I take pride in some very strange things. Being able to cartwheel into a pool for example. Or knowing every single word to old commercial jingles and 90’s rap songs. Or the fact that John and I, two righties, somehow made two lefties, which clearly means they’re brilliant (not sure how I can even take credit for this phenomenon, but I do, as well as the fact that our kids are super tall, which is amazing to me as a 5’2″ lady).
But one thing I don’t really think about much is my secondhand furniture hunting mojo. I don’t think I have any magic luck or special searching skills. I would generally describe the key to my process as frequency. In other words: looking often. I regularly look at thrift stores and on Craigslist and on Facebook Marketplace. Most of the time I don’t find anything good at all, but every once in a while I find something awesome. Like this insanely beautiful inlay dresser that’s made by Restoration Hardware and sells for $1800 that I found on Craigslist for $400 (you can read the full story of that here).
So instead of demonstrating that I know every last word to the Left Eye rap in TLC’s Waterfalls, I figured I’d round up my best tips for secondhand shopping success, all of which have nothing to do with dumb luck, and everything to do with actionable things that you can implement to hopefully score some great finds of your own.
Lesson #1: Show Your Interest & Be Persistent
If I stop an analyze how that inlay dresser coup came to be, there’s just one simple thing that made it all happen: I was determined with a capital D. I saw this listing go up months before I bought it. And I loved it. But it was $600 and that was still over my beach house dresser budget – no matter how gorgeous and expensive the dresser originally was. So I waited. And the listing sat there. And it sat there.
Knowing she might be having trouble selling it, I decided to let the seller know that an interested party existed. Even though I wasn’t ready to shell out the $600, I wanted to make myself an option and discourage her from just deleting the listing out of frustration (I know as a seller I’ve definitely done that before). I emailed her saying “I am SO INTERESTED in your dresser but the top of my budget is $400. If that works for you, I’ll gladly come right over with $400 cash and grab it.” And she very kindly emailed me back and said “Thanks, I’m not planning to lower the price just yet but I’ll let you know if I do later.”
Now here’s where the whole determined thing really came into play. The listing sat there for a few more weeks (and I continued to watch it), but then one day it disappeared. And I noticed. And I gasped. It could’ve sold or just expired, but since I already had an email chain started, I decided to reach out to her one last time, just to say “hi, it’s me again! I noticed the listing is gone so I’m sure my dream dresser sold, but if it hasn’t and you’re interested in that $400 cash I can come right over! Just say the word!” And you know what? She said “You’ve got a deal.”
And that’s how this amazing dresser ended up at the beach house. It didn’t fall into my lap. It didn’t happen in a day or even a week – but over the course of months as I kept an eye on it. And if I hadn’t pinged her that first time I never could have followed up that second time because I wouldn’t have had her contact info – and I’m pretty sure this dresser wouldn’t be ours today. So let that be Lesson #1. Have patience and go out on a limb (maybe even multiple times) for something you love.
Lesson #2: Be Vigilant & Ready To Pounce
Ok, now let’s move on to the next one. I really really love this marble topped dresser that I bought on Facebook Marketplace from the sweetest local lady whose entire house was so amazing I wanted to buy everything in there. The entire top is a gorgeous slab of marble and the drawers have little key latches and it’s perfect for storing board games in the foyer of the beach house. I forget how much this was but I think it was around $100 which is an awesome deal since it would be hard to find a slab of marble as big as the one on top of this dresser for $100 alone.
Let’s talk about my hunting routine. I like to sit on the couch at the end of a long day and just scroll through Facebook Marketplace. It takes less than five minutes, and I’d say I do it maybe five times a week if I remember. And thanks to my habit of checking pretty frequently, I happened to see the listing for this dresser within an hour of it being posted. So I was first in line when I pinged her, I got cash FAST, and I got to her house within about an hour, meaning nobody could snatch it out from under me. So upon reflecting how I scored this dresser, it really comes down to being SO READY to make this thing mine (and not wavering, waffling, or taking too much time to get the cash and get to her house).
The thing is, you never know when something is going to be listed, and you certainly can’t be on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace every hour. But I realized that back before I checked Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist with any regularity that I was greatly lowering my chances of finding good stuff. Of course I couldn’t expect to pop on every few months and immediately find something I wanted! I had to up my frequency – even if it just means devoting five minutes a night to it a few times a week. This obviously gives me better chances of seeing more items, and catching them earlier.
Also, get cash and get thee to the person’s house fast! Sellers often observe a “first come, first served” rule and I can’t tell you how many times as a seller that the second or third person who contacted me actually got the item because the first person took too long to come pick it up & pay. So there you go. Lesson #2 is spend a little more time looking for something cool if you actually want to find something cool, and then descend like Cheetah with the cash. Fast, fast, fast.
