Avoiding Hidden Costs When Buying Furniture

Young couple looking at sofa in furniture store
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There are almost always some hidden costs when buying furniture, which is why most pieces usually end up costing more than their sticker price. Your $1,500 sofa can easily end up costing over $2,000. How is it that we so often end up spending hundreds more than we expected?

Buying furniture is no different from buying any other consumer product, be it cars, electronics, or any other major item. Frequently, there are upgrades, add-ons, hidden fees, delivery charges, insurance—and then, of course, there's the sales tax.

Customization

Sometimes when you pick out a sofa, you may like the frame and basic styling, but perhaps you want it in a different fabric. Or, you want a different color for the legs, or maybe a different arm style. Maybe you even want extra pillows with the sofa. All of these things can be done, but usually with an added cost. For many furniture retailers, it is the charge for these custom touches that really provides the profit margin.

While customizing furniture enables you to get exactly what you want, the price may startle you. Be sure to factor this in when you make your purchase. Whenever you order a different fabric, legs, arms—anything that is different from the piece you see in the showroom—make sure to ask your salesperson about any additional costs you may be incurring. Reputable dealers will be upfront about this, but you can be surprised at how much the cost can increase with the smallest change.

Furniture Protection Plans

Sometimes furniture stores will try to sell you furniture protection plans. These plans offer repairs should anything happen to your furniture within the plan's time frame, and they are really just forms of insurance. Some people feel it is better to have insurance "just in case," while others feel that it is not worth the extra expense. Usually, these plans end up costing anywhere from $100 to 6 percent of the total cost of furniture. Don't agree to purchase this insurance simply because it is being offered, unless you feel the need.

Most consumer advocacy experts advice that this kind of protection plan is statistically not worth the cost, and that some plans border on being consumer scams. For example, some plans are prorated, so that you end of paying an escalating portion of the repair or replacement cost based on the age of an item. Is it really worth the cost of the replacement plan if you only get reimbursed 20 percent of the total repair cost once your couch is more than five years old?

On the other hand, if you have a houseful of rambunctious children that are notoriously hard on furniture, it may well be worth having insurance if you can verify that the plan is legitimate, without fine-print surprises.

Fabric Protection Plans

Similar to furniture protection plans, fabric protection plans are meant to cover any accidents, but in this case, specifically with the fabric. Again, this is a type of insurance policy. Before you accept any such protection plan, evaluate to make sure it is worth the cost. Most fabric has already been treated at the manufacturer's, so unless you have small children, pets, or entertain a lot, you may want to pass on purchasing this insurance plan. Again, many consumer advocacy groups argue that these plans are usually not worth what they cost consumers.

Sometimes, fabric-protection plans do not involve paying for insurance. Instead, you are paying for the application of some sort of additional stain-protection chemical applied to the fabric before the furniture is delivered. Special caution is advised here, since the chemicals used may come with health risks, especially for individuals with sensitivity to environmental chemicals. For example, products such as the once-popular Scotchgard contain perfluorochemicals (PFCs) that almost never break down in the environment. Although Scotchgard is no longer made or applied, newer chemicals used in fabric treatments have by no means received a universal stamp of approval by environmental groups and health experts. The industry making stain-protection products is now using modified forms of PFCs that are said to break down faster, but these claims are widely disputed. Before you pay for stain-protection chemicals on your furniture, do your research and make sure you are comfortable with the chemicals that will be used.

Delivery Fees

Sometimes customers balk at paying delivery fees and cancel the entire transaction based on exorbitant fees charged. These fees are often kept entirely hidden right up to the point a consumer is ready to make the payment.

Ask about delivery expenses and policies before you decide on a furniture purchase, so there are no nasty surprises. The bulky and heavy furniture has to get to your home from the store in some fashion, so consider the logistics beforehand. If you think you can get the furniture home yourself, you can most likely skip this expense. If you have to rent a truck or hire someone to bring the furniture home, then remember to add that cost to your budget as well. But you may well decide that the extra $100 to $200 that it costs to have the furniture store manage the delivery is well worth the added charge.

Stores that offer "free delivery" are not always really honest about it. Sometimes "free delivery" means that the sales price has been padded to begin with. And occasionally, free delivery will mean dumping the sofa or chair on your front lawn, leaving you with the cumbersome chore of getting the furniture piece into your home. Make sure you understand exactly what is entailed in the delivery, whether you are paying for it or getting it for free.

It is not uncommon for furniture companies to offer "free" removal of your old furniture as part of the marketing pitch. Often, this is a legitimately free service, since the furniture company may well be restoring and reselling the old furniture on a secondary market. But occasionally you can be surprised to learn that a delivery company expects additional payment to remove your old furniture. When a furniture retailer says that they will remove your old pieces, make sure to determine if this is a free service or if it entails an added cost.

Disassembly and Assembly Fees

Another cost that is related to delivery may have nothing to do with the retailer. It is the cost of getting the furniture into your home when it is so large or heavy that it requires disassembly and reassembly. This is especially true of city dwellers who live in older multi-story buildings with no elevators. But this can also happen in a single story home with narrow doors or hallways. If delivery is being handled by employees of the furniture store, these costs should be mentioned up front when you purchase the piece. But when the delivery is outsourced to a delivery company, there may be substantial additional fees for disassembly and reassembly to get your furniture carried in and positioned where you want it. Don't forget to add this cost if you anticipate such a scenario.