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22: Finding Furniture to Flip at the Thrift Store

What is UP my friends and fellow busybees. I hope you’re all doing well, and are looking forward to talking about one of my favourite hobbies: THRIFTING! Although I have definitely seen thrift stores change and evolve over the last few years, I still absolutely love spending a few hours in an afternoon with my Airpods in, podcast on, and flitting through the clothing racks and aisles of a thrift store absolutely turning the place from top to bottom – because, if you weren’t already aware, that is absolutely the way to find the best stuff while thrifting. You gotta take the time and look top to bottom of every rack in that store to find the best finds.

But, although well over half of my wardrobe is comprised of preloved finds and I have been complimented on more than one occasion about my ability to find great thrifted fashion finds (just a little humble brag), today’s episode is specifically about looking for furniture to makeover at thrift stores and things to look at when you’re debating whether or not to grab it to flip.

I’ve definitely noticed thrift store pricing being more hit and miss lately because I think they’ve caught on that they’re more trendy now and so, naturally in our capitalist society, they want to profit off of that. So I can’t really blame them, although it is almost laughable some of the prices I have seen on some dressers and bigger items in some thrift stores lately. Especially Value Village, which has apparently been recently acquired by WalMart so that would make sense why we’re seeing a shift in some of their pricing structures. But, there are sometimes some really decent prices on their furniture pieces- like the other day I popped in when I was running an errand nearby and I found an old waterfall dresser in pretty decent condition for like $25. So that’s more realistic than the $200 price tags I’ve come across before.

So I guess that means my first tip is to look at the price tag, because regardless of the quality and the condition of the piece, that could potentially be a dealbreaker right off the bat.

One thing I do appreciate about getting pieces from the thrift store is that you have the piece in front of you without a sales associate breathing down your neck, so you really get the chance to check the piece out more thoroughly in order to make an informed decision about the purchase. Realistically, when I’m buying a piece off Facebook Marketplace, I’m asking the questions to the seller and hoping they’re being truthful when I ask about damage or smells and hoping they’re knowledgeable enough when I ask what the item is made of.

But I often end up sending money before I go to pick up a piece so once I get there and check out the piece, the likelihood of me changing my mind and deciding it’s not worth my time and requesting a refund definitely decreases, simply due to my laziness. Which is why I don’t actually look on Marketplace all that much for pieces anymore actually. That, and the fact that people are trying to sell pieces that are “great for a refinishing project!” And listing it at $300… again, everyone’s just looking to make a buck. Whatever.

So when you’re standing there in the thrift store, take that time to really thoroughly check the piece out and make sure it will make for a good flip, not be anything too outside of your wheelhouse, and won’t cause you any problems.

So some things that you're going to want to look out for: number one, and probably the first thing to do because if it's absolutely foul then it could be a quick deal breaker, but check out how it smells. There are definitely lots of hacks of how to get rid of stenches in furniture. You'll often come across pieces that are musty and smell like they might have come from your grandparents' house, and that's not a big deal and is typically an easy fix. But things like cat pee (I've had to deal with that before-- super fun! That's one that tends to linger) and cigarette smoke are the two that come to mind that are a little harder to tackle.

Another big thing to look at initially is the overall structure of the piece. Like, is it sturdy, is it all together, is it wobbling, if it is wobbling is it just because it's missing one of the pads at the bottom that protect your floors or is it because the whole structure is barely hanging on by a thread? That's an important detail that could mean that you need to invest some time, energy and potentially other resources to fixing - it could end up meaning you need to redo the whole structure, you never know.

So take the time, pull out the drawers, look at the piece from all angles, open it up and inspect it, and see if it's a piece that you have the ability and willingness to take on. If it's something you could YouTube or Google and figure out yourself, it could be one you decide to take and use as an opportunity to learn a new skill, too!

Another thing you want to be looking for is signs of damage. Number one is water damage, especially if it's not a solid wood piece because if there's water damage on materials like MDF and pressed board it can make it kind of crumbly, or at least effect it more than a solid wood piece that got wet and then dried, let's put it that way. So again, that can affect the structural integrity of the piece and it might be something you don't want to take the time into researching how to adequately repair it.

