7 Things Pro Flippers Always Look for When They’re Buying Secondhand Furniture

published Apr 25, 2022
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Are you eyeing your first-ever furniture flip project, but feeling intimidated about the process and wondering where to start? Make your way through our starter pack. This content was created independently by our editorial team and generously underwritten by the Toyota Corolla Cross.

Okay, so you’ve decided to start flipping furniture. You’ve invested in primers, paints, and sealers, and you’ve picked up a cordless drill and screwdriver. Now all you need is the merchandise. But with so many options cluttering thrift stores, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace, figuring out what’s worth your while can be a daunting task. 

To make the search easier, we turned to a few of our favorite expert flippers to hear how they decide what to snag. These are the seven things they keep in mind whenever they’re hunting for items to purchase (and eventually turn into a profit). 

It’s made of solid wood. 

One of the best indicators of a flip-worthy piece is solid wood, a material that can be refinished for a warm and natural end result or painted in any color you can imagine. It’s durable, which means it will live a long life in your home — or attract buyers, whatever your aim is. And who can resist an organic grain pattern? Just make sure to check for pests before you take it home — lumber-gnawing woodworms will make a snack out of your furniture and any other wood in your place, so you definitely don’t want to let them hitch a ride. Keep an eye out for fresh holes in the wood, measuring approximately 2 millimeters; these may also have dust surrounding them. If you spot them, leave the piece behind.

How can you tell if you’re looking at solid wood? First, try to do a little lift. Real wood is heavy, so this will give you a pretty good indication. Then, look at the whole piece. If the grain on the underside or insides of the furniture is the same grain pattern as what’s on the outside of the piece, it’s wood. If you see a textured surface, you’re probably looking at veneer over particle board or MDF.

It has quality joinery.

When you’re inspecting a nightstand or dresser, pull out the drawers to see what kind of joints you’re working with. Dovetail joints are a sign of sturdy craftsmanship, while Knapp joints, also known as pin-and-cove, are something of a holy grail. “This joinery was only used for a short period in the 1800s when furniture machines started using dovetail drawer joinery, which was easier to mass produce,” says Grace Elletson. “Yes, there may be a local carpenter here and there who can produce masterful pin-and-cove joinery in the present day, but typically, when you see these you’ve found something special.”

By and large, a piece that meets this criteria and the one above will be a smart investment. “The easiest items to make over are those that don’t have a ton of damage and just need modernization,” says Elletson. “I’m thinking of a ‘90s dresser — solid wood with dovetail drawers — that just needs a modern paint color and a change of hardware. You’d be amazed at how much of a difference hardware can make.” 

It’s in a condition that can be saved. 

While the flipping hustle involves fixing and reviving old furniture, you don’t want to sink countless hours and funds into a piece that ends up being unsalvageable. So you should double-check that your item of choice can be DIY material before taking it home. “I am never bashful about inspecting a piece before I load it into my car,” says Elletson. “You’d be surprised how many people are trying to ditch furniture with the smell of cigarette smoke without telling you it’s a stinky mess.” 

Some damage is an easy fix, like tending to chipped or peeling veneer. Other flaws, like broken drawer bottoms or slides, can call for a lot more elbow grease.

It’s on trend. 

Clean lines are very of-the-moment, so Elletson keeps an eye out for pieces that would be easy to update. “I’ll look for ways to make a piece more modern,” says Elletson. “Maybe I pull off trim to create a straighter line, or cut off the legs entirely to build a more contemporary base.”

The obsession with mid-century modern isn’t going anywhere soon, so you might also be on the lookout for pieces from this era or recalling this style. “I almost jump out of the car whenever we see a piece with those iconic tapered legs,” says Lindsey Dobson, who flips pieces she finds on the street with her husband, Tyler. “Mid-century items tend to sell for the highest profit as well.”

It has some vintage character.

All that said, you can’t ignore a period detail. “Unique pieces with ornate details, which you see on furniture from the 1920s to the 1960s, always sell well because they have a special design element you don’t see in modern, mass-produced furniture,” says Elletson. “I always look for unique wooden decals or special carvings that just make a piece pop and could be beautifully accentuated by paint.” 

It’s a bargain.

If you’re planning on selling a furniture piece, while you don’t have to stick to a strict price point, it’s smart to calculate a profit margin so that you’re getting good returns for your time, money, and energy. When you’re just starting out, you might want to experiment with smaller pieces. 

“Search Facebook Marketplace to get an idea [of how much things go for] before you start shopping,” Claire Berard suggests. “Have an idea of how much time that piece is going to take for you to paint, and how much your paint and supplies are going to cost you.” As you get more experience, you’ll develop a sixth sense for this. 

It has a got-to-have-it vibe. 

The last thing professional flippers want on their hands is a dud — a piece that they just can’t sell for a profit.

This factor is hard to predict, but you’ll start to notice that some furniture types are more popular than others. Our experts unanimously agree that dressers and nightstands fly off the proverbial shelves, while clunkier items like armoires, bed frames, and hutches are harder to move.

“Think about the first few pieces you would buy if you had to start all over,” says Clinton Avery Tharp. “You’d need a sofa, coffee table, dresser, desk, dining table, and so on. These pieces are full of utility.”