Many colors are now being imported from China or India. While the importing company may say it only takes 60-90 days, in reality most take longer than that to get from the factory in Asia to the monument company in the US. Most monument companies do not fabricate their own blank memorials, but purchase them from granite wholesalers from around the world. Once the blank memorial is made and the design has been approved the memorial goes through the engraving process. This can be done  using several different methods and can really make a difference in the quality of the final product. Your memorial may have to wait in line for several days/weeks but the engraving itself typically only takes a matter of a couple hours to complete. From there it is cleaned up and is ready to be shipped or installed. In theory, if a blank piece is on hand, a memorial could be purchased, engraved and installed or shipped in one day. In practical terms, however this is not likely to happen as most companies will work on multiple memorials at once for efficiency sake and only focus on one part of the process in a given day. Bronze markers follow the same process except that the foundries where the bronze markers are cast will do the lettering, so once the bronze arrives at the monument company, it is ready to be installed or shipped. Because most bronze memorials are fabricated here in the U.S. the turnaround is typically 4-8 weeks. Bronze markers go through the same design process, so depending on how many revisions there are to the design, the overall turnaround time may be increased as the bronze is not cast until the design has been approved.
  3. Trust the source. Because headstones are not made while you wait, you need to make sure you can trust the company you are purchasing from. This applies online as well as in person. Do some investigative research. Look them up at the BBB and see if they have any unresolved complaints. Find out how long they have been in business by either asking them, or asking around about them. Ask for some photos of recent work. If the death dates on all of the photos are from years past, the photos are most likely old. Find out what their warranty is, and get it in writing. Ask them for a referral from a recent customer. If you are considering buying online, map their address with Google Maps, click on the Street View and see if they really are a monument company, or just an office building. If you don't see monuments outside, be weary.
  4. Not all memorials are created equal. Like any other product, there are different levels of quality in memorials. Since every memorial is inherently unique due to the names engraved, it is difficult to see a side by side comparison of final products as you would see if you were shopping for a car. There are companies who will cut corners now to save some time and money but the results will not be visible for years. When they do start to show up, it's usually too late to fix. Most suppliers will tell you which grade of granite they use. Just like diamonds they are rated based on the quality and consistency of the piece. The best defense against poor quality is questions and comparisons. It is fairly easy to compare the level of detail in a computer drawn design. With cookie-cut designs readily available, the lower quality companies will not offer much in the way of customization. Even if you like a stock design, ask if it can be customized. This will help gauge the level of expertise the company has.
  5. Consider future maintenance. Some materials like granite and bronze will hold up for centuries. Other softer materials like concrete, wood, limestone and even marble will start to deteriorate within a matter of decades. While you may not be around, you will want to take into consideration how long you want the memorial to be around. In the near future you may also have to maintain the memorial if you want it to look like the day you bought it. Certain cemeteries will be prone to normal environmental growth such as mold or algae. Polished granite holds up much better against organic growth than the rough textures because it cannot stick as well to the smooth polished surface. On the flip side, hard water stains tend to show up more on the polished surface, especially the darker colored granites. Bronze will eventually lose its luster and turn a dark green or black. This is because of the copper content. Unless you were to apply some protectant to a bronze marker, it will naturally tarnish like a penny does over time. The best way to tell what you will be up against is to visit the cemetery and pay close attention to the older memorials in that cemetery, particularly the closest ones to where yours will be located. If you see streaks or stains on those memorials, you may end up with the same problem unless you select a product that is less prone to such conditions. In some cases, the only option may be annual or semi-annual cleaning. Then again, if you don't mind the natural weathered look you may not have to do anything.
  6. Know your options. We have well over 200 monuments on display at one of our retail stores, yet we rarely sell a memorial that looks just like one of them. At the same time we often get customers who come in or even just drive by assuming that if they didn't like one of the display units then they have to go somewhere else because that is all we have to offer. In reality we use our display and even our online selection to give our customers just a taste of what is possible. There are companies who will stock a certain size, color and shape of memorials and then have their sales force push the customer into one of those units. At BuyMemorials.com we prefer to show you some options and if those work for you great, but if not rest assured we can make just about any memorial possible. This includes matching something you have seen in a cemetery, a unique design you have come up with on your own, or even a modified version of something we have online. Don't take no for an answer. Virtually anything is possible, it just takes a bit more work to pull it off. Find a company that is willing to work for you, not just with you.
