Top tips for buying second-hand furniture you’ll love

In this post: We explore the benefits of buying second-hand furniture and review some tips on best practices for buying vintage pieces.

I’m a bit of a hunter by nature. Not of animals (see previous blogs on my goal to be less carnivorous) but of the just-right thing. I love the thrill of looking and looking and then finally coming across exactly what I want. 

Buying second-hand furniture is a game changer for someone like me, but even if you haven’t previously considered it, I would urge you to give it a shot. There are so many reasons to buy second-hand furniture – let me share what I’ve learned.

Great reasons for buying second-hand furniture

1. No waiting! When you start the process of buying second-hand furniture it becomes abundantly clear that there's no shortage of great items – and they are ready for your home right now! We've all heard (or experienced!) the horror stories of waiting for months and months and battling customer service roulette to figure out just when your furniture will finally be delivered. Buying on the secondary market eliminates that problem since everything you see is already ready to go.

2. What you see is what you get. I have a pretty good imagination and I still struggle to mentally convert a fabric swatch into a whole piece of furniture. This has led to some serious regrets when the thing I ordered just doesn’t look quite like I had hoped. One of the biggest, unexpected benefits I have found in buying second-hand furniture is that I don’t have to imagine what the item is going to look like in another fabric or finish.

3. Value. Quite often, buying second-hand furniture means you are paying a fraction of the original price, even when it’s in next to new condition. If you’re looking to cut costs in a renovation, used furniture is a great idea. Also, if you have kids and/or pets, I feel like it’s pointless to pay a premium for something in brand-new condition since it’s unlikely to stay that way for long. lol

4. Originality. Designing the space you live in is a great opportunity to express yourself and your unique style. With vintage pieces, you're less likely to end up with a cookie-cutter version of what everyone else is buying.

5. Made to last. There's a visible difference between the quality of older pieces and much of what's available on the mass furniture market today. You're more likely to find solid wood (vs MDF or particle board), and sturdy joineries, like dovetail or mortise and tenon. After all, it it's survived 20+ years in great shape, it's a good sign that it's built to last. 

6. No assembly required. If you're not a hands-on kind of person, buying second-hand furniture is great because it's typically built and ready to go. As much as I love an allen wrench, this is pretty motivating. 

Last but certainly not least:

7. Reduce, reuse, recycle. One of the best reasons to buy second-hand furniture is that it is so much more sustainable. Since it's already here and requires no new resources to build, it's one of the greenest options around. 

Hopefully, these reasons are enough to convince you to consider buying second-hand furniture, but you may still have a few questions. Here are a few I had, along with some information I was able to find.

Is it safe to buy used furniture?

Generally, buying pre-owned furniture can be a great, and safe option for your home. There are a lot of aspects to consider, but a few big ones include:

  • Child-safe. Unless you know and trust the source, and are sure the item is still up to recommended standards, I would recommend being cautious in going the secondhand route for things like cribs or bassinets. Safety standards change often and it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’m not an expert in this area – consider utilizing a trusted source of information, like the consumer product safety commission. When buying new baby/children’s furniture, make sure to check into the manufacturer's materials to confirm the product doesn't emit VOCs.
  • Uninvited houseguests. Many of the prominent online preowned furniture sites clearly state their cleaning processes and procedures, so that’s a good place to start in making sure your purchase isn’t bringing any unwanted elements from its previous home. If you’re looking at something at a local antique or thrift store, you can give it an inspection for any visual signs of insect or other damage.
  • Harmful substances. Lead content is one thing to consider, particularly with older, painted items and if you have anyone in your house likely to put things in their mouth. If you are concerned, consider asking the vendor if you can test the item before purchasing. VOCs are another consideration when purchasing furniture. (More info on VOCs in the glossary) Unless explicitly stated and certified by the manufacturer, most furniture does off-gas. A bonus for pre-owned furniture, though, a larger portion of off-gassing happens closer to the time of manufacture. Second-hand furniture should have a lower impact on the air quality of your house than many new furniture items.

What's the best place for buying second-hand furniture?

The great news is that there are quite a number of sources for buying second-hand furniture. The best place for your will depend on what you're looking for. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Room with white walls and vintage black wicker chairs, mirror and black checkered floors

Online second-hand retailers ​

These are the most likely to have the newest, highest quality furniture and the highest level of customer service. They often come with excellent delivery options, too.

Because of these bonuses, they generally command a higher price than other used furniture options but you’re likely to realize a discount versus the original price. Some of my favorites include Kaiyo, and Chairish

Thrift shops/antique shops

Although it can take a little more legwork, checking back, and patience, there are always good deals to be found at thrift shops and antique stores. 

Consignment shops, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and The Restore are all places that just might have what you’re looking for. The only catch is that you have to be ready to haul whatever you find.

Second-hand furniture antique shop
second-hand white credenza with used record player and records

Online used furniture listings

Craigslist (it’s still around!), Facebook marketplace and buy nothing groups have constant churn and are worth keeping tabs on if you’re looking for something and don’t need it immediately. Like buying at a thrift store, however, you typically have to provide your own mover and vehicle.

Circular furniture retailers

More and more manufacturers have adopted circular business practices and will accept their own furniture for resale, like Sabai through their Sabai Revive shop. 

In addition, many have started to work with a partner like Floor Found to sell pieces that their customers are looking to find new homes for their furniture.

circular online retailers

How much should I pay when buying second-hand furniture?

This is a tough question and really depends on a lot of factors that are unique to each situation including the condition of the item, its original cost, how service will be included with your purchase, and how eager you are. A few ideas to help you land on a price that you feel is fair:

  • Do some research. See if similar items are currently for sale in a similar condition online (eBay, online consignment shops etc.)
  • Visit the manufacturer. If the same model is still being sold brand new from the manufacturer, visit in person, or look online to see how much the item is currently selling for new. 
  • Discount from the original price. Many sites offer different discounting guidelines but a few to get you started include deducting 20% from the original price for newer items in good condition, or deducting 5% for every year since the item was made.
  • Deduct for any immediate investments that will need to be made. Consider if the item will need any repairs or professional cleaning and make sure that is accounted for in what you pay.
  • Factor in quality. Flat-packed, big-box store furniture typically doesn’t sell for much because it likely doesn’t have much life left in it. Make sure what you pay matches the value you’ll receive.
  • Look at sales records. If what you are buying is an investment-quality piece, you may be able to find auction records or find out what similar items have sold for at upscale resellers.

Happy hunting – I hope you’ll share your great finds!

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