Tag Archives: Design With Consignment

There’s No Kelly Blue Book: How to Price Used Furniture

9 Jul
Coffee beans and cup

Relevant, I swear.

Ah, the market.  And by market I don’t mean capital M Market, as in Red Chair.  I mean the whimsical market that defines the price of everything, in many cases with little regard to its useful value or original price.  Did you know, for example, that the most expensive coffee in the world is “processed” through the intestinal tract of the civet in Asia?  That’s right; you can pay a premium of up to 1000% to have your coffee pre-digested.

“OK, interesting I guess”, you may be thinking, “but why bring THAT up? Especially given that some people may read this during mealtime?”  The point is, the price of many things is pretty subjective.

How to Price Used Furniture

Pricing used furniture is tricky.  There are some tangible factors like quality of construction, materials and brand name that are fairly obvious.  But the reality is a lot of those things don’t seem to be reflected in the eventual sales price.  Much depends on the whims of fashion, which can be strange and difficult to predict. I mean,who’da thunk monkey-poop coffee would be all the rage?

I have an ulterior motive with this story.  I want you to sell your stuff on Red Chair Market.  And if it’s priced too high, nobody will buy it, and you’ll blame us.  And that makes me sad.  So I did some research to make sure everyone’s got realistic expectations and can walk (or click, I guess) away from the experience with good feelings.

So you don’t think I’m just making things up (never happens), I talked to some experts. First was Karen Schilffarth, a veteran of the furniture consignment industry and manager at Cierra in Bee Caves. Along with some very positive feedback on the Market, she confirmed my great fear: many of the used items on the site are priced too high. Yikes.

The next stop was the fine ladies at Design With Consignment.  Both Lisa and Sharrin have also been in the furniture biz long enough to know what’s what. Among many other pearls of wisdom which we’ll get in to, Lisa drew me a brilliant chart which really explained it all.  I’ve recreated it below with some embellishments that I hope she agrees with. She used the example of those venetian mirrors that were the thing several years ago, but you can imagine any “hot” style or item: chintz sofas, shag carpet, Nagels.

Furniture price lifecycle

So obviously the cycles of fashion are a biggie, but there are a few other factors to consider:

Location, location, location.  According to Lisa, blonde wood and wicker will always be somewhat fashionable in Florida.  Colonial will never look completely out of place in Boston.  And a Texas Hill Country house can probably handle a few antlers.  The reverse is also true; try selling that antler-table in Boston.

Duncan Phyfe dining table

Beautiful, and plentiful.

Supply and Demand.  Take for example, the Duncan Phyfe table. Graceful lines, gleaming wood; they remind me of my grandmother’s dining room.  Unfortunately, they remind EVERYONE of their grandmother’s dining room, because everyone’s grandmother had one.  So while they’re classic and well-made, they’re also quite abundant.  Now that I’ve brought it up, you’ll see a DP table in every antique store in Austin.

Southwestern bedroom

Whitewashed logs, pastels, feathers…the whole nine yards.

Going To Extremes. There’s southwestern and then there’s Southwestern. If your item is a very stylized version of what was hot, it’s going to eventually look more dated and will be harder to sell.

So What to Do?

This is a very long-winded way of providing some guidance to you on pricing furniture that you’re going to put on the Market.

Start by looking at the chart above.  Is the style of your piece in the peak, decline, trough or resurgence? There aren’t hard and fast numbers to the decline and rise of price, but it should give you the basic idea.

In Style

If your piece is in excellent shape, relatively in-style or very classic, a reasonable color, well-made (solid wood, quality upholstery), and especially if it’s a recognized and respected name brand; then start with 40-60% of the original price.  So if your coffee table was $1000 new, start pricing it a $400-600.

“Argh!” you say.  “It’s practically new! You’re so mean.” OK, but remember this: according to Edmund’s, even a car loses 8% of its value the minute it’s driven off the lot. And most people can get 20-30% off at a good sale.

If you just know it’s worth more, price it higher and see what happens.  If you sell it quickly and for your asking price, you can call me and tell me I’m full of monkey poop. I’ll still be thrilled because you’re happy.

Just Old

What to do if you’re in the trough?  Sadly, if something’s really in the trough and it isn’t an artisan-crafted example of the style, you won’t get much at all. I’m so sorry. That said, you could paint it, change the knobs, add some new pillows.  Or you could hold on to it; blonde oak WILL come back someday.  But you probably just want to move it along, so price it as low as you can live with and look to the future.


Colonial maple table

Gorgeous, solid wood…but a “retro” Formica table would probably go faster.

Not everything that’s 30-50 years old counts as vintage, in fact, this category is especially susceptible to the whims of fashion. So for example, the sleek, modern stuff from the ‘50s through ‘70s is on fire right now. The cherry colonial dining set is not, nor is my much-loved white French provincial bedroom furniture.

If you think your piece qualifies as vintage; poke around some stores or on eBay for ideas.  Remember, however, retail stores can and will charge a higher price because they offer services like charming salespeople, delivery, returns and credit card processing.


Finally, if you think your piece qualifies as antique (usually at least 80 years old, if not 100), you might want to have it appraised.  Mention the appraisal in your ad; take a picture if you got a written one.  Price it slightly lower than the appraisal.

Let Go with Grace

White leather tufted chair I’ll leave you with this.  Buy what you love; a quality piece that calls to you or something fun and trendy that gives you a thrill. Think of it as investing in your surroundings and general well-being, not specifically in that item.  When it’s time to move it on, let go with grace.  Your sofa or dining table has given you hours of enjoyment and utility (hopefully) and it has probably paid you back already for its price.  Take what you can get, and use that boon to donate to your favorite charity or buy an accessory for the new piece you’ve fallen in love with.

For more suggestions for selling on Red Chair Market including taking photos, writing descriptions and more, visit our tips page.