7 Tips to Absolutely Follow When Buying Used Furniture

Decorating on a budget doesn't have to put a damper on your design dreams. No, you won't spend your time shopping at boutique home stores, but there are still hidden gems to find that don't cost a half year's rent. Stay on budget and shop for used furniture, instead. By picking the right pieces, your home can still exemplify the peak of style. Here's how to do it.

Where to buy used furniture

The best advice for buying used furniture is to start with knowing where to shop for it. Once you narrow that down, make sure you check out each piece before agreeing to buy. These helpful tips will ensure you buy the best used furniture possible.

1. Check your options

flea market

When it comes to buying used furniture, you've got choices. From thrift store chains to consignment shops, there's always a chance something good is lingering. That's why it's important to explore all your options, including:

  • Thrift stores: People love to donate their used furniture to the big thrift stores, like Goodwill, so they're always receiving new donations. Each time you go, you'll find something new to consider, which is great if you're holding out for a very specific piece. Make sure to go back often and keep an eye on their ever-changing stock.
  • Consignment shops: While these may have pieces that are a little more expensive, there's usually a vetting process for what they sell. This means more of a guarantee that the used furniture you buy is of higher quality. You can also find good sales on items that have been in the store for a long time.
  • Yard sales: Although a little less reliable in general when it comes to quality, yard sales in more upscale neighborhoods are more likely to yield items in decent condition. It's also easy to negotiate prices at a yard sale. Before you buy anything, though, make sure to do a close check. Depending on where the furniture was before it went on sale, and how long it sat in storage, there's an increased chance of bugs, dirt, mold or water damage.
  • Estate sales: These are a little different than yard sales because they liquidate an entire house full of stuff. You can expect to find some good deals, especially on furniture. Everything at an estate sale is priced to sell. To find local estate sales, check online, look for neighborhood signs or sign up for alerts with an app like EstateSales.net.

2. Consider the unconventional

woman on computer

After you've searched all the usual suspects when it comes to buying used furniture, don't forget to branch out. During major remodels, hotels and office buildings may try to sell their old furniture. These items are often hardly used and a great buy. Consider calling around to see if there's any available furniture.

You can also pop into a store that rents furniture and see if they have any used inventory they're trying to offload. When in doubt, though, peer-to-peer sales apps are where it's at. Some of these apps include Craigslist, LetGo, Carousell, OfferUp and even Instagram and Facebook Marketplace. If you go this route, make sure to meet up in a public place, like the parking lot of a police station, where it feels safe to make the exchange.

3. Look at tags and labels

sofa tag

Buying furniture second-hand is about saving money, and getting something that would normally not be in your budget. For that reason, avoid dumping money into something that's not worth it by checking tags and labels.

Don't buy lower quality pieces used. You want to know where the piece came from to ensure you're not spending money buying used Ikea furniture or something else just as inexpensive. You can afford stuff like that new.

If you see a brand you don't recognize, do some quick research. You may end up with a diamond in the rough.

4. Scrutinize each piece

woman looking at shelf

Used doesn't always mean poor condition. “Really good furniture should last for decades, even a century or more," writes Katherine Martinko at Treehugger. That means a well-made piece could have multiple owners before it's no longer worthy. When you find something you like, start by inspecting the materials.

Solid wood is sturdier than composite or particleboard. You should also take a look at the construction of the piece. Dovetailed joints are a sign of good quality, while construction nails like you have in your toolkit, are an indication of flimsy construction.

Another thing to inspect for is bedbugs. These tricky pests can show up in almost any piece of furniture, but they leave evidence behind. It doesn't hurt to bring a magnifying glass with you to get a close look. Inspect corners, cracks and even get underused furniture. Any dark spots could be proof of bedbugs. If you find old bug skin, feces (which looks like dark red stains) or the actual bugs, run.

5. Test it out

woman opening drawer

After getting in close to inspect a piece of used furniture for quality and cleanliness, it's time to test it. Sit on a chair to make sure it's comfortable and holds your weight. Give a table a little shake to check that no legs wobble. Open all the drawers on a dresser to make sure they easily slide in and out. Finding a piece that looks pretty doesn't mean you'll enjoy using it, so use it a little before you buy.

6. Don't shy away from DIY

DIY furniture

Used furniture that's a 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 see how a piece was made rather than the tiny details of how it looks.

As you're doing this, don't forget to factor in the cost of upgrades into your furnishing budget. DIY projects, like adding cushions, can be surprisingly pricey, as foam doesn't come cheap. You also need to consider the time you'll have to invest to get the job done. If you want to save a bit, stick to the pieces whose upgrades are more about refinishing or painting.

7. Buy what you need

woman looking at vintage pot

Loving a piece of used furniture is not reason enough to buy it. If you don't know where you'll put it, if it will fit in your apartment or whether it really suits your tastes, you should pass.

With used furniture, you don't have to buy something just because it's functional. Hold out until you're really in love with a specific piece.

Is it safe to buy used furniture?

The simple answer is yes. The more complicated response is, not always. Before even beginning to figure out where to buy used furniture and what pieces you're looking for, know there are certain items to never buy used.

Mattresses and upholstered furniture top the list for a few reasons. Most important, you don't know how clean they are. Dust mites, bed bugs and all kinds of bodily fluids can hide deep within the fabric of these items. Just say no and splurge for new. Other items to avoid buying used include:

  • Car seats
  • Baby cribs
  • Worn cookware
  • Vacuum cleaners

These are the types of things that can have hidden issues you won't see when you purchase them. They can even be dangerous. Focus your used furniture shopping on other items instead to make good buys that are safe and worth their money.

Shop smart, buy used

Whether you need to furnish your whole apartment or are just looking for some used bedroom furniture, you can save a lot of shopping second-hand. The trick is to shop smart by exploring your options, making careful choices and being comfortable with waiting until the exact piece you want goes up for sale.

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Lesly GregoryLesly Gregory has over 15 years of marketing experience, ranging from community management to blogging to creating marketing collateral for a variety of industries. A graduate of Boston University, Lesly holds a B.S. in Journalism. She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, three cats and assorted fish.

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