Bad Bargains: Used Furniture to Avoid Buying

yard sale
Anthony Rosenberg/E+/Getty Images

Buying used furniture is often an adventure, resulting in one-of-a-kind vintage pieces that add interest, style, and drama to a space, but there are times when it is best to just walk away and avoid some buyer's remorse. The single most important thing to do before buying used furniture is to inspect it carefully for clues that tell you if that piece of furniture is usable and worth buying or not. Chances are returning it won't be possible since most used furniture is sold as-is and without any guarantees.

One good practice for buying furniture, new or used, is to always measure it as well as the space in the house to make sure there are no ugly surprises. It's important to absolutely love that piece of used furniture or know exactly what is needed to improve it before bringing it home, and sometimes, it is best to avoid buying it altogether.

Mattresses

Sometimes, used furniture can be bad for your health. Used mattresses are pretty much a no-go, especially when the seller is unknown.

A lumpy, smelly, or stained mattress is a definite no-no. It doesn't matter how low the price is. The alternative may end up be paying with one's health because it's impossible to know what has made its way into a mattress, along with associated health hazards such as mold, dust mites, and bed bugs. Definitely, never buy a used crib mattress for an infant from a garage sale or flea market.

Structural Problems and Missing Parts

When buying used furniture, always make sure that the piece is sturdy and has no structural defects.

If a chair has wobbly legs, check to see if it can be fixed. Cracks or stapled legs are never a good sign, and it can be hard to replace missing parts, especially if the piece is many years old.

Also, look for signs of water damage and termite or other insect infestation. It's best to look under a piece of furniture and behind it to gauge its condition. For those who won't be able to fix a piece of furniture by themselves, it is best to walk away from it.

Heavily Used Upholstered Furniture

It is generally better to walk away from upholstered furniture that has been heavily used. Lumps on a sofa seat or back are enough to tell that it will be uncomfortable to sit on. Saggy pillows are difficult to fix, too. 

While a worn upholstery fabric can be replaced, it can cost a lot to have it done professionally. Check the sofa frame too. Unless it is a prime vintage piece of furniture with superb lines or an antique, you are better off not buying it.

Furniture That Smells

It can be difficult to rid any furniture of unpleasant smells. Both upholstery and case goods can absorb smells from many different sources, such as smoke from fires, cigarettes, pets, cooking odors, or urine. 

If a piece of furniture smells unpleasant, avoid it, especially if it is upholstered. Otherwise, the rest of the room may end up smelling like that too.

High Price

Don't buy any used furniture if it is costing more than it is worth.

That can be the case where the price tag does not reflect the condition of the piece, and it may cost even more money and time to make major repairs to it.

Sometimes, a seller might misrepresent the furniture and ask for a price that is not fair for the condition or type. For instance, often any old furniture is called an antique. To be an antique, the furniture has to be more than 100 years old. Research trusted buying guides for prices if you are going antiquing or looking for an old style that is having a moment, such as mid-century modern.

Another way of paying too much for used furniture is when transporting it drives up its initial low cost. Big and bulky pieces might require renting a bigger vehicle. Factor that cost in before you buy.

If It Has Been Recalled by the CPSC

First of all, it is illegal to sell furniture that has been recalled, unless repairs specified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission have been carried out. In all fairness, the seller might not even be aware that the piece has been recalled or needs any repairs, but as a buyer, find out.

It is best to avoid buying used nursery furniture. Most cribs made before 2011 are unsafe and have resulted in injuries and deaths. Why even risk it? Check out SaferProducts.gov for lists of recalled products to make sure you are not buying one.