I don’t know how many times I have been asked if someone should buy used furniture. The answer is an overwhelming “YES.” Of course, there are caveats to the answer. And, there are things you should know about what type of used furniture to buy and where the best places are to purchase used furniture. So, let’s get started with the pros and cons of buying used furniture for the home.
Oh, by the way if you enjoy “antique shopping” you are already shopping for used furniture, just at the high end of the spectrum. I have found some extremely valuable antiques at “junque” stores — only because no one knew what it was or that it was valuable. There are still deals to be had.
Why Should I Buy Used Furniture?
The answer to that one is simple — price and quality.
Generally speaking, shopping for used furniture is thrifty. You can save a lot of money by shopping the used furniture market.
And, for some strange reason there are neighborhoods where people cannot wait to get rid of that “old stuff” they grew up with, in favor of something brand new. In most cases, they may be getting brand new but giving up quality.
What Type of Used Furniture Should I Buy?
When shopping for used furniture always look for solid wood pieces such as tables, wood chairs, desks, bed frames, dressers, chests and the like. Buying used veneer furniture can be a bit tricky unless you know what to look for.
In some cases we also recommend buying used metal furniture such as an iron of brass bed frame. Before buying it is necessary to determine that the piece is a quality piece, not a cheap piece of furniture that is not steady or one that is a reproduction.
Outdoor used furniture such as wrought iron furniture are usually great buys. That said, be sure to check it for cracks, hairline fractures, and breaks. Contrary to popular belief, wrought iron furniture is easy to break, especially if it has “stress fractures”. Check the piece carefully for cracks or fractures, especially if it has been painted.
Used wicker furniture can be a great buy if there are not broken or shredded parts. Check carefully before buying. And, if looking for value be sure to look underneath the seats or tabletops for manufacturer tags.
What Kinds of Used Furniture Should I Avoid?
Avoid buying upholstered furniture such as sofas and chairs in most cases. Of course, collectibles and antiques are the exception but they should be bought with care and only after very careful examination.
We will talk later about what to look for — and smell for — if buying an upholstered piece of used furniture.
Where Can I Buy Used Furniture?
Used Furniture Stores
Used furniture stores are a great place to begin looking. Often, depending on the area of the country, great buys can be found on used furniture. But, don’t buy the first thing you see. Used furniture stores are much like used car lots. The salesman is looking to make a huge percentage of profit and quite often has a well rehearsed sales pitch.
Most often I browse the used furniture stores to get an idea of the “retail” cost of used furniture in the area.
Thrift Stores or Charity Stores
Again, these are great places to begin shopping for used furniture. Often times great bargains can be discovered. However, I have noticed that in some cases and in some stores the prices of used furniture have skyrocketed. That is not to say that you can’t find a bargain. You can in some cases. But again. Don’t buy the first thing you see just because the price is lower than in a new retail furniture store.
Quite honestly, I have noticed that some of the thrift stores and charity stores now like to hype their resales as if they are all antiques and one of a kind. Never fall for that one. If it is in a thrift store or a charity store you can believe that it is not one of a kind or a perfect piece. If it were, the piece would be in an antique store or a museum. It is a piece of used furniture.
Collectible or Antique Shops or Malls
Know the difference! Antique shops should sell real antiques. However, most local antique shops in smaller towns and rural areas may have an occasional antique but most often they have old furniture — but not old enough to be considered antique or not in pristine condition.
I speak to this issue because I have owned both an antique shop and a collectible shop. In smaller towns there is not usually enough traffic to support a real antique store so much of what is found falls in the collectible or “just plain old” category. Just plain old works for me most of the time. It depends on how much I like it and if it is solid.
BEWARE of reproductions. The market has become flooded with repops as they are called in the trade. They look good, all nice and polished to a shine. But, the quality is not there in many cases and the prices may be too high. Be sure to get what you are paying for.
All that said, some of the best pieces I have purchased have been from collectible shops or malls. In fact, about a third of the furniture in my home came from collectible malls or stores. I paid a fraction of what the piece would sell for today and no one knows the difference — unless I tell them.
Undoubtedly, auctions are among my favorite shopping places. Even today when I am no longer “in the business” I regularly attend live auctions. Again, if it is a small local auction beware of reproductions being mixed in with the “good stuff.”
One thing to remember about auctions is that when you visit collectible shops or antique malls, you are probably seeing used furniture they purchased at auction.
Shopping at auction for used furniture can be a bit tricky but even the novice can successfully find real buys that will be affordable and last a lifetime.
Shop online auctions. Ebay is a good resource. Of course, there are other auction sites that are just as valid and offer great deals. As with any purchase of used furniture it is necessary to know what you are buying. Communicate with the seller. Ask all the questions you want answered. Do not bid until you have the answers. And, make sure there is a return policy and my suggestion is to pay with PayPal for that extra degree of safety.
Do not worry if you do not win the auction. There will be another.
Estate sales are yet another place to buy used furniture. Having been to many in my lifetime I would suggest that anyone wanting to get the best buy on the used furniture left behind should wait to purchase it on the last day of the sale. Ordinarily, the prices come down as the estate sale draws to a close. Of course, if you see a piece of used furniture that you really like, it may be sold before the last day.
That brings me to a word of caution. Most of the estate sales are conducted by people well versed in pricing collectibles. They have two of three days to make a profit and they are going to get the most they can for any piece of used furniture. Remember that regardless of what you are told, the piece of used furniture is just that — used! And, even with the story of how that one piece was the person’s favorite and was purchased back in the day, remember that the piece of furniture has no sentimental value for you. Do not pay for sentiment. Pay for a piece of used furniture.
Yard Sales and Moving Sales
Occasionally good smaller pieces can be purchased at a yard sale or a moving sale. If you are looking for the best used furniture, the furniture that is made of solid wood, shop the yard sales and moving sales in the older neighborhoods or in the parts of town where you are less likely to visit.
This is an old trick I learned from a very smart mentor years ago. When you shop the newer and more fashionable neighborhoods you can rest assured that they are dumping off new furniture that did not hold up under wear and tear. The older neighborhoods usually have older furniture that is made of solid wood. And, yes! Occasionally you will find a real antique.
Don’t panic if the furniture is not sparkling clean. In fact, I prefer it to be a little dusty and maybe with a scratch or two — not chipped or broken. If the furniture is not polished to a shine it is an indication that the seller either has no idea what he has or he doesn’t care. He just wants to get rid of it.
Classified Ads in the Newspaper
This is one of the last places I look to be honest. This is not to say that it is not a good place to look. I have found that I do not enjoy the one on one experience of being sold a piece of used furniture that isn’t what I really want while the seller is telling me a sad story of why he has to sell it.
When I shop I like to see as much variety as possible so there is a price comparison available. Classifieds usually offer a single piece. Making the trip to look at it costs time and money, especially if it is not as advertised.
That said, I have purchased one of the most wonderful English pub tables I have ever seen from a seller who advertised in the classifieds. His price was better than right. I almost felt as if I were taking advantage so I didn’t even haggle. His wife hated the table because it was “too heavy” —- the perfect example of why I bought it.
As with most shopping events, Buyer Beware! Never be afraid to walk away. Everything that glitters is not gold. So, the big challenge is finding what you like and what you want. If not today, there is always tomorrow.