But don’t despair—your apartment can still look like a page in a dream home magazine. All you need to do is pick out good pieces.
Here are our tips for buying the best used furniture possible:
1. Hunt Around
When it comes to buying used furniture, you’ve got options. From thrift store chains to Mom and Pop consignment stores and beyond, let’s take a look at the good, bad and the ugly of second hand shopping.
Thrift Store Chains
Since Goodwill and The Salvation Army are great choices for used furniture, since they are constantly receiving donations on a daily basis. You might not find what you’re looking for on the first visit, so make sure to go back often and check their ever-changing stock.
Locally Owned/Operated Thrift Store or Consignment Shop
Local thrift stores and consignment shops are another great choice for buying used furniture at a reasonable price.
If you’re looking for used furniture from a yard sale, try going to the more upscale neighborhoods. You might find a really nice, fairly expensive piece in decent condition for a fair price. Use caution when buying second hand furniture at yard sales, though; Depending on where the furniture was stored, how long it was stored for, and how long it has been kept outside for the sale, there is an increased possibility of bugs, dirt, mold and water damage. Make sure to check for all these things before bringing second hand furniture into your home.
Estate Sales typically take place when a person dies, but that’s not always the case. They are simply an effective way to liquidate an entire house full of stuff with the least amount of hassle. You can usually expect to find fairly good deals at an Estate Sale, because everything is priced to sell.
Although most Estate Sales are advertised in the local paper, online or on signage and flyers hung around the surrounding neighborhoods, you can stay ahead of the game by signing up for alerts in your area on EstateSales.net.
Thanks to today’s awesome technology, there are now “peer-to-peer” apps that directly connect buyers with sellers. Some of these apps include Craigslist, LetGo, Carousell, SocialSell, OfferUp and even Instagram and Facebook Marketplace. The only issue with these apps is that you don’t know the person who you are connecting with, and they don’t know you. Make sure to meet up in a public place, like the parking lot of a police station, where you can make the exchange safely and with witnesses.
2. Check For Tags and Labels
The whole point of buying furniture second hand is saving money on something that would otherwise be out of your budget. For that reason, you should avoid dumping money into something that isn’t worth it.
Look for tags and labels on a piece you like to see where it originally came from. As much as we love Ikea, you may want to save your dollars for a better used piece (Ikea furniture isn’t known for having long life).
If you see a brand on the tag or label you don’t recognize, pull out your smartphone and research! You might have found yourself a treasure—one can hope anyway.
3. Scrutinize Each Piece
Even without a label, you can gauge the quality of used furniture. Start by inspecting the materials. Solid wood is better than composite or particle board, as it’s sturdier.
You should also take a look at how the piece is built. Dovetailed joints are a sign of good quality while nails are indication of flimsy construction (do not confuse upholstery nails with construction nails).
Additionally, make sure the thing has no bed bugs! First, straight up ask the seller if they’ve ever had a bed bug infestation. Then, inspect!
Bring a white sheet, plastic card, magnifying glass and flashlight with you during inspection. Spread the sheet beneath the furniture (it will show bed bugs against it). Then run the card over the furniture, scraping up whatever.
Use the magnifying glass to check out anything that may have fallen on the sheet or on your card. The piece may have bed bugs if you find old bug skin, feces (which looks like dark red stains) or the actual bugs.
If you find bed bugs, run away from that furniture faster than the Flash.
4. Test it Out
So you’ve found a piece you like, determined it’s free of bed bugs and good quality. Now you should test it. Sit on the sofa or chair to see if it’s comfortable.
Just because the piece looks pretty doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy using it—and what’s the point of dropping money on an item you’ll never use?
5. Consider Upgrades
A piece of furniture that’s little rough around the edges can still make a great piece for your apartment. You can sand and repaint it, add new cushions or update the fabric. Try to look at the construction, lines and style of the furniture, not the casing it comes in—all that is subject to change.
That being said, don’t forget to factor the cost of upgrades into your furnishing budget. If you plan on paying a professional, you’ll spend more than doing the job yourself. Additionally, replacing cushions can be surprisingly pricey, as foam doesn’t come cheap. If you want to save a bit, stick to the pieces that need upgrades that also have cushions in good shape.
6. Don’t Try to Justify it
If you don’t know where you’ll put the furniture, whether it really suits your tastes or if you’re up for a do-it-yourself project, you should pass. If you don’t love the furniture now, you probably won’t love it later.
The beauty of buying second hand is that thrift stores and sites like Craigslist feature new items (well, not really) all the time. Hold off for now and find something amazing later.
7. Look in Alternative Places
Online classifieds, apps, consignment shops and thrift stores are all standard hunting grounds for used furniture, but you can look elsewhere.
Some hotels give away or sell used furniture when they remodel. Make calls to hotels near you to see if any have available furniture or will in the near future.
When you think of furniture stores, you think of new items. However, some sell gently used pieces. Stores that rent furniture to businesses, events or individuals eventually sell the items at a reduced cost.