5 Tips for Buying Used Furniture

Among the many unforeseen consequences of a pandemic, getting a futon is one of the few consumers who may have considered. But that is a problem that millions of people now face when they buy furniture. Thanks to supply chain and distribution issues, it’s getting harder and harder to get everything from couches to desks to bedding. Foams for seat cushions are in short supply; even shipping containers have become scarce.

If you don’t want to wait for the new La-Z-Boy to arrive, second-hand furniture is always available. Online classifieds in places like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, and Craigslist are usually full of options. Ditto used furniture and thrift stores. While you can score a lot, there are also some caveats with second-hand shopping. (Germs shouldn’t be a big problem: bacteria and viruses don’t survive on rough and porous surfaces like fabrics.) Before you buy, there are a few things to look out for.

1. Try to look up the furniture model before buying.

Fascinated by this IKEA dining table set that is being sold by your neighbor? If the item was recently made, you can look it up online to see what it’s being sold for and compare it to the seller’s asking price. While the value is relative and prices may vary based on condition, you shouldn’t be paying much more than 50 percent of the original retail price. With vintage furniture, you have to wonder if a higher price is worth it.

2. Get a taste of used furniture.

Upholstered furniture may appear in good shape, but if you see a picture online it won’t give you an olfactory impression. When you are personally evaluating a sofa, armchair, or other fabric-related item, make sure it isn’t holding back pet odors, cigarette smoke, or other inconveniences as these odors are extremely difficult to remove.

3. Look under used furniture like couches, chests, and dining tables.

Most people examine used furniture, declare it acceptable, and move on. If possible, make sure you get a bottom view by letting the owner lift up. You can check for wobbly legs, torn cloth, or other damage, as well as signs of insect colonization. While bed bugs love mattresses, they can also make their way into other furniture such as drawers. Checking for signs of infestation (brown or red spots, especially along crevices or near screws) is especially important if the item has been in a storage room that is not airtight and bed bugs are moving from one storage area to another.

4. Always measure your space before buying used furniture.

Do not rely on “eyeing” you to judge whether this new table or bed frame will fit into your room. Also, do not trust the seller’s description that the measurements are correct. Make sure you measure the potential location in your home and then measure the item yourself. And don’t forget to take your door opening into account too. This almost new desk has to fit through your doors.

5. Be safe when you meet with the used furniture seller.

In almost all cases, you will visit a stranger’s home to inspect a used piece of furniture before making a decision to buy it. Call the seller first to make the appointment. It’s best to bring a friend and visit the seller during the day. You can also leave your address with a friend.

If you can’t escort someone to the transaction, call a friend and put them on the speakerphone when you’re with the seller. (You can make it less uncomfortable by asking your friend for advice or describing the item to them.) Make sure you get a handwritten receipt proving the seller received the full amount. And if you are uncomfortable carrying cash, you can let the seller know in advance that you will meet him at a bank or police station to complete the sale.

Less a tip and more a reminder – never buy a used mattress, even if it’s free. The potential for sagging, dust mites, or the rage of bed bugs is too great to ever make buying a used bed a good idea.

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