I love old furniture. They have charm, character, history and an old world feel to them. Plus, they’re very well built. Even 50-60 year old wooden dressers can outlast the new replicas made in Malaysia or China. If you want quality furniture in your home, but are constrained by your budget, then buying second hand furniture maybe your best bet. But how can you tell if you’re getting a piece worth your time and extra money to refurbish? Here are a few tips to get you started so you’ll know whether to buy or walk away.
1. Hunt Aggressively
If you want quality used furniture, you have to be aggressive in your search and leg work because there are other people competing with you for whatever it is you have in mind. You’ll have to check the newspapers for estate sales, visit clearance sales, go online to Craigslist or eBay, thrift shop and frequent every yard sale and flea market in your immediate vicinity. If you get word of yard sales elsewhere, it’s a good idea to haul yourself there to check out the goods. Remember that extra inventory for old furniture is zero. What you fall in love with is probably the only stock they have, so you better move on it fast.
2. Come Prepared
If you’ve fallen head over heels for an old couch, but don’t have a way to haul it back home, tough luck. Some thrift shops can hold the item for you for a few days, but on others you simply have to have the wheels to take it home that very day. Yard sales pretty much can’t guarantee you anything, because the faster they can dispose of an item, the better. Also bring the dimensions of your space, your existing furniture, and carry a tape measure. Make sure you measure the item you plan on getting to check if it fits your current space. Check the height, width, length and depth so your new addition would fit perfectly with your old stuff.
3. Play CSI on the item
Imagine you’re a CSI and inspect every single nook and cranny of the item you plan on buying. Check for cracks, stains on the finish, scratches and dents. Check for signs of abuse, pet hair, gnawing marks and signs of woodworm infestation if you’re getting wooden furniture. If you’re getting a couch, check the foam cushion if it’s still re-usable and doesn’t crumble when you touch it. Smell the furniture if you can and if you’re comfortable. Be on the lookout for strong and pungent odors from pet urine and tobacco smoke because these odors take years to get out, if you can even get them out completely. Stay away from MDF furniture and items with Walmart or IKEA stamped on them.
4. Test It!
Yes, you have to test it for durability and strength issues. Don’t buy anything without ever testing it! You’d hate to be the owner of the most uncomfortable couch in the world, regardless if it’s second hand or brand new. If you’re buying a cabinet or a dresser, check the doors and the drawers for structural issues. Lean on tables and see if there’s any give. Sit on the couch and on the chair you have your eye on. Don’t lie down on the bed with a mattress though. Never buy a used mattress because these will certainly have germs, bacteria, bodily fluid and even bed bugs! Don’t even go near old mattresses unless you want to take home the critters with you!
5. Can you handle it?
Make sure you have the time and resources to work on the project. Do you have DIY skills or will you have to hire someone to do it for you? Factor in the cost of refurbishing an item and see if you’ll be paying more in the long run. Some projects need a lot of love and a lot of work. Be sure you can handle both. Solid wood furniture makes for an excellent DIY project because they’re easy to do, even for beginners. All you need is a little time, sand paper, wood stain or varnish and some rudimentary DIY skills to get the job done.
6. The Price has to be Right
Lastly, one of the main reasons you’re buying second hand furniture in the first place is you don’t have the budget for brand-spanking new furniture, so you have to be smart about your purchases. They have to be fair and reasonable. If a particular piece is priced too high, negotiate to lower the price. Ask yourself if what you’re about to buy is worth your time, effort and money.
Visualize the piece in your house. If it looks great in your mind’s eye and you have a gut feeling about it, go for it. Just make sure to follow the tips above so you won’t be stuck with a project you don’t like.