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Finding the Best Used Furniture

December 31 2010

Finding great used furniture takes some digging – yard sales, consignment stores, antique malls, and more. Some items aren’t worth the trip home, so before you plunk you’re your money, consider some tips on what makes a smart buy in used furniture.

Dealista.QuickAndDirtyTips.com’s Linsey Knerl offers a short list of furniture to avoid; sofas and living room furniture made from pine, sofas with mesh support or stuffed with peanuts, chairs with staple joints, second hand lamps with wiring issues, used cribs and children’s furniture, and second-hand mattresses.

Each item has qualities that make them unworthy; pine is not a sturdy structural material, nor is mesh. Staple joints are common in plywood/particle board construction, though experts from highbeam.com say, “sound furniture frames can and have been constructed with staples as the sole load bearing fasteners.” But do you really want to take the chance?  

If you’re a skilled electrician, a simple rewire can restore lamps, but if you have to have it professionally rewired, you might find the additional cost makes your bargain lamp no bargain at all.

Cribs offer hidden risk; unless you know which models have been recalled for dangers to infants, you may be buying a defective crib, or you run the chance that the crib is a good brand but was improperly assembled, says shopping.yahoo.com in their list of 20 things to never buy used.

Used mattresses and pillows are a smorgasbord of bacteria and filth, not to mention that their neck and back supporting days are far behind them.

Train yourself to find things of value. This is where shopping gets fun as creativity and judgment become key factors in the buying process.

Know what you want

Before you come home with rummage sale treasures and find you have no place to put them, think, measure, and budget. 

Think about the style you want. Traditional pieces can look magazine-trendy when they’re updated with paint, fabric, or accessories. Find out what an upholsterer charges to replace chair seats. Price refinishing materials, stains, and paints. Oil base is more expensive than latex.

Sketch out a floor plan and take measurements. An oversized easy chair could be hard to fit. If space is a problem, see if you can make any piece you buy do double duty, like end tables that also store books or disks. 

Shop with your budget in mind. While it’s tempting to grab that fabulous lamp, it’s not worth it if you can’t afford the table to go with it. Get basics first – furniture for seating, eating, and sleeping.

Be hands on

Don’t buy furniture you can’t examine with your own hands. When assessing a used piece of furniture, use it like you would at home. Like test-driving a car, you must pull out drawers, checking inside for sticking and abrasion or insect damage. If you find a sofa or recliner you like, plop yourself down for a while to make sure it’s comfortable.

Don’t sweat small defects

Those tiny dings and dents you wouldn’t accept on new furniture offer a lot of character, style and interest on a unique used piece.

Coffee cup rings, bad stain jobs, or loose joints can be easily fixed with a little effort. Even tacky upholstery jobs can be changed to your liking if you like the piece itself well enough.

Use your imagination

If you like the bones of a wingback chair, but can’t stand the hideous fabric, try to imagine what the same chair would look like with fresh upholstery. An old standup radio could make a wonderful end table. And an ugly glass coffee table could be made elegant with a thin scrap granite tabletop instead.

Know when to walk away

A fabulous rug with pet stains isn’t a good deal, especially if it encourages your pet to mark its territory over and over in an attempt to scare away the “intruder.”

You may have to accept that some problems can not be fixed – including water damage (particular to particle board made items), visible smoke and fire damage.

Gather a search party

You’ll also find what you want quickly if you enlist the aid of others. Tell your friends and family that you want a grandfather clock, or whatever you’re looking for, and they’ll either tell you where to find it or go on the lookout themselves. Ask preferred dealers to call you when they get shipments, and leave your name and number for specific items of interest.

The great thing about used furniture is that you can create a personal, individual look, but collecting it can be even more fun. To put your home together the way you really want it,  be patient and prepare to shop frequently.

Then, when you spot the perfect iron bed, or the perfect crewel rug, you’ll be ready to pounce on it!