How to Buy Used Furniture

By Linsey Knerl on 26 March 2010 (Updated 4 February 2011) 10 comments

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This article shares tips from the newest episode of Dealista, our podcast that'll help you get more for less.

Furniture can be an expensive purchase. With so many people listing their used items for sale, why not give it a try? But there are some things to look out for before you give up cash for that previously-owned piece of furniture.

1. Sofas or living room furniture made from pine lumber: This isn’t solid enough to support the weight of some people, and most definitely won’t survive another move.

2. Sofas with mesh support or Styrofoam peanuts instead of cushions: Need we really say more?

3. Chairs with joints that have been stapled: Look for glue and bolts to signify that a piece has been put together with care, and will last for many years to come!

4. Lamps that freak out when you plug them in: You don’t want a fire on your hands, do you?

5. Cribs: With so many recalls, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

6. Mattresses: So many things can live in there (bedbugs, odor, and more!). It’s best to skip this one.

While we love the idea of repurposing old furniture, some items aren’t meant to be used for anything other than their original purpose. Be mindful of whether pieces will be exposed to dust, heat, or moisture before you place it in your home.

Looking for the rest of our guidelines? Check out all of our Quick and Dirty tips in our most recent episode, How to Buy Used Furniture.

Dealista is a collaboration between Wise Bread and Quick and Dirty Tips, the producer of popular podcasts such as Grammar Girl, Money Girl, Winning Investor, and Mighty Mommy.

If you enjoyed these tips you can find more in our show's archive.

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Guest's picture
Lillie

I recently purchased some excellent quality used furniture from a church member who was purchasing a new home and wanted to decorate it with new furniture as well rather than transporting the old. After a visual inspection of what she was offering: an elegant living room couch, a coffee table, dinning table w/chairs and hut to match, I purchased on the spot and came back to pick them up the next day. My investment, a mere $525. Was I excited!

My daughter made a similar purchase from someone who also wanted to upgrade and walked away with a complete living set for $300. My granddaughter, who recently moved in to her first apartment, and is inexperienced at the shopping game made mistake number 1 by purchasing a living room set made out of seemingly pine lumber and is already complaining about the investment. Next time she plans to consult with us before making similar purchases.

These are excellent tips and I will share them specifically with her for future reference.

Guest's picture
Q

Great article - to go further on the points about construction, don't reject furniture because the fabric is worn or even stained. If it's a quality chair or sofa, reupholstering is not that hard a thing to learn to do. Even if you aren't that handy, having a really good piece professionally reupholstered is often worth it. And slip covers are always an option for sofas with stains (but no odor - don't buy smelly stuff!)

Also, look for solid wood items - coffee tables, bookcases, etc. Very easy to repaint, or even sand down and refinish to match your decor.

I find it easier to find simple, good quality, well-constructed furniture at your average garage sale or on Craigslist than at a furniture store. They just don't make 'em like the used to!

Guest's picture

I think if you're buying a substantial piece of furniture, it can make a lot of sense to try and buy something antique (even a modern antique!)

Look what the rich do... old classics keep they're value. New stuff is worthless almost as soon as you sit on it.

Guest's picture
Guest

I don't want to cast a damper on this thread, but having just endured the nightmarish, expensive battle against bed bugs I shudder to think about ever taking used furniture into my home again. I received an unwanted but useful education about these horrible little creatures and now know what a huge epidemic we have. While many people have brought them home from hotel rooms (http://bedbugregistry.com) and others are infested from visitors or from neighboring apartments, a substantial number of victims report bringing the bugs in via used furniture gotten through Free Cycle or Craigslist or found on the street. As the eggs and nymphs are almost invisible to the naked eye, it's not always possible to find them on inspection. Both wood and upholstered furniture can harbor them. Bedbugs are not gotten due to uncleanliness or poverty, although these issues can contribute to the difficulty of eradicating them. For anyone interested in further reading about this serious and spreading infestation, here is a really comprehensive website: http://bedbugger.com.

Guest's picture
Guest

If you need furniture, why not "shop" friends and relatives old stuff before looking outside the family-circle. Pass the word that you're looking for a gently used "X" or a "Y". Chances are one of your relatives has exactly what you're looking for in good condition (and without bedbugs ... ick!). Most often they'll just give it to you, and also be darned happy their old faithful "X" found a good home. They'll probably also be happy to hand you all the old linens or knick-knacks bought years ago to complement the item.

With the exception of a china cabinet I was foolish enough to splurge on in my early 20's (and wasn't worth it, either, it turned out to be overpriced pressboard with a wood veneer), my entire house is period-furnished in the "Early Yard Sale" style. I've got a Victorian inspired living room, a colonial inspired den, a mid-century modern bedroom, an art deco bedroom, a colonial bedroom, a Victorian bedroom, a 1930's "depression" style guest bedroom, and a mission style office.

Each room is like a unique flower in a bouquet, and put together it works like a beautiful bouquet because like items are grouped together in the same room and color is used to pull the effect together. Sometimes that means a pretty daffodil serving platter ends up mounted on a plate rack and hung on the wall in a bedroom like a picture because that room has the correct theme, while a pretty floral antique chamber pot ends with a bouquet of flowers on it in the living room because it originates from the correct era, but that's what being a creative person is all about.

I think people today put too much stock in spending money on some "style" out of a style magazine instead of creating their own. What could be better than the sense of history you feel when you open a drawer in grandma's old bureau or sit down on that nice solid couch you reupholstered and remembering happily playing on it as a kid whenever you went visit great aunt Ethel?

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with the post about bed bugs. You should be very careful about buying any used furniture from someone you do not know. Bed bugs are increasingly common. (You should also be thinking about fleas and cockroaches.) Many people associate them with poverty however you can find them even in high priced hotel rooms. The eggs and the bugs can be hidden in the crevices of bed frames, dressers etc. Pretty much anything found in a bedroom or around where people are sleeping. Once you get them it requires lots of pesticides, detailed cleaning and throwing out of curtains and linens. I personally feel that if you are in the market for furniture only purchase from someone you know or save for new high quality furniture that you will keep.

As a side note. When you go to ANY hotel leave your bags outside the room until you have checked the room for bedbugs. You do this by folding up the linens on the mattress. Look for any small stains on the mattress that could be dried blood or poo from a bed bug (dark red dots). They like small crevices. They often hide in the seams of the mattress. You can also look where the headboard meets the wall. As an extra precaution you can keep your bags and cloths in the tub. This sounds paranoid until you know how common they are and how difficult they are to get rid of.

Maggie Wells's picture

My mother had a penchant for inheriting the furniture of the damned! Okay, not damned, just dead. If grandpa dies on the brand new sofa, odds are 20 bucks and carting it away is all you'll pay. Relatives get the willies but you don't have to.

Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture

I agree. NO way do I want a used mattress. gross.

I bought a used dresser for $30 last summer at a yard sale. it was $100 new at target. so I saved money... :)

had a few scratches on it but I did not care. I was replacing a very old one that had been broke for many years.

Guest's picture
Guest

Auctions are a great place to buy quality used furniture at a great price. I often find designer furniture at 20 cents on the dollar - these are less than wholesale prices. Check this one out in San Francisco www.bonhams.com/soma

Guest's picture
Guest

Nice Information. We are from mumbai and shiifting to New jersey. We have to sell used furniture mumbai and also have to purchase new furniture.