As yard sale season approaches, I am continually asked for my tips and tricks of the Garage Sale Guru trade, so I thought I’d break down the process of what I look for specifically in a furniture purchase.

We all want our house to look its best, yet often, our preconceived notion of how much it will cost to turn our house into a haven stands in the way of doing much about it. Our minds hold us hostage by our budget, when that doesn’t have to be true. With all the products on the market for Do it Yourself projects, second hand is the way to go.

I look around at every room in our home and there are only three pieces of furniture that we have bought new, as in, from a real store. In fact, the more I peruse each room, the more I realize that my way of life is buying all our furniture second hand.

For case good furniture, the quality of past decade’s craftsmanship just can’t be matched these days. Living in the furniture capital of the world, and learning a lot about pricing of furniture and how brands manufacturer different lines, I lean even more to buying used since the quality is hard to match.

With just a few simple tried and true ideas for buying second hand furniture from both thrift stores and yard sales, you may well be on your way to updating your home for pennies on the dollar.

Tips for Buying Second Hand Furniture

Expand Your Search

Every week, I hear the cries,” I just can’t find anything like you can.”

Often that translates to “you aren’t looking looking hard enough or you don’t know where to look.”  Your best bets are thrift stores and yard sales, but if they aren’t your thing, then try Auctions (everyone should go at least once), Flea Markets, Craig’s List, or the classified ads in the newspaper. Post it on your facebook. Tell your friends that you are looking for a “round wood table.” You never know who is trying to get rid of one, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

Give it the Kid “Rough House” Test

Whether you have children or not, this is key. Give it a wiggle. Lean into the piece of furniture and put pressure on it. If it really moves, there may be more work involved with fixing it up.  Pull out the drawers, open the cabinets, sit on the chair, sit on the table. Imagine all the things that a kid would do with that piece of furniture. It will help you see how sturdy it is. If it’s not sturdy, typically that means I can negotiate a bit more with the price (and I don’t mind that.) I don’t want you to be surprised when you get your piece home and you are saddened because the drawer has a hole in it. It’s up to you to do the inspection first before you buy.

Give it the Smell Test

I have a sensitive nose and this tip is crucial for me. The smell of a piece tells me a lot about it’s history.  It lets me know if it’s been in a smoke filled house ever. I can’t buy anything that has, even with some of the cover up paints that are on the market. It tells me if there’s been any water damage. It also tells me the approximate age.

Wood seems to have different smells as they age. Yes, this is also the most embarrassing step. I have a casual, “get a good sniff without anyone looking”, technique down to a science, but when I am set on buying something, I will really do a thorough smell test. Prime example, the featured chair of this post.  I just bought it this week at Goodwill. I literally smelled the seat cushion, the back of the chair,and the sides. I was even embarrassed being me. But it was worth the raised eyebrows because I knew I would be investing in reupholstering that piece, and didn’t want any disappointments later on.

Examine the decorative lines of the piece

What caught my eye with this chair were the gorgeous lines and decorative elements of the chair. In the next month, I am painting my all green great room a soft shade of blue-ish gray, and I am looking for some more French Country Cottage furniture. I knew that the lines of this chair were gorgeous. I immediately envisioned a beautiful green, white, blue fabric on it, after I freshened up the paint with some antique white. It was solid. I sat in it and bounced around a bit, so it passed the Kid test. I smelled it, and it passed the Smell Test. It was solid wood, I knew it easily passed the Paint Test. The lines and cut of the chair spoke for themselves, so it was a sale.

Ask Yourself: Can you Paint it, Add to it or Reupholster it?

Forget the outside appearance, old fabric or that nasty wood and horrid paint job. Almost anything can be painted to suit your needs and the change is nearly always easier than you think.

I’m on a “paint all my furniture white” kick. It needs to stop, but the beauty of that problem is that it’s only another paint can away from changing it up.  Remember that all hard wear can be easily replaced, so if there are broken knobs or ugly ones, it’s such  a simple fix and can transform the look of a piece in dramatic ways. If you want more detail, you can always add wood elements that are sold inexpensively at Home Depot or Lowes.

Really think outside the box on this one. I have passed on quite a few pieces that I now regret (but I guess they would still be sitting unpainted anyhow, since I have a bit of a backlog on my painting projects. ;)) I tend to steer clear of older upholstery jobs, but this one, I knew was quite the find. I examined it carefully for about 20 minutes looking for any “critter signs,” then I came home and immediately sprayed it down. Since I can only do simple DIY seat cushion redo’s, I am going to look for an inexpensive person to take on my new fabric, but it will be worth the extra money in the long run.

Ask for the Sale

The key to really getting the best value from buying second hand is by negotiating. I know, I know. It’s scary at first, but read my post: Save a lot of money by learning the art of negotiating. Negotiating, doesn’t have to be nerve wracking.  It’s just respectfully asking if they are firm on the price.

My key bit of advice is BE CHARMING, not cheap. I rarely fail in negotiating, but this time I did (with a good reason.) The chair had already been marked down 50%. Now trust me, I tried to negotiate further by being nicely charming and pointing out the reasons on the chair it should be less, but they said no. It’s always worth asking if they would consider taking a bit more off because more times than not, they say “Yes.”  The employee shared they had just marked it from $35 (WAY TOO HIGH) to $17.50 (still more than I like to pay but I have a Goodwill discount card, so it was $15, which is a great deal for this chair), and they wouldn’t consider going down for another week.

I totally understand that. If you are at a thrift store, it’s always good to ask the manager, especially if you really do think the price is marked too high. If it’s reasonably priced to being with, the chance is rare that they will lower the price.  (Like my glorious Goodwill dresser find from two weeks ago.)

I know many of you are probably wondering what are the three new pieces we bought.

After purchasing second hand matching antique beds for our daughter’s room, I went ahead and decided they would not handle the wear and tear of the next ten years. So, without spending more money, we bought two “Pottery Barn” look alikes from either Sam’s Club or Cosco (can’t remember). The only other new purchase was a down sofa, but again, it was a Furniture Market Sample that was 80% off, so really, it was second hand pricing.

Honestly, that sofa is too big for our great room, and I am now on the hunt for a smaller sofa that will give me the ability to recreate the Pottery Barn white slipper cover look. There was one sofa for $25 at a yard sale last week, and I passed on it. Now I am regretting that decision a bit. A great sofa may be a larger price point, but I need to put that amount in the budget, since I’ve been looking for a year and I am VERY picky with second hand upholstered furniture ever since the “bed bug” scare. For me, a new sofa may be worth the investment, but I haven’t given up yet.

So there is my extent of new furniture.

Honestly, I get all excited just thinking of the possibilities you may have if you have never shopped this way before. But this post is getting long, so maybe you can share some of your tried and true tips for buying second hand furniture.

What is your favorite furniture find? Did you have to re-purpose it?

(This is a repost of a favorite, but answers the questions many have of me.)