So … you’ve watched American Pickers or Antiques Roadshow and imagine that you, too, might be sitting on an undiscovered gold mine.
Or maybe you’re finally ready to let go of those large pieces of furniture gathering dust and you don’t know where to start.
The good news is the Internet has far better marketplaces than Craigslist and Nextdoor when it comes to selling furniture—especially valuable antiques.
Read on to discover how YOU can turn that old furniture into some cash in 5 simple steps.
STEP 1: GET CLEAR ON RELATIVE VALUE
If you missed Part 1 of this recent series, go check out the first section, which covers why it sometimes makes sense to hire someone to sell your stuff for you vs. going DIY.
The same rules apply here regarding the value of your time—even if you’re selling just a few pieces of furniture.
It’s easy to get hung up on making your money back when selling used or antique furniture. People often feel like they’ve made an investment, and when looking through that lens, you end up focusing primarily on the money spent.
And while that is certainly PART of the equation, focusing ONLY on the money limits your options if you can’t accept getting less than what you consider an acceptable value for your item.
There are two other factors that need to be considered:
1) Your use and enjoyment of the item for as long as you (and maybe even others) have had and used it.
2) The time it will take you to try and pull as much money out of the sale as you possibly can, even if that means saying no a lot until (and IF) you find someone who agrees with your valuation.
Remember that consignment shops, auction houses, and other brokers have built-in networks of buyers prepared to pay higher prices for things than they would to an individual seller.
If it takes you six months or more to sell your 18th century walnut buffet because you’re waiting for the “perfect” sale—and in the meantime you meet with dozens of prospective buyers and message hundreds of others—what is the real net on the sale?
Probably NOT what you thought it was—because you didn’t account for all of those hours of work to make the sale.
So think carefully about what your time is worth—and how much of it you’re willing to invest on top of the money you’ve already invested in the item—before you do anything else.
STEP 2: HIRE AN APPRAISER
If you’re just selling a well-loved couch you bought 10 years ago brand new, you can skip this step.
But if you have antique or specialty items to sell, you’ll want to get them appraised.
You need to know how much they are worth AND you need as objective an opinion as possible. You never want an appraisal from a vendor who is going to sell your item for you—hopefully can see why that creates a conflict of interest and should be avoided.
Here’s how to find and work with an objective licensed or certified appraiser:
- Consult professional organizations: In the United States, there are three primary appraiser organizations: the International Society of Appraisers, the American Society of Appraisers, or the Appraisers Association of America. Members create profiles on these websites and list their certification level and background, including any areas of specialty.
- Ask how they charge: Legitimate appraisers charge a flat fee or an hourly rate starting around $150. Avoid appraisers who charge a percentage of the item’s value. The total bill might run $400 or more, so skip the appraisal step unless you think you’ve got an antique that’s worth the effort.
- Require a written report: When you pay a certified appraiser to look over your items, you’ll receive a report including your items’ value, full item descriptions, and the procedures used to estimate the value.
- Take no for an answer: Honorable appraisers will turn projects down if the object isn’t worth a full written appraisal. So if multiple appraisers tell you that your item has minimal value, hear them—even though you love the piece, it might not be worth the fee to appraise.
- Get your heirlooms camera-ready: Most appraisers can give you a rough idea of whether you should schedule a consultation over the phone. They may ask for a few pictures via email, so clean your items and then have several well-lit images from multiple angles in hand before you contact them.
STEP 3: IF YOU’RE SELLING IT YOURSELF
If you decide to sell your furniture directly, great—here’s what to do next.
The quality and quantity of items you have will determine where you end up selling. If there’s an antique fair, flea market or other open marketplace near you, you can try your luck there—as long as you know what your item is worth.
You could also approach a local antique dealer or shop about purchasing your piece.
Of course, the Internet opens up your pool of prospective buyers, and if your item is valuable enough that shipping would be worth the cost to a buyer, you can list it on multiple sites online.
Remember that more listings means more potential buyers AND more conversations seeking clarity, asking for more pictures, negotiations, etc.
For higher-end furniture and furnishings, designers (including myself) love:
For a broader range of item types and price points, check out any of the following sites:
Start with a quick search for items similar to yours to see what kind of results you get, indicating how you should price and how well pieces are selling.
If you’re in New York or New Jersey and want to get rid of lots of furniture at once, consider Staten Island’s Every Thing Goes. Their mission is to keep things out of landfills, and they’ll make a flat-rate offer by lot.
Also, get clear BEFORE you post with whether you are comfortable with local pick ups.
Some police departments have set up a designated area outside their stations so people can meet there to transact deals arranged online. If your buyer is local, this is a fantastic solution for all but the largest items.
STEP 4: IF YOU’RE HIRING SOMEONE TO SELL IT
If you want to outsource the sale of your antique furniture, the best way is to find a reputable auction house or consignment shop.
To find registered auction houses and dealers, search the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America site or the Antiques Dealers Association of America.
Some states also have their own dealer associations, so do an online search to see what’s available in your area.
To find the best local consignment and thrift stores in your area, search the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. Just enter your zip code or city and state, and you’ll get a list of shops near you.
Either way, many of the tips we shared last week for vetting an estate sale company apply when you’re looking for auction houses or consignment shops that work honestly and fairly:
- Seek out experience: Hire a company that knows what they’re doing and has a robust network of buyers.
- Get referrals: If you know people who have sold items through an auction house or on consignment before, ask about their experience, good or bad. Even if they can’t refer a specific company near you, they can share their learnings.
- Read reviews: As always, take them with a grain of salt, but it’s helpful to get a sense of whether the buyers and sellers are happy with the interactions they’ve had with a company.
- Check out their marketing: You want a company that knows how and where to market the items they’re selling, so ask about their marketing strategy and check out recent examples online.
- Understand the post-sale process: Look for companies who will stand by you and help you navigate any issues that could arise with the buyer post-sale.
STEP 5: IF ALL ELSE FAILS … DONATE
Decide ahead of time how much time and energy you’re willing to invest in selling an item—especially if you’re doing the legwork yourself.
If you have to spend six months selling it and you’ll earn $1,000 for all that effort, is 180 days of storing the item and fielding inquires worth the $1k to you?
Only you know the answer to that.
No one else can tell you where to draw the line on what you’re willing to deal with and what you’re not, so it’s important to draw that line BEFORE making any other decisions.
If you’re ready to donate, here are a few national organizations that will pick up your used furniture for free:
Of course, you can also search Google to find local donation or recycling centers closer to home.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If your garage, attic, and basement are brimming with would-be treasures, there are many options for selling them in a responsible way that saves you time and puts money in your pocket.
For antique pieces, start with an appraisal—but choose your appraiser wisely.
Then seek out reputable marketplaces (if you’re selling directly) or auction houses, dealers, and consignment shops (if you’re hiring someone to sell on your behalf).
Whatever doesn’t sell can get donated. There are plenty of national and local charities that would love any functional furniture that online buyers don’t purchase.
We don’t sell or trade antiques currently, but we can certainly help and advise you during a deep dive coaching call—just sign up here and you can schedule a call with Andrew.