Shopping for secondhand furniture is one of my favorite past-times, and over the years I have become quite skilled at the process, if I do say so myself. I am a huge fan of shopping second hand because it is an amazing way to reduce your environmental impact, and it also helps combat the disposable furniture trend pushed by big box stores in the last few years.

Seeing an item secondhand is like having a crystal ball to seeing the future of an item in your home, it helps you assess how well a piece of furniture will hold up to regular wear and tear.

I mean, everything looks great in the showroom, but if it still looks great after a decade or two of use, you know it’s a great investment and often at less than half of the price of buying it new.

That said, there is a definite art to the process of tracking down vintage finds. Read on for five tips for how to make secondhand sites like Craigslist your new best friend.

Old antique & vintage French furniture
Antique French furniture. Image courtesy of French Finds

1. Search Smart

It may seem logical that when searching for a mid-century teak dresser, you would search for “mid-century teak dresser”. And in some ways you’d be right, doing so means you are going to come up with the search results of people selling exactly that. However, if you search for more generic descriptions like “nine drawer dresser” or even simply “wood dresser” you may stumble upon a cache of people who have no idea that they are selling a highly sought-after furniture piece, and may be attracting fewer interested people, and perhaps selling it at a lower price too. This process requires a little more creativity, patience and sifting, but the results are well worth it.

Learning a few search-bar hacks also means you can specify what results you want to see. I always tick the “has image” box, employ the minus sign to exclude items from showing up in search results (eg. “Dresser -IKEA”) and use the pipe key ” |” as an OR between phrases to search for any one of several possible listing options rather than requiring that all words be in the item listing (eg. “dresser | sideboard | credenza”).

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Bargain

Don’t make insulting low ball offers, but there is nothing wrong with respectfully asking to pay what you think the item is worth, or what you had budgeted for in the first place. The worst they can say is no! Typically I set my search limit for around $50-$100 more than I want to pay, to allow room for bargaining.

Little white dresser.
White antique dresser. Image courtesy of Sylvie F

3. Use Your Imagination

Paint colors, upholstery, and even the function of a piece are never set in stone, especially when you are paying so little and the stakes are so low. Look at the bones of an item, how solid it is, and the craftsmanship, and use your imagination to envision what it could be with a little TLC. Pinterest is an incredible resource for creative up-cycling ideas for common craigslist finds (check out this adorable TV-cabinet to kids kitchen project).

4. Pounce!

When you finally find what you have been looking for, jump on it immediately. Craigslist competition can be fierce so if you know you want it, don’t delay. Contact the seller – a phone call is always better than an email if possible – and arrange a time to view and/or pick up the item. Let them know that you want the item and are ready to show up with cash in hand (and don’t be a no-show! It’s fine if you can’t make it or you change your mind, but always be considerate and let the seller know.)

5. Be Smart

Craigslist is amazing, but don’t forget your street smarts simply because you’ve found the perfect wrought-iron bed. Always pay cash rather than using Paypal or money transfers, view the item in person before committing to purchase it, take a friend with you, and never give out your address or other personal information. With cloth or upholstered items check them carefully for signs of bedbugs or other pests, and take the surrounding environment into consideration. It’s makes a great story when you find a hidden treasure in someone’s garage, but not if you will be fighting fleas for the next six months because of it.

Feature image courtesy of Marilyn Acosta

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.