4 Qualities to Look for When Purchasing Used Furniture

Whether you’re moving into a new home or redecorating your current space, furniture shopping can carry a hefty price tag. If you’re working with a tight budget, there are a few considerations for maximizing your spend, including the option to buy used furniture. Read on for tips about how to buy second-hand furniture that maintains good quality and rings up at a fraction of retail prices.

Savvy shoppers who are buying used couches or other furniture pieces should start by browsing consignment shops, clearance centers, and thrift stores. When you buy used furniture, you’re responsible for at least some of the quality control, so you need to know what to look for. “When it comes to used furniture, it’s best to see and even test-sit the items before buying,” says Helena Tiainen, an interior designer and professional organizer based in Berkeley, California. “It’s even better if the store guarantees their furniture and has positive customer reviews that back up [their claims].”

If you’re wondering how to find good used furniture that completes the look of any room in your house, consider these four factors:

1. Look for Solid Wood or Wood Veneer

Solid wood furniture is one of the best investments you can make when it’s time to buy used furniture, and it can last for decades with the proper care. However, its quality and longevity can also make it more expensive, so if you’re monitoring your budget carefully, aim for a single solid wood piece per room.

If you love the look of wood furniture but can’t justify the cost, explore wood veneer instead. A veneer consists of thin slices of real wood adhered to a low-density core. When made well, wood veneer offers the look and durability of solid wood furniture but at a more affordable cost. If you find yourself gravitating toward a wood veneer piece, it’s important to carefully inspect the components before you buy.

“I would opt for veneers that are as natural as possible,” says Tiainen. “This means their substrate options have low formaldehyde emissions and are environmentally sound.” While you may not be able to obtain information about the materials or construction process, Tiainen advises to simply “use your senses.” Many chemicals have a distinct odor when they off-gas, which means you can put your own nose to work to decide if a piece of furniture is a good fit for your home.

A stack of wooden table legs with dowel holes

2. Pay Attention to Wood Construction

If nails, staples, or visible glue are holding that mahogany dining table together, move on to the next piece. Quality furniture joints are constructed either with screws or with dowels, which are wooden pegs slotted into opposing holes. If you aren’t familiar with different types of wood joints, do some research before shopping so you can recognize the differences. In general, either mortise-and-tenon or dovetail joints offer the best construction. For premium durability, corners should have a reinforcing block attached at an angle.

A distressed blue wooden hutch featuring rows of dishes and in need of refurbishing

3. Judge Comfort and Durability

When you buy second-hand furniture, you need to know not only how comfortable the piece is, but also how durable. A bargain isn’t effective if your furniture falls apart a few months after you bring it home. “Sit in a chair to see if it wobbles, try a sofa to see how soft it is, and open and close drawers to see how well the hardware keeps up with constant use,” says Kassin Adelman, founder and CEO of IDF Studio, an interior design firm in San Francisco.

Once you determine you can comfortably sink into that beautiful new-to-you sofa on movie night, unzip the seat cover and peek inside. Look for foam wrapped with Dacron, cotton, or down, ideally with a protective inner cover. Do a sniff test to smell for mold, mildew, smoke, and pet odors. Unless you want to invest in a thorough cleaning, it’s best to pass on furniture with strange odors.

Before you commit to any purchase, it’s also necessary to understand the terms. A sofa is usually not a small or inexpensive purchase, so take your time. “Make price comparisons, and check to see that the store’s return policy is friendly toward you,” says Tiainen.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Flexible

When you’re shopping at used furniture stores and consignment shops, what you find today may not be there tomorrow. Because inventory varies and changes frequently, you have to keep your wish list flexible and go in to each store with an open mind. Flexibility regarding color, material, and style can help you get home with a piece you love, even if it wasn’t what you were looking for when the day started.

You also might not find everything you need from a single source. When you select items separately, it increases the risk of choosing items that don’t work well together. To avoid this problem, stick to design themes and furniture styles with a lot of built-in flexibility. A very unique piece may capture your imagination, but consider how it would work with existing décor or how difficult it would be to find other pieces to go with it.

A woman and her dog sit on a used couch

Used Furniture Buying Options

Used furniture stores, clearance centers, thrift stores, and online sellers make it easy to buy used furniture at discounted prices, but that doesn’t always mean they are keeping quality in mind. To buy used furniture with confidence, be sure the seller has checks in place that ensure the quality of the pieces you’re buying.

Now that you know how to buy used furniture, start by finding a CORT Furniture Clearance Center nearby, where you never have to sacrifice craftsmanship to fit your budget. CORT’s quality control professionals inspect all CORT furniture for cleanliness and structural integrity, and the result is high-quality, gently-used furniture available at up to 70 percent off new retail prices.

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