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Can new furniture be an investment? It’s not likely. A new $900 couch might be worth $600 a week after you buy it, and if you’re lucky you can sell it for $300 once you’ve used it for a couple years.
New furniture goes down in value pretty quickly and, like any other depreciating asset, it’s not considered an investment. So is there a way to make your furniture into an investment?
There is if you buy used furniture. In fact, I’ve done it, and I’ll explain how below. But first let’s look at…
How Millionaires Invest in Furniture
One of the surprising findings reported by Thomas Stanley and William Danko in their book, The Millionaire Next Door, was that millionaires buy used furniture.
At least many of them do. But they don’t buy old flattened bean bag chairs or used patio tables. They buy high-quality antiques; items that are likely to go up in value over time.
That’s one way to make your furniture into an investment. But, like myself, you might have a couple problems with using this strategy.
First, you might not know anything about antiques. You might even find the subject boring. That makes it tough to get educated enough to guess which pieces will hold their value, let alone be worth more in the future. Maybe you really don’t even understand why things should be worth more just because they’re old (I don’t).
Second, perhaps you don’t want to worry about using your furniture. You want to be able to sit on your chairs, set drinks on your tables, and drop popcorn on your couch while you watch a movie. I can relate. If I want to just look at old furniture I’ll go to a museum.
Fortunately there is…
Another Way to Invest in Furniture
Here’s a simpler strategy for making furniture into an investment: Buy quality used items that age well for less than they are worth. Then sell for a profit as necessary or when desired. A true story will help illustrate what I mean.
The first time my wife and I lived in Colorado we went to a rummage sale and found a beautiful oak coffee table. My wife, always a good negotiator, talked the owner down to $20 and we took the table home. We used it for a few years.
Later we moved to Florida using the “sell everything and buy what we need on the other side” strategy to save money on the move. We put the table in a consignment shop with several other things. It sold for $80, of which we got to keep $48 (60%). But that’s not the end of the story.
My wife missed that table, so when we moved back to Colorado a few years later (having sold everything again), she went shopping. At a used furniture store that was going out of business she bought an oak coffee table that was identical to the one we used to have — it may be the same one for all we know. She paid $20 for it.
It’s Like Money in the Bank
When we moved to Arizona we brought the table along, but I’m sure we could sell it for $30 on Craigslist, or net more through a consignment shop. So it’s like having money in the bank, and we can withdraw cash when we want.
Wouldn’t it feel good to know that if you need to raise some cash you can sell most of the furniture you own and not take a big loss? Even better, what if you could sell much of it for more than what you paid? We’ve done exactly that many times over the years.
Please do try this at home. Here are three rules to help you:
- Buy furniture that ages well.
- Pay much less than it’s worth.
- Sell it the right way
Let’s look at these in more detail…
Buy Quality Used Furniture That Lasts
The best candidates for this strategy are made of wood. A maple barstool can look as good after ten years of use as it did the day you bought it. The same is true of a table made of wrought-iron and oak. It helps to stick with solid wood; particle board doesn’t hold up the same.
Although wood furniture is the best option, you can try this strategy with almost anything. In fact, my wife and I paid $35 for a used couch, watched TV from it for years, and then sold it for $80 when we moved. But with bed bug cases rising I suggest you avoid buying used mattresses and even most upholstered furniture.
Of course, the value of that old couch didn’t go up over the years; we just bought it at a good price to start with. In other words, whether you “invest” in high-quality furniture or particle-board book cases, you’re not counting on appreciation to make your money. You really make your profit at the start, which brings us to our next rule….
Buy at a Deep Discount
The less you pay for it, the more likely it is that you can someday get your money out of your furniture, or even make a profit. As a rule try to pay no more than half of what you can net when you sell.
For example, if you’re looking at a dresser that can be sold for $60 at a consignment shop that charges a 50% commission, try to get it for $15 (half of the $30 you’ll get). If you think you can get $40 selling it on Craigslist go as high as $20.
Make your best guess as to the retail value, and refine your appraisal skills as you learn more. The possibility of mistakes is another reason to aim low when buying. If you guess 100% too high on what you can sell something for, but you pay only half of that guess, you can still at least get your money back.
If you find something that might have value as an antique, you can look it up using Kovels’ price guide online.
Where can you find high-quality used furniture for less than half of what it’s worth? Here are some possibilities…
We’ve bought a vanity desk for $10 (sold for $60), and a bar stool for $1 (sold for $8), among many other yard sale examples. But you have to negotiate!. Sellers don’t have to say yes, and I can tell you from our experience on the selling side that the most important point of a rummage sale is often not to make money, but to get rid of stuff.
Prices are all over the place, so be sure you have a grasp on values. Also, look under the “for sale” tab for the “free” link. You might be surprised by the things people are willing to give away. Move fast on these items — the good stuff won’t last a day.
I find thrift stores to be expensive, but having worked at one I can tell you that it all depends on who happens to be pricing things on a given day. I got a great bakers rack for $3 at a thrift store, and sold it years later for $25. Many thrift stores offer 50% off on items with a particular tag color (which changes weekly), so watch those tags.
You won’t often find good prices on furniture at flea markets, but who knows? If a vendor has been sitting on some unsold items for a while, and especially if he isn’t familiar with how to sell on Craigslist, you might negotiate a good price.
Really; watch what people throw away. I pulled a wooden kitchen table from a dumpster and, after using it for a year, sold it for $50. I’ve sold several other scavenged items.
Sell Your Furniture for Top Dollar
When we lived in a small town in Montana I bought a nice recliner for 75 cents in a thrift store, but then I had trouble giving it away when we moved. Values depend in large part on where you live. But how you sell matters too, so here are some of your options…
I liked the simplicity of selling on consignment. Do a little paperwork, let the store handle everything else, and get a check in the mail. But a 50% commission is common, so you might get more selling on your own.
There are buyers here all the time. This really helps when you have a special piece of furniture. For example, suppose you have a piano bench. At your rummage sale you might never have anyone come along who happens to need one. But if even one person in town wants a used piano bench, you can bet he’ll be checking Craigslist.
In Front of Your Home
Weather permitting, if you live in an area with traffic, you can put your furniture out in front of your place with a sign on it. We sold several things that way when we were getting ready to move from Florida to Colorado.
People go to rummage sales to score a deal, so this is where you’ll probably get the lowest price when selling your furniture. On the other hand, it might be a quick way to get most of your money back on something.
Have you invested in furniture for your home and made a profit when selling it? Tell us about it below, and happy frugaling!