Whether you're looking to save money or just enjoy a good shopping adventure, buying used furniture is a great way to do both these things and keep good, reusable items out of landfills. Some used furniture needs a little makeover, other items have years-worth of life left in them, and a few (although rare) still have original tags.
The key to shopping for used furniture is making sure you really are getting a bargain, and adding in how much you think it will cost to refurbish the piece, if it needs it. Let these nine tips guide you as you shop for used furniture:
Eyeballing has its virtues, but trust the specifics to a tape measure. If you’re in the market for a bookshelf, measure the height, width and depth of the area you have designated for it. A smaller piece obviously affords more latitude. If it doesn't fit in one spot, you may be able to tuck it someplace else. But the risk of wasteful spending escalates with the size of the piece. Spending even $100 on a corner shelf with beautiful curves could be a waste if it doesn’t fit into your corner at home.
Test it Out
You wouldn't want to buy a couch only to get it home and realize it's unbearable to sit on for more than three minutes. Test it out in the store. Sit on the couch. Open the dresser drawers. Peer in the cabinets. Make sure the items you're going to purchase are comfortable, in working order, or can easily be repaired.
Unleash Your Imagination
If you're not great at thinking outside of the box, take someone with you who's a seasoned veteran. Rethinking a worn and tattered couch with pink pelican fabric isn’t too taxing. But envisioning how, say, a faded antique table with thin legs can be transformed with faux finishes and the addition of sturdy legs may require a bit more “vision”. You’ll find more used furniture when you or a shopping buddy are able to picture the possibilities, not focus on minor deficits such as scratches on wood, warped handles or damaged casters. These are cosmetic issues that can become a distant memory in no time.
Assess the Quality
Study the quality of the construction of the piece you’re considering buying. Is the wood solid or veneered? Are the joints dovetailed (as they should be) or cobbled together? Is the cushion foam firm? (Fabric is available at all price points but foam can be expensive.) Block out the surface imperfections, which can be fixed, and focus intently on the integrity of the piece. This is a fundamental tenet of shopping for used furniture.
Use the Sniff Test
It may sound silly, but a foul odor should be a deal breaker – no matter how much you love a piece of used furniture. Here's why. A faint trace of smoke that you detect on a piece sitting outdoors at a flea market will intensify once it's confined indoors. You can work magic on a piece with fabric, paint and stain, but odors are almost always permanent.
The Back Matters, Too
OK, so you know what it's made out of and you know it doesn't stink of smoke. But what does the back look like? This may seem pointless, and maybe it is if you're planning to place the furniture up against a wall, but you'll want to make sure the back of the furniture is in good condition for those pieces that will be visible from all angles.
How Much Does It Weigh?
You may absolutely love the look of a dresser you found on your hunt for used furniture, but if you find out it would take four NFL defensive linemen to carry it upstairs to your bedroom, you might want to go with something lighter weight. Heavy pieces of furniture may be difficult moving into your house or moving from room to room.
How Will I Get It Home?
Since we're on the topic of moving, be sure to determine if you can and how you're going to get it home from the store. If you have a pickup truck or trailer, you're in luck! If not, find out if you can borrow a friend's, or rent one.
At either of our ReStore locations, a product can be held for two hours prior to purchase (to allow for a trip home to measure). On the other hand, a purchased item can be stored for up to three days to allow time to coordinate a way to pick it up.
Do the Mental Math on Restoration
Obnoxious pelican fabric, scratches, warped handles and damaged casters ought to be reflected in the price of a piece of used furniture. This is what makes the search for, and discovery of, used furniture so compelling. If you don't know the price of fabric, sandpaper, paint or stain, handles and other accessories, do a little research. Then add a 10% cushion, just in case, and factor in this amount to the price of the furniture. Some people also try to compute their time investment, but this is a matter of personal preference.
It can be difficult to put a price on your time, especially as you swell with pride as a formerly dejected piece of furniture becomes a piece you swear you will never part with.
To many people, shopping for used furniture is a little like going on a treasure hunt. At least, this is what the team members at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity ReStore see unfold before their eyes each and every day. Join the hunt at ReStore – and then tell others what they're missing.