Lesson #3: Recruit Spies
Ok, let’s move on to the rug in our bedroom. Whenever I see it my brain sings: “I’ve. Had. The rug of my li-i-ife. And I never felt this way before.” Yes it’s the song from Dirty Dancing with a rug worked into it, and yes, weirdly altering song lyrics is also something I take great pride in. The story of this guy is that I bought it locally from a consignment shop. YES! I know! It feels like an extremely lucky find. And it was… but it also clearly has a lesson attached when I look in the ol’ rearview mirror of life.
See, my friend actually texted me a picture of this rug along with some others that she had seen at a local consignment shop. So the first lesson is: befriend an army of people who will text you all the pretty things they find. Ha. Kidding. But really, if you have an interest or a need for something, it never hurts to let your design-loving friends know! They might see whatever it is you’re looking for (secondhand or beyond!) and be able to tell you where it is. Heck they might even text you a picture or send you a link.
The fact that my friend, who is a decorator, knew that I love these big colorful wool rugs definitely worked in my favor in this case (had I not been “linked” to this thing in her mind, she never would have texted it to me). And you can offer to keep an eye out for things for them in return – it really is a nice mutually beneficial thing to do with someone else who loves home stuff.
My accompanying tip for this rug victory harkens back to the second half of my last lesson, which is DO NOT HESITATE. The second she sent it I called the shop, asked the price, got the cash, and John and I rushed over there to smell it (always smell secondhand things guys – it’s a non-negotiable!) and it was in our car about 20 minutes later. There’s way more about this whole rug discovery and our bedroom’s evolution in this post, which also has a ton of sources for things.
Lesson #4: Be Nosy & Remember It Never Hurts To Ask
These chairs are a more recent score that I chatted about a little bit on the podcast (in this episode) and they hail from Facebook Marketplace. One thing I like about Facebook Marketplace over Craigslist (don’t get me wrong, I still like Sir Craig & His List) is that Facebook Marketplace learns what you click. So, much like Pinterest, it can curate a more customized experience every time you browse. Which is also why it’s super fast to check every time I drop in (less than 5 minutes).
Mine has learned that I click on furniture and home stuff, so it shows me all of that stuff first in my feed, even if a weird ceramic babydoll that stares into your soul was uploaded more recently. AND I SO APPRECIATE THAT.
But back to these chairs. I mentioned on that podcast that this listing was funny because it was actually for a large piece of driftwood, but I saw these chairs in the background – yes, BEHIND THE DRIFTWOOD. And I basically messaged her and said “about those chairs – are they for sale?!” And she said yes! The seller even had a large car and offered to drive them to my house since they’re HUGE and it would have been impossible to get both of them into our SUV at the same time.
So the lesson here is: anything in the picture is something you can ask about! The worst they can say is “no, my cute dog in the background is not for sale you psycho” and the best thing they can say is essentially what happened with these chairs, which was: “Sure! I’ll sell them AND DRIVE THEM TO YOUR HOUSE FOR YOU!”
Also, sub tip: whenever something is large we ask if they would accept an extra fee (like $20) to drive it over. It often saves us time/gas/money spent renting a larger vehicle, so it can be very worthwhile in many cases.
This chair story also has sort of an epilogue of sorts. When we posted photos of them in the show notes of that podcast where we mentioned them, a very kind and knowledgeable design enthusiast essentially said “OMG I THINK THOSE ARE RUSSELL WOODARD CHAIRS!” and thanks to the rabbit hole of google I learned he’s an amazing 50’s designer, sort of like Eames (we all know about his chairs! can’t Russell catch a break?!) and THEY SELL FOR THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS on places like 1st Dibs and Chairish. In fact, here’s a set of four currently listed for $3,750 (and here’s another one). HOW INSANE IS THAT?!?!
By comparison, we spent $140 for both chairs (which also included delivery!). So they might be the biggest secondhand score we’ve had yet. Honestly for me it’s way less about what something’s worth or who made it and a lot more about filling your house up with stuff you love. So my advice would just be to sniff around in secondhand spots (in person and online) often if you actually hope to find something amazing – and if you do it regularly enough I’m confident it’ll happen for you! Happy hunting!
P.S. Six years ago we wrote this post about 25 tips for buying on Craigslist, and a ton of them still apply – so check it out for even more ideas for scoring some pretty great stuff. Happy thrifting to one and all!
P.P.S. And if you saw something in the photos above from our beach house or our house here in Richmond that has you saying “where’s that from?” we have source lists for both of those: here’s the one full of beach house info, and here’s one for our Richmond house.