10 Practical Tips for Buying Second Hand Furniture For Your Home

You just got the keys to your new home and can't wait to adorn your space with brand new furniture. That’s fantastic, especially if you already have specific items in mind or you’ve been eyeing a particular piece for such a long time. But if your budget is quite limited, especially after paying for closing and other costs associated with homeownership, buying everything brand new may not be the best option. Shopping for secondhand furniture is also a great way to furnish your home, and should be considered for a lot of reasons.

Aside from being an inexpensive alternative, it is also helpful to the environment. It keeps perfectly good and reusable furniture out of landfills, minimizing ecological footprint. It’s also a great choice if you’re a lover of one-of-a-kind, high-quality vintage pieces for a fraction of the price. And even perfect if you love DIY and think you could breathe new life into a piece of furniture by refinishing.

But of course, buying used furniture can sometimes be a gamble, especially if this is new to you. This is why we've compiled these tips and strategies to help you make sure you're getting a bargain for your buck. Just think of this as a 10-step guide for you to avoid lemons when it comes to used furniture, no matter where you shop!

Before checking for good places where you can score used furniture and figuring out what pieces best suit your home, you need to know that there are certain items you should never buy used. Instead of going through the hassle of checking such pieces, it's better to splurge and invest in something new. Here are just some of the items to avoid:

  • Used mattresses. These can be bad for your health as you don’t know how clean (or dirty) they are. There’s also no way to see all the dust mites, mold, bed bugs, and other health hazards that have already made their way into the fabric. Also, say no to secondhand crib mattresses for infants.
  • Heavily used upholstered furniture. Saggy pillows and lumpy sofas are uncomfortable to sit on. And while they can be replaced, it can cost a lot to have done it professionally and will cost more trouble than they’re worth.
  • Anything that smells. It can be difficult to get rid of bad smells, e.g. thirdhand smoke, and pet or urine odors can seep through many pieces of furniture, especially on upholstered items.
  • Anything that’s high-priced. When the price tag of an item does not reflect its condition, and it may cost more money and time to make repairs to, then simply skip such an item.

You've got plenty of choices when it comes to buying used furniture. The only thing needed from you is to explore all your options to get a better chance of getting something good that will fit your home and budget. Some of the places to look for include:

  • Thrift stores
  • Goodwill or Habitat Restore
  • Instagram or Facebook Marketplace
  • Apps like Craigslist, LetGo, Carousell, NextDoor, and OfferUp
  • Yard sales and estate sales
  • Consignment shops
  • Hotels and offices that are doing major renovations
  • Auction sites

Instead of just eyeballing, shop with the exact dimensions and measurements in mind—both for the piece of furniture you're looking to buy and for the specific spot in your home where you might want to put it. This is because you aren’t shopping with a furniture catalog where dimensions and descriptions are given upfront. So whether it’s a chair, a dresser, or a bookshelf you’re looking to get, measure the item as well as the area you’ve picked out for it accurately before buying. Also, don’t forget to choose a few other areas in your home where you might be able to put the piece so you’ve got a fallback just in case you find that the furniture is a little bigger in your preferred spot.

Getting the most bang for your buck is probably your main goal in buying second hand furniture. By checking tags and labels, you can avoid spending money on something that's not worth it or something that you can also buy inexpensively. You want to know where the piece came from to help determine its quality. If ever you encounter a brand you’re not familiar with, it’s better to do some quick research before making a purchase.

When you find a piece you like, make sure to inspect the material it's made from. For any furniture made from solid wood, it’s better to choose hardwoods that last much longer over softwoods, which are easy to chip or deface and will sag and warp over time. Furniture made of hardwood, like oak or maple, is often more durable and indicates more solid construction. Also, it’s easy to restore their shine with a little polish and effort.

Aside from the material alone, take a look at the construction of the piece. Look for dovetailed joints rather than pieces that are cobbled together since those are signs of good quality. Focus on the integrity of the piece rather than on blemishes or surface imperfections such as shallow scratches and chipped paint, which can easily be fixed. While you're at it, investigate any signs of mold, water damage, termite, or other insect infestations. 

Smelly furniture is definitely a deal-breaker, no matter how fantastic it would look at your place or how cheap you can get it. And while there are some smells you may be able to get out, other stenches can linger for too long or may even be difficult to remove, especially pet odors and smoke. So make sure you smell the piece before purchasing to save you the headache of removing the odors, which could take even more worth than you want to put in just to save a few dollars.

These pests can survive for many months even without feeding, so furniture can sit in any warehouse or facility for a long time and still have healthy bed bugs. Inspect cracks and corners for any dark spots, reddish streaks, old bug skins, or actual bugs. They can be tricky to spot, but once you notice any of those signs, make sure to skip the purchase. No matter how great of a deal it might seem, it's not worth the risk of bringing bed bugs into your home.

Because there's nothing worse than finding out that the piece you’ve come to love at the store doesn’t work after you bring it home, you have to test the item right then and there. A lot of used furniture is also sold as-is with no return policy, so there’s no way you can return it for any reason once you’ve purchased it. Just remember to ask about the store’s policies when it comes to testing out items at the store. And do it after you’ve already checked its quality and cleanliness.

Sit on a chair or couch for a few minutes to make sure it’s comfortable and holds your weight. For cabinets, dressers, and similar pieces, open all the drawers to make sure they easily slide in and out and the handles don’t fall apart after a few uses. For tables, lean or push on them from an angle to make sure they’re steady on their feet

Not all sellers are willing or able to help you carry and deliver the secondhand items you purchased, which means it's critical you make a plan on how you’ll get it home. The good thing is that many stores will hold your merchandise for a few days to give you time to pick it up. If that’s the case, make sure your vehicle can handle the furniture piece you’re buying, and bring help in getting the item in your vehicle. If you prefer a rental especially if the item wouldn’t fit in any of our vehicles, just calculate the costs to make sure the total will still be way less than buying new.

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