Especially if it's already a high price point-- you know, sometimes if I find a piece for $5 and I can tell it would take longer than the average time to flip compared to most other pieces I pick up, depending how full my garage already is with inventory (giving myself a pat on the back because it's looking a lot more sparse in there these days compared to about 6 months ago!) I might take it on if I know I'll get antsy looking for a new project to start while I wait for another project to dry or something.

Once you deem the piece to e in good enough shape for you, we want to look at the piece as a whole and determine A) is it worth the price tag and B) is this valuable and something that I can flip and will be able to sell?

You can obviously get anything that toots your horn, I am very much not against flipping anything that isn't solid wood furniture. There's a strange sub-group of people on the Internet who are apparently aghast when anyone works on a piece that isn't solid wood (or who get personally offended if you paint a solid wood piece of furniture regardless of the state it's in....), but I don't ever hear about those people in real life and I am certainly not one of them, so choose what you'd like and you do you, boo boo. Just make sure you prep the piece properly!

My friend has a bedroom set I'm currently helping her paint that is laminate and she has had it since she was young so it's nearly 30 years old and is still in great condition. Doing a makeover on it is a way to give it a new life and keep it out of the landfill which is the ultimate goal, so it's a win-win! Don't let people bully you into thinking your pieces are 'lesser than' if they aren't wood, my friend.

So yes, solid wood furniture is typically more well-made and longer lasting and could mean that it's vintage or an antique piece which could up its value for resale and some people will seek that out specifically, but personally I don't think it needs to immediately be a No Go if you check out the piece and realize it's a different material. We're painting and sanding and staining furniture here guys, we aren't saving lives. 'Sall good. Do what makes you happy-- it's your business and your life!

Another thing I forgot to mention as one of the first steps when you're checking out a piece is to look at the measurements, because depending on what you drive, this could be the difference between the thing being able to actually fit in your vehicle and make it home with you or not. For this reason, I always like to keep a tape measure in my purse, especially because when I pop in the to the thrift store to see if there's any new exciting pieces out, it's rarely a planned trip and more of a pop in quickly on my way by to do another errand.

So measure the piece, and ideally have the maximum measurements in mind that do fit into your vehicle (or have it written in the Notes app on your phone) to refer to- for me, it's 59" long MAX that fits. Learned that one the hard way. On an unrelated note, did you know that your vehicle will incessantly chaotically beep if you leave the back hatch of your vehicle open if it's strapped down but not properly closed? Makes for a super fun and not at all stressful drive!

If the piece is a real winner and it's too big to fit into your vehicle, there's obviously always the option to rent a vehicle to pick it up in, too. I always like to point out the hack that Home Depot and Lowe's (at least in my area) offer the option to rent a cargo van and the small one you can get for like $20-25 for 90 minutes which is super convenient and a great amount of time to be able to get the piece, get it home, fill it up with gas and return it on time. And, when you get a piece from the thrift store, they often get employees to load the piece for you too which is an added bonus. Great option when you find a large piece you can't pass up.

Before that, though, be sure to ask the thrift store you're purchasing the piece from if they have any delivery options because some do. One that I frequent does offer delivery for $20 and if it means saving me the energy, time and effort to load the piece, unload it and get it into my garage and their timeline for doing so works for me, I'm doing that option every time.

Another great hack.... make friends with someone with a van or a truck. Even easier!

Other things you might want to look for when thrifting and looking for furniture pieces are things that would indicate it as being a more sought out piece, because these are things you can market and up the pricing on it too potentially when you do refinish it and list it for sale. This includes indicators of it being handmade or if there's a maker's mark or papers attached to or on the piece somewhere, take a look for that. You can always Google the maker or company to see how old the piece might be, how much they typically cost, and those kinds of things.

The thrift store is great because sometimes unknowingly you can come across really expensive, sought after pieces that the person who donated it had no idea the value of (and hopefully, the person pricing the piece didn't, either!). This can happen when people pass away and the items of their estate get donated without researching them and people are preoccupied with other things in relation to their passing.

