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6 Mistakes You're Making While Shopping For Second-Hand Décor

Vintage living room with floral chairs.

Katie Martinez

As someone who has furnished an entire apartment mainly with pieces from secondhand stores and websites—Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are my BFFs—I’ve learned my share of lessons over the years when it comes to what one shouldn’t do when shopping for used furniture.

Below are six habits that may be holding you back from sourcing the second-hand piece of your dreams.

01 of 06

Limiting Your Search Radius

The larger your search radius, the more likely it is you’ll find exactly what you're looking for—not to mention, expanding your mileage beyond your immediate area may expose you to a broader range of price points, too. If you live in an urban area, pieces will likely be going for much higher than they would in a smaller town, for example, so you may need to drive a bit to snag the best deals.

On the flipside, those who reside in densely populated areas may want their searches to include the closest major city. Living in Washington D.C., I see tons of young professionals listing items as they move in and out of apartments or combine belongings with roommates or significant others. When I began using Facebook Marketplace, I kept my radius to just 10 miles or so and still found tons of gems, but it was because I live in such a populated city. Since expanding beyond my immediate area, I’ve found some pretty amazing items that ended up being worth the journey.

As someone without a driver’s license, I generally rely on ride-share services or friends to pick up items that aren’t right nearby, but I’ve also had luck using movers through Bungii and TaskRabbit.

02 of 06

Not Thinking Beyond the Posted Pictures

I’ve been guilty of looking at a poorly taken picture of an item or seeing a piece featured in a junky room and thinking, eh, this probably isn’t for me. Yet, when I come across a listing with well-styled photos, I’m highly likely to click through, even if the item for sale isn’t something that I need.

Always know that the right styling and placement can take a piece to the next level once it’s in your space.

My advice is to not always take posted photos to heart and instead imagine a piece within the context of your own space. In a world of filtered Instagram images, it’s easy to forget that not everyone’s phone photography is social media-worthy.

I’ve witnessed friends purchase pieces with lackluster listing photos only to make such items look catalog-worthy in their own homes. Of course, you’ll want to listen to your gut if you spot any stains or flaws, but always know that the right styling and placement can take a piece to the next level once it’s in your space.

03 of 06

Not Typing in Search Terms

Finding the perfect item on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack, and that’s where keywords come in. Some of my current favorites to score on-trend pieces are burlwood, rattan, wicker, mid-century modern, and chinoiserie, all of which reflect my design style. Typing these words and phrases into the search bar majorly helps save time when confronted with what can feel like endless listings.

One caveat I always note is that sellers who know exactly what they have may price their items a bit higher. Since rattan, for example, is majorly trending at the moment, sellers who use this keyword in their title or description are looking to get as many eyes as possible on their piece—and may not be willing to budge in price.

04 of 06

Not Spending Enough Time on a Site

Secondhand furniture shopping is hit or miss, and you’re not going to find the perfect piece every time you conduct a search. However, simply typing in a few keywords and calling it a day isn’t a foolproof strategy. Sometimes, that perfect piece may be listed solely as “desk chair” or “dining table” with no specific search terms attached.

If you have some time, it’s worth taking a spin through the entire “furniture” tab on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. I once discovered an amazing burlwood console table that had been listed with very few descriptors just because I happened to be scrolling around.

05 of 06

Negotiating Too Soon

When shopping for secondhand pieces online or at a flea market, buyers will almost always try to negotiate the price down further. However, it’s best to have a brief exchange with the seller first to express your interest in the item, rather than leading with an offer—particularly if it’s on the lower end. Emailing someone “$65?” when a piece is listed at $150 isn’t going to start the conversation off on the right foot.

After confirming that the piece is indeed available, I may politely ask the seller if they would take $10 or $20 below what’s listed.

In fact, if I fall in love with a piece on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, I oftentimes won’t negotiate at all for fear that the seller will go with another buyer willing to pay full price.

If I feel so-so about something, I may aim to bargain a bit. After confirming that the piece is indeed available, I may politely ask the seller if they would take $10 or $20 below what’s listed, and oftentimes, the answer will be positive. This is obviously variable depending on the seller, item, condition, and location, but overall holding back a bit and then coming in with an offer is something I always advise.

06 of 06

Being Too Picky

You have every right to be particular about the items going into your home, but sometimes it’s worth looking past a few small flaws on a piece and thinking about the bigger picture. Could you easily touch up a few blemishes with a new coat of paint?

Secondhand sites and stores are an excellent resource to gather pieces you intend to make over. Would that mirror that isn’t quite living room-worthy function well in the nursery? Shopping with a specific purpose in mind is always smart, particularly when sticking to a tight budget, but you may be surprised at the other items you can end up checking off of your list when you look at the selection with a broader perspective, too.