Expert Q&A

How to sell used furniture


To make a buck off that old furniture, you have to figure out what you’ve got. Then haggle!

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Question for the expert

Dear New Frugal You,
We have some old furniture that we need to get rid of. It was high-end stuff when it was bought new in the 1950s and 60s. Still in nice condition. There’s a dining room set, bedroom set and some living room pieces. If it has no value we’ll give it away. But if we could recover a few dollars that would be nice. What should we do? — George


Answer for the expertDear George,
Good question! In recent years, older furniture has become much more popular. It tends to be better constructed than modern stuff, and also because it allows people to ignore the constant change of styles. Instead they choose a style that they like and can keep for decades.

So it’s quite possible that your old furniture has some value. Let’s see if we can’t find a way to discover and claim some of that value for you.

Begin by finding out exactly what you have. That will take a little research, but it’s not hard: The library and Web searches should be all you’ll need.

Start by determining the style. Compare what you have to pictures of period styles. Given your time frame there’s a good chance you have either midcentury modern or Danish modern.

Next, check your furniture to find out who designed and manufactured it. It’s possible that you have something designed by someone famous such as  Charles and Ray Eames. You’ll find more about the Eameses’ designs at the Library of Congress website.

Look for manufacturer’s marks. Typically found on the back or inside drawers. Most high-end companies marked their work.

If you find that some of your pieces are from name designers or manufacturers you’ll want to check out what they’re worth. There are a number of ways to do this.

For years, printed pricing guides and formal appraisals were the only way to determine value. They’re still helpful, but some of the newer tools are useful, too. Searching eBay and Craigslist can provide real-time pricing info. Also check with any local antique dealers.

You might be surprised at what some pieces are worth. One popular, high-end manufacturer from that period is Heywood-Wakefield. Many of their pieces are worth hundreds of dollars. Some are in the $1,000-plus range!

You’ll also want to research the value of noncollectible pieces. Again, you’ll want to check out the online sources, but you’ll also want to visit used furniture stores to get an idea what they’re asking for similar items. Remember the local classifieds in your newspaper.

Unless you have collectibles, don’t expect to get too much for older furniture. You have three options. Sell to a private party,  to a used furniture store or give it away.

You’ll get more by selling to an individual, but that will require more time and effort. You’ll need to place ads in the local paper, Craigslist or eBay. Expect to handle emails, phone calls and visits from prospective buyers.

Be prepared to negotiate with buyers. Rarely will you get your asking price. Get the name and contact information for anyone who makes an offer that’s too low for you to accept. You might find that you want to call them later if better offers aren’t made.

If you’re not in a hurry, you could let friends and co-workers know about your furniture. There are always people setting up new households. Generally these deals are quick and clean.

The second option is to sell to a dealer. You’ll get less, but the transaction should be simple. Don’t be disappointed by a lowball offer. Feel free to counter. But remember that dealers need to buy at a price that allows a profit. Plus, they have their money tied up until they resell your stuff.

A final option would be to donate the furniture and take a tax deduction. Depending on your tax bracket you might net nearly as much as you would by selling to a dealer. The Internal Revenue Service’s documents on charitable contributions can walk you through the process.

George, there’s a good chance that you’ll want to use more than one method to sell your stuff. Put most of your effort into getting the best price for anything that you have that’s collectible. Then decide how much effort you’re willing to put into selling the rest.

See related: Sell that used furniture, How to price garage sale items

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