Shopping for Furniture at Garage Sales

Two women having garage sale
Shop garage sales to find furniture bargains. Photo (c) Deborah Jaffe/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Garage sale furniture shopping can be an addictive pastime, but it is somewhat different from shopping for small items. Furniture pieces are not only larger, they also cost more.

If you like to refurbish furniture, then every piece can seem full of potential. It isn't. Or maybe it is, but you may not necessarily have the time, skill level, equipment or patience. In a word, caution is required.

Having a system for shopping might help you find the best and most useful deals.

Establish a Need

Furniture should only be bought when you have a real need for it. You don't really want to bring furniture into your home when you don't need it, or it will sit there collecting dust and cobwebs. Clutter is neither healthy nor attractive, and collecting clutter, just because one day you might find a use for it, is ill advised. If you know yourself to be impetuous, bring along a trusted, level-headed friend to keep you in check.

Know the Neighborhood

Keep in mind that you will find better furniture in better neighborhoods. If you are looking for quality, then look where you are likely to find it. If you want older, vintage one of a kind items, look in more established neighborhoods with older homes. You are likelier to find newer furniture pieces and newer neighborhoods.

Arrive Early or Go Late

There are obvious advantages to both arriving early or late. The best stuff usually gets picked out early on in the game.

Plan to arrive early so that you can look around and maybe snag a gem that would be gone by the middle of the day.

Arriving at the end of the day can pay off, too. The seller is usually anxious to get rid of what remains and may be more open to negotiating. You can even walk away with furniture for free.

I got a pair of perfectly good book shelves that way.

Inspect Carefully

This goes without saying, but I will say it nevertheless. Inspect carefully. Very often people end up buying furniture without really looking. I've been guilty myself.

Check the arms and legs on chairs to see if they are sturdy. Open and close drawers and doors to see if they shut properly. Don't worry too much about the finish. It is important for the pieces to be structurally sound, you can take care of the cosmetic aspect yourself. While you are at it, also check for insects and termite infestations.

If you are buying upholstery make sure there are no tears, smells or stains. Pet owners can have some of the most offending used upholstery. Stay away from a lumpy sofa, and if you are buying a sleeper make sure that the mechanism operates properly.

Bring a Measuring Tape

Before you leave to go shopping at garage sales, measure the space in your home to see how the size of furniture you can bring. In addition to measuring your room, it is important to measure the doorways or any steps so that when you bring your furniture finds home, they can go inside easily. Don't forget to measure the piece of furniture for its height, width and depth.

Bring Cash

Carry enough cash to cover your purchases. Hardly anyone will take personal checks or credit cards at a garage sale. Make sure you have enough change on you, otherwise you may end up paying more than you bargained for.

Negotiate. Haggle. Bargain

There are several ways to do this, and learning how to haggle has its advantages. You can ask if the seller will settle for a lower price (politely) or you can quote a lower price and after negotiating settle for something in between. You can also offer to buy a group of furniture if the seller agrees to a lower price.

Have Transportation

And finally, make sure you have a way of transporting your piece of furniture from the garage sale to your home. Sometimes the seller will transport it, but that may not always be the case. Sellers will not want to hold on to your furniture indefinitely if you have no means of transporting it.

It is a good idea to bring someone along to help you lift your furniture on to and from the truck. Heavier or larger pieces make it impossible for one person to do all the work.