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The Ultimate Guide for Buying Antique Furniture In Real Life

Why You Should be Buying Antique Furniture Right Now got many thoughtful responses, so we’ve decided to give you a special treat: “The Ultimate Guide for HOW to Buy Antique Furniture In Real Life”. As stated previously, there’s no better time than now! However, the process of finding the perfect piece for a penny-pinching price can be paralyzing.

Here are some of places you can buy antique furniture:

  • Donation Centers
  • Estate Sales
  • Antique Stores
  • Auction Houses
  • Online Shops
  • Online Auctions

The best way to buy depends on your personal preferences. Do you prefer to stay in your PJs while scrolling through websites or do you prefer to see, feel, & touch your picks in real life?  For those who enjoy shopping IRL (IN REAL LIFE), consider these options!

IRL (In Real Life) Second-Hand Shopping

From Goodwill to the Market Street Mission, you can find a non-profit donation center within a short drive. These organizations are often best known for accepting clothing and small items, but you can frequently find rock-bottom deals on “antique” or “vintage” furniture.  Each organization and location are different. The quality of goods might depend upon the wealth of nearby towns.  In some affluent areas, you can find charity stores with boutique sections displaying luxury brand items. On the other hand, a charity store might have a small space and therefore, limit the amount and types of furniture they accept.  I stopped in my local Goodwill last year when I wanted a “new” vintage chest of drawers, only to find that my location didn’t sell large furniture. If you are looking for something specific, be prepared to research your store location and to go back frequently. If you are willing to put in the time, you can find virtuous vintage furniture for next to nothing.  Who knows, you could even find a one-of-a-kind-piece! (See How to Turn a $3 Garage Sale Find into $2 Million)

If you are looking to find quality, unique, or antique furniture at a prudent price, try shopping at estate sales. This method offers the best of both worlds to those who like to shop online & inspect in-person.  A professionally run estate sale should offer vetted items for prices supported by research.  The company will photograph and post the items for sale online to pique your interest, and then have their educated personnel at the home during the sale who can answer your questions and maybe even negotiate!  Check out Estatesales.net to find estate sales in your area, and estate sale company pages like TheMagnussonGroup.com/EstateSaleListings to review pictures of objects.  If you have questions about an item, like dimensions or provenance, you can get your answer before the sale via email.

While anyone can call themselves an Estate Sale Company (see A Lower Estate Sale Commission DOES NOT Mean More Money),  you’ll probably enjoy your shopping day most if you choose a pro that organizes and stages home contents in an aesthetically pleasing way.  Most items look their very best in situ.

At one of our Magnusson sales, I met a newlywed couple about to move into their first family home. The two had a big new house to fill and lots of furniture to buy. Over the course of one weekend, the pair was able to find two 5-piece bedroom suites, a dining room table and chairs, a sofa and loveseat, and a couple of lamps that matched their unique style. They bought highquality, name brand furnishings for a fraction of the original retail cost… and have attended nearly every Magnusson sale since then!

Like donation centers, just about every town has one or two antique or consignment stores. However, these stores vary dramatically in the quality and quantity of their product. Some stores have high turnover, and a constantly changing inventory. Other stores might specialize or offer the same types or styles of goods all the time.  The best way to learn about a store is to stop and talk to the attendant.  Antique store owners are generally thrilled to share stories about their business and their wares with you. The Magnussons cheerfully refer to their little store as an “accidental gallery” because it emerged from a need for space to store their clients’ consigned objects.  Expect a store like this to vet and price items competitively.  In addition, some stores will shop on your behalf if they know what you’re looking for.

Shopping for antique or vintage furniture at a live auction can be very exciting. There’s an auctioneer with their gavel, objects coming up for sale, a room full of buyers competing against each other with their paddles in hand and those objects being “hammered down” (sold) in the blink of an eye.  The pace is fast and there’s a lot of action.  It can feel like a circus or theatrical production.  Because of the speed at which the auction progresses, it’s important to carefully examine the items in person during the preview times.

When buying at auction, know that you will have to pay the hammer price (the price the auctioneer announces as the “sold” price) as well as a buyer’s premium for each lot. This is an additional fee (typically 18-28%) that you pay the auction house for bringing the goods to market.

The number of downsizers and estates with nice furnishings has never been greater.  Their discarded personal property fills auctions, estate sales, antique and consignment stores – all awaiting your IRL experience.  Get out of your chair and shut down your computer. Go touch stuff. There are a lot of great opportunities out there!

Want to sell your furniture, art, antiques, silver, jewelry, or collections? Call the Magnussons at 973-425-1550.


Co-Authors: Lynn Magnusson, ASA, AAA and Becky Lipnick, Communications Coordinator

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