Photographer Eric Piasecki

Eric Piasecki Photography

Most of the time great furniture doesn’t just land in your lap for free.  If you have found a killer piece on the side of the street, count yourself blessed, because it certainly doesn’t happen often.  If you are on a budget, but still want a steal of a deal…here are a couple tips to keep in mind when shopping for furniture and accessories while keeping within a spending limit.

1.  Go To Flea Markets Early- Antique hunters arrive as the vendors are setting up their booths.  They get first dibs on merchandise, so they can move on to other avenues as quickly as possible.  If you want a deal on something, simply ask.  The worst they can do is say no, and you can move on to the next find.  Go early to the best sale, and schedule your day accordingly to the sales that follow.

2. Forget About Antiques With Costly Repairs-  We have all been a sucker in this department.  We see a great piece, with fabulous bones, ……buy it and it sits in the garage for months.  Worn wicker costs an arm and a leg to reweave, so it’s best to move on.  Take a good look at that out-dated upholstery piece before you buy it as your next project.  Consider the cost of new upholstery, when deciding on a piece.  If you are willing to sink in $300-$800 dollars…heck go for it! Have you done upholstery before, ….assess the level of skill it takes this particular piece back to life.  Mildewed upholstery which has been left outside is almost impossible to freshen, so it’s best to move on.

3.  Be Friendly With Vendors…Vendors can be collectors themselves, and just being kind can earn you a few tips in casual conversation.  Vendors often have their own shops, have a few pieces at home, know a few places where they might be able to locate that one-of-a-kind item.  If you are after a particular look, bring pictures with you, along with cards that you can give out with your phone number and the items are after purchasing.  Be fair, and reasonable with your price points.  The last thing you want an individual to do is go out of their way daily to look for you if you don’t allow them to make a cushion profit for themselves when they do locate that special item.

4.  Know What You Are After, And Go With A Plan-  If you plan on just looking around, chances are…you might drop a load of cash on unexpected buys.  If you go with an idea of what you are after…the style, the look, chances are you will stay on budget.  Look on ebay, and Amazon to price shop before spending a boat load of cash. Know how much that item is worth, so you have information to bargain with.   Vendors do expect for you to ask for a discount, and often will come down 10 percent if you ask.

5.  Shop Flea Markets Late– Vendors don’t want to have to repack their vans, and trucks at the end of the night, and so often times they are willing to go much lower than they would normally go, because lets face it, after a long day…who wants to load everything back up again.  At the end of the day, those scores become even better as vendors get tired, and want to get off their feet for the day.

6.  Arrive Early To Auctions.   Arriving early allows you to look through what is for sale before the rush of the auction starts.   Look over the merchandise during the pre-sale period, and ask the auctioneer what he or she thinks the piece is likely to bring — they usually give a good estimate of the item’s true worth.

7.  Avoid Bidding Wars At Auctions. Decide in advance what your top bid is for an item will be and stick to that price. If it is your first time at an auction, many regulars like to scare you away, by overbidding to frustrate you.  They don’t want new blood in a regular auction, because to them it means more competition.  Determine over time, which bidders are just jerks, and which ones you can work with.  “I will give you this one, and you can owe me”  I noticed, working with people allowed me to score more deals that meant a lot to me.  I was also able to give and take on items as well, that were not that important.

8.  Attend Moving And Storage Auctions- Often times these outlets will have fabulous deals on furniture.  Other times, they tend to be just junk, but you just never know what is behind each locker.   Storage businesses periodically auction off unclaimed goods out of their warehouses, so check newspaper classified ads or go the extra mile, and contact local movers for upcoming dates and get put on their list.

9.  Yard Sales and Garage Sales Are Worth Your Time- Garage sales are the best place to go if you are one of those people who doesn’t mind going out on the weekend, to attend a few yard sales.  While, you  might not get exactly what you are looking for, the hunt could produce some unexpected finds.  Pay attention to wealthy neighborhoods, and estate sales from seniors who are down sizing or selling their homes.  Often times they are getting rid of quality merchandise, and not a lot of baby junk, and little kids clothing, but rather china, hutches, and solid wood furniture.

10.  Ready To Assemble Furniture Can Work For The Right Project- Ikea, JC Penny, Sears, Target and Kmart can carry some affordable, inexpensive pieces. Develop an eye for quality and style.  Low grade MDF, particle board furniture lasts one move, and it’s out the door.  So if you do buy that kind of furniture, know that it falls apart over time. Bookshelves can be re-purposed into built in shelving with molding and extra wood.  Cabinets on the walls can be improved with moldings and new hardware.  These big box stores also have a nice variety of furniture made from solid wood or metal accessories, so don’t discount them too quickly.

10.  Know Your Wood Types. Wood furniture falls into three categories:

  • Solid wood furniture is harder to find, and more expensive than other types of furniture.  These pieces can be painted, or stained, and at a later date, stripped, and re-painted.
  • Veneers can be expensive, and not so expensive.  Many people think veneered furniture is low quality, but that isn’t the case with every piece.  Antique pieces which have veneer, often are made with solid wood, but just feature a more expensive looking wood for the top layer.  There are also cheaper veneers that contain a particle board underneath the veneer.  Investigate the quality.
  • Particle board and composite wood pieces are made from a combination of wood pulp, plastics, and resin.  These are basically the scraps of the furniture world, that don’t last too long.

11.  Look At The Outside Perimeter Of Big Box Stores– Often Target has their discount clearance sections tucked along the back of the stores.  Here you can find good looking lamps, bedding, sheets, and towels for next to nothing. Kmart, often has one isle for their clearance area.  These  areas of the store can save you a bundle.

12. Look At Quality Wood Furniture If You Can- Buy a piece or two at a time and make your choices carefully. Do not rush. Do not buy garbage if you can avoid it. As recent college grads, you will undoubtedly need to buy some things at places like Ikea, but if you can wait and buy nicer things, they will last longer (a lifetime) and look better. You will not regret it. You can find this stuff on Craigslist. Avoid veneers. Try to buy American made if you can. Do not spend as much on upholstered furniture, as it will invariably have a shorter life spanquebee

13. Estate Sales Can Have Fabulous Finds Buying new is expensive, and you’ll likely get poor quality compared to what you’ll be able to buy used. A $200 plastic and plywood table from Ikea will fall apart much faster than a $200 solid pine table that you buy used. Everything I bought from West Elm fell apart, but the desk I bought at an estate sale for $150 I’ll probably be able to pass along to my grand children. It’s stunning, and super sturdyPollygolightly

Tuck these tips in your back pocket the next time you are ready to attend that seasonal auction, or head into a new town to do antique shopping.  If you have some tips of your own, please leave a comment at the end of the article.

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14. Ebay Can Have Lower Prices- You can find great deals on Ebay that you may never find in the store. Often times, websites sell items cheaper than the store because you are buying straight from the manufacturer rather than through a retail store.   Larger sellers will handle the shipping, allowing you to find the best deal for less.

15.  Consignment Stores Have Bargains-  Consignments stores can yield some excellent buys. They are often very picky in what they let in their door, so you know that everything you are looking through is of better quality than thrift stores, but without the price tags of the designer mark-up brand new.  Consignment stores are well worth investigating.

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