Tips for buying second-hand furniture online

Over the years, I have purchased a large amount of furniture online. Some have been wins, while others have ended up on the curbside.

Through hit and miss, I have found some tips for being more consistently successful with my online furniture purchases.

  • Read description thoroughly

I look for comments that may indicate issues with condition that aren’t apparent in the photos. Additionally, I look for information that I consider should be included in the description. I don’t assume that what I think it means is what it means.

Example 1

2 chairs in all photos. Description used the plural chairs. I assumed I was bidding for both chairs. I won the auction and was pleased with the price. On arranging collection, I was advised the auction was for each chair. In this instance, I advised I would not proceed with the sale as the advertisement was unclear and ambiguous. I always confirm now what it is for sale if any doubt before committing to buy.

Example 2

The description stated that the item was a mahogany cabinet. The photos were not perfect but they did seem to support the description of mahogany. On collection, found the item was mahogany wood veneer that needed repair. As I buy now to restore and sell, the restoration cost outweighed the possible sale so it ended up a failure.

  • Don’t use your iPhone to check photos

The quality of photos on mobile phones is very clear but the size is far too small to see detail. Use your laptop or tablet. Open the photo to full screen and enlarge areas for detail.


Purchased a chair for restoration. Looked at photos on my iPhone and while the chair looked shabby, it was sure it could be restored. On arriving for pick up, it was apparent that there were several irreparable (at my skill level anyway) splits in the wood. I reviewed photos on my iPad when I arrived home and, on closer examination, the splits were apparent. There was little to reclaim from the chair, so it ended up on the curbside. My mistake and lesson learnt.

  • Be aware of poor quality photos or very few photos

Many times, I see very poor quality photos accompanying online listings. With the quality of photos capable even with a mobile phone now days, this is almost inexcusable. The same is the case with taking one photo only. It takes seconds to take and upload the photo. I am cautious of buying anything with poor quality or minimal photos. It may simply mean the person is incompetent with cameras or they might be hiding something.

Example 1

The bad. One photo with listing. Fixed price and price seemed fair. Didn’t negotiate price and arranged collection. Found that the rear legs on the item had considerable dry rot. The legs were beyond recovery and required replacement. The value wasn’t there to restore, so lost money with that buy.

Example 2

The good. Two photos of a dresser. Looked like the photo had been taken with a potato while jumping on a trampoline. I could still make out the overall shape of the dresser and took a punt. The dresser was fantastic. In perfect shape and only needed a dust. I could have flipped for quadruple the price but ended up keeping that one for myself.

  • Have a tape measure handy

For some items, it is necessary to check the measurements. This applies to items such as cabinets, side tables, coffee tables and dressers. This is of particular importance to items you to intend to keep. Check the measurements and then use tape measure to ensure that the size of the item suits your needs. Measurements are important also when considering what you can fit in the back of your SUV or hatchback. Hiring a trailer or van really starts to add up.

If there are no measurements in the description, send a message to ask for them. If they don’t respond, it is probably in your best interests that you do not commit to buy.


Found a very nice mid century sideboard for auction. Lots of clear photos and it was in great condition. Ended up winning for a reasonable price. On collection, realised that photos had been taken at a distance and sideboard was huge and weighed a ton. Somehow managed to get home but it totally overpowered the room. The dimensions were listed in the description, however, I bought purely on appearance in photos.

Point 2. The item turned out to be veneer covered MDF. I ‘assumed’ it was wood but turned out to be an average quality piece.

I subsequently dropped the sideboard when moving it down some stairs and the MDF crushed. Ruined piece and not something that could be salvaged for resale.

  • Set your limit with auctions

It’s so easy to get caught up in an auction of any type when you really want something. An extra dollar ends up being an extra $10-$20 and you have gone outside your limit. Some items are ‘must haves’ and you pay what you have to but you end up chasing your tail.

I won’t include examples on this as I have done it too many times to mention. Just set a limit and are comfortable and stick to it. If it sells for more, than obviously it wasn’t meant to be yours.

Well, that’s some of my tips and examples of some of my mistakes. I am comfortable in saying that the failures outweigh the wins but less so now with experience.

Use your mistakes as opportunities to learn.






Author: The Frugal Batchelor

Hi, my name is Scott. Batchelor by situation, not by practices. Used as a means to indicate that I am approaching my blog from a single persons perspective and any successes or mistakes will be the choices I make. Live with my cat Minty. Finding the days becoming very samey. Looking for the next step in my way through early retirement to Thailand. Don't have the money to do it and don't know where it will come from. Passion and commitment will find me the way.

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