I always keep an eye out for other indicators of a piece being older or an antique, and one way to do this is to look at the joinery. This is the spot on drawers where the drawer sides connect to the drawer fronts--sometimes it will be just stapled or be made of plastic, but other times you will see different types of joinery that might give you some insight.

One that you've probably seen a lot of are dovetail joints, which is when the two pieces are interlocking and are little squares cut out of the material and creates a really stable, solid connection between the two pieces of material. You typically see these on older pieces, however they can be mass manufactured today so it doesn't always indicate an old piece.

But one way that you can tell if it is an old piece is if those dovetail joints aren't super uniform, and you notice that some of the square cut-outs are bigger or smaller than ones they're beside but the other piece fits in there perfectly, this is likely a sign that it's an older piece. This would mean that the joints were made by hand, since they're less uniform like a machine or robot would make them. So when you see this, it could mean that it's an antique piece.

There are two other types of joinery: mortise and tenon, which is more like a piece wedged into another piece that has a hole in it the exact shape and size as the piece that's going to be put into it. Hope that makes sense! This joinery is also replicated today however again, if it looks a bit less than perfect and uniform, that could be an indicator that it is an older piece that was done by hand.

There's also peg or nail joinery and this one is usually indicative of an older piece of furniture. This is where one piece of wood is stuck into the socket of another and that locks it in place, either with a nail or peg and sometimes those items will be handmade which, again, shows the age of the piece. So keep in mind those indicators that you can keep an eye out for when searching for furniture at the thrift store.

My other recommendation is to go early and go often to search for furniture. If you happen to know what day of the week or what time of day your local thrift store puts new items out on the floor, make sure you go then so you get the first crack at the inventory. And if they don't really have a schedule or just put pieces out a others sell, then make sure you're going often so if a beauty is put out, you're one of the first to see it.

Again, it can be really hit and miss with thrift stores anyways, so be weary of your time. if you're someone who doesn't tend to have a lot of free or available time in your day, I always say to try to fit it in with something else you're already doing. For me, one thrift store in my area is in a plaza with a Michaels, Home Sense, LCBO, Winners, Starbucks and Sephora so... realistically, am I ever going anywhere else if I'm going shopping or to run an errand? Probably not LOL except maybe the occasional grocery store.

So anytime I am hitting up one of these places, I will just pop in and do a lap of the thrift store and it only takes maybe 3 minutes out of my day versus making a whole trip out thee just to take a look at the thrift store which may not otherwise yield any results depending on what's there. But that's kind of the fun of the thrift store... you never know what's going to be there... it's all a part of the fun of the chase, you know?

And not that I care about where you spend your money you do you, but if you are someone who shops at thrift stores because you think you are putting your money into the local economy and community and all that good stuff, some thrift store "chains" have been acquired by larger corporations so just make sure that you do some research and look into it, if that's your thing. And often I find that smaller thrift stores in my area, that are typically volunteer-run, are usually the ones A) with the most reasonable prices and B) are smaller so I guess less people go through them because that's usually where I find the best pieces. Just sayin'!

And I don't think I would ever do a dedicated blog post to this because it's fairly off topic, but if you're someone who really enjoys thrifting and looks for clothing and other things at the thrift store too (besides furniture), check out my TikTok account. I'm always sharing my best thrifting tips on there (and trust me, I have a lot... I have spent many an hour in thrift stores as of late). I also like to make videos when I come across great thrifted fashion finds that aren't my size or style and share inspo photos of how I would style outfits with it, and of course share my own thrifted fashion hauls. So if you are someone who loves the idea of thrifting your wardrobe but never know what to look for or how to create outfits from the things you find, I definitely recommend. Shameless plug.. what's new?!

And something you may not know about me… I love little motivational messages. They literally always get me fired up, and I keep a running list of ones that are especially catchy or speak to me in the Notes app on my phone. So I’m going to end every podcast episode with one of those that I have noted down over the years, in hopes that you leave our time here each week feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to take on whatever comes your way that week.

So this week’s Mel’s motivational message is: Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.

Alright, that’s it for now, I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!

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