  7. Ask questions. Ask a lot of them if you are unsure of anything. Knowledge is your best ally when purchasing a memorial. Pay attention to the detail and the response time of your answers. If you have to wait a week to get an answer, imagine how long it will take to actually make the memorial. If you begin to feel like you are being brushed off because of your questions, then go ask someone else. If the answer is always that it can't be done, this might just mean that they can't do it for you, or don't really want to, not necessarily that it is impossible. If it is impossible they should be able to explain, in detail, why.
  8. Get the final price before you compare. Definitely get it before you buy. I have seen a lot of companies who will dangle a great price in front of customers via a webpage or a pamphlet in the mail but when you get to the point where you get out your CC or checkbook, that price has somehow magically doubled. By then many are too overwhelmed to start over so they just pay for it. Others will show a great price for a memorial, but when you see it in person you wonder if it was made for an infant because it is so small. It may look big in the pamphlet or online, but the actual size may be smaller than what you had envisioned. In order to compare final prices, you not only have to know the total money amount, but you have to understand what it is you are purchasing. We typically sell a single monument that is 24" x24". We include it on a 42" base. One of our major competitors will offer a 24" monument for a seemingly lower price. How do they do it? The monument is only 18" tall and the base is only 36" long. Get all of the dimensions when comparing prices. This includes the thickness. Many companies have gone to 3" thick flat markers instead of the traditional 4" in order to save money. Make sure they pass those savings onto you! 
  9. Get what YOU want. Memorials are intended to outlast all of us. Don't settle on a product that you will regret having purchased years from now. If you can't afford what you want then wait until you can. If your family is so intent on having a memorial out there right now then they should have no problem helping pay for it. Don't assume that because you don't have the money now, that you can't start the process. Find out what you want, get it designed and priced out and you will at least have a good idea what you need to do in order to afford it. Don't settle for lousy artwork or service. You will be looking at the memorial for years to come. Get it how you want it and get good quality that you will be proud to see.
  10. Timing. How soon is too soon? From an installation point of view this will depend on the cemetery and ground conditions. Most cemeteries do not install monuments on top of the actual grave. They typically allow around two feet of undisturbed ground where the memorial will be placed. In these cases, the monument could technically be installed the same day as the funeral, or even before. We sell a good percentage of memorials that are purchased before someone actually dies. They are installed in the cemetery and there are not usually any problems digging the graves. Memorial gardens or "flat only" cemeteries can be exceptions to this rule, however they are typically equipped to move the memorial and then re-install it once the grave is settled as part of their process. Just because you can does not mean you should, however. While I have worked with families the same day of the funeral service, I don't typically recommend it. Under certain circumstances this is not a problem. If the entire family wants to participate and they are all from out of town then this may be a good reason to at least start the process. If the death was something that had been anticipated for a while then the families are often at an emotional state where they can purchase a memorial. I have turned many customers away because I did not feel that they were emotionally ready to go through the process of memorializing their loved one. Most of them had just come from one of my competitors and were shocked that I would actually recommend they don't purchase now since they were just convinced by another company that they needed to buy this really expensive memorial today. Fortunately for them they decided to shop around, but I often wonder how many are taken advantage of that I never see. When they finally come back in, we sit down and have an uplifting experience, not a sad one. While you need to be ready for the process, don't fear the process itself. I cannot count how many people have told me they were really hesitant about going through the process because they thought it would be like going back to the funeral home and yet when we were finished they realized what a positive experience it was and actually regretted not doing it sooner. So how do you tell when you are ready? Unlike 20 years ago, you do not have to walk into a monument company to see how you feel to determine if you are ready. Start the process from your home and you will be able to tell without being worried about being embarrassed because you have to leave. If designing a memorial online is too much to handle, then you ought to wait. I don't usually give specific time recommendations on how long to wait because every situation is different and every person is unique. For some 2 weeks is enough and others 2 years is not even close. When it comes to memorializing your child, however I will say this. Don't rush into it. While I have not personally had to deal with such a tragedy, I have dealt with enough parents who have been through it to understand that there will be many "reasons" you need to get this done before you are ready. From your personal desire for closure to the desires of your child's friends to see something put out at the cemetery, I have been told that the pressure or feelings of urgency can be quite intense, especially if the death was sudden or unexpected. Trust me when I say that over time the urgency will decrease and you will be able to have a positive experience when you are ready.  
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