You’ve spent hours cleaning, repairing, and prepping that thrifted dresser. Then even more of your precious time refinishing it and perfecting the final look. When it’s finally finished, you hope to sell the furniture makeover to an eager buyer and make a nice profit.
You post a listing, but the dresser sits and waits… weeks pass and you get nibbles but no serious inquiries. What gives?? How can you sell refinished furniture more quickly, for the price you deserve?
I may not be an expert, but in five+ years of upcycling and selling furniture makeovers, I’ve learned quite a lot. There could be many reasons why your piece isn’t selling; here are 11 tips for what not to do when trying to sell refinished furniture (and what to do instead!).
Not starting with a quality piece. You can be the best repairer and painter in the world, but if you’re planning to refinish a cheap plastic bookcase from Wal-Mart, you can’t expect to sell it for a small fortune. Look for pieces that are made from real wood and have the most potential to turn a profit. If you aren’t good at repairs and don’t have many tools available for use, then buy pieces that don’t have structural damage.
Bad staging. If you’re posting photos of your pieces online, you need to stage it well. Invest in some simple inexpensive props like hardcover books, empty frames, vases and flowers, classic artwork. You may also need a backdrop if you don’t have a light-colored wall to photograph against, and maybe a rug or a section of wood-look flooring if your space has concrete or otherwise ugly floors. Also, be careful of colors used in staging – use compliments and not distractions. If your piece is neutral, add a pop of color with flowers in a vase. Stage the piece to give potential buyers an idea of how they could use it in their own homes.
Bad photography. Beautiful, scroll-stopping photos will help you sell refinished furniture. The number 1 problem most people have with photography is usually lighting. Make sure the room is well lit with natural light if possible (you may want to invest in a light kit if you’re lacking in natural light). You want to avoid shadows or harsh brightness. Also, hold the camera very still to avoid blurriness (a tripod is helpful for shaky hands). Take photos straight-on or at a slight angle to the left or right, but try to stay eye-level with the center of the piece. Don’t have the camera pointed up or down toward it. Also, include more than one photo if you have special details that deserve their own beauty shot (1-4 photos is good). **Below are 4 photos from my local Facebook for sale group that I found in about 10 minutes… (I’m not critiquing the items themselves, just commenting on the photography – and no, I haven’t done any editing on these.)
The piece is too custom. Painting is art, and many painters stand out from the crowd for their custom work and have much success. But if your piece isn’t selling, and every other element in this list is right on target, then it might be too custom. You can either wait for that one perfect buyer who will fall madly in love with your neon orange stenciled buffet, or it might be time to rethink your design. The choice is yours. In general, neutral pieces work in most homes and often sell faster. You have to decide (and maybe experiment with the buyers in your market) to determine where is the intersection of artistic creativity and salability.
Only listing your item in one place. There are SO many places to sell refinished furniture – don’t limit yourself to one or two listings. You need to go find your perfect buyer, chances are they won’t just find you. Join as many local (or semi-local) Facebook selling groups as you can and list on sales apps (beware of scams though!) – I’ve known some people who will list something dozens of different places. (Have you considered selling your pieces in a store or at a vintage market? Learn more here.)
Not writing a well thought out, descriptive ad. Use keywords people might be searching for (farmhouse, rustic, industrial, storage, etc.) and use proper spelling (it’s a “dining” table, not “dinning”). If your piece is a well known name brand, say so. If you know some history of your piece (it was built in the 1920s), say so. Include the dimensions and any other pertinent details that people wouldn’t know just from looking at the photos. Suggest other uses – that your buffet can also be used as a TV console – show people the potential uses in their own home.
Pricing too high. You deserve to be paid what you’re worth, and for all the time, effort, and supply expenses you put into redoing the piece. Pay attention to what others are charging for similar pieces, and price yours even a little higher. But if you start way too high, people may be put off immediately. Test out the market with a piece or two and don’t be afraid to let it sit a few weeks before restaging/rephotographing or lowering the price by 10-15%.
Pricing too low (undervaluing yourself, not enough room for profit, or lowering too quickly). You can always lower a high price, but you can’t raise a low price. If your pieces are selling very quickly, if people are commenting on your ad that you should be charging more, or if you’re barely making any profit, stop what you’re doing and reevaluate. Raise your prices. You are worth it! If brand new plain boring dressers are selling for hundreds of dollars at furniture stores, why on earth are you only charging $80 for your hand-painted, one-of-a-kind, real wood dresser? Your potential profit is flying out the window, and you’re doing yourself and all the other furniture painters near you a disservice by encouraging low price expectations from buyers. Just don’t do it.
Only accepting cash as payment. Cash is king, but there are other ways to accept payment that are convenient and easy to use. Think electronic payments, not checks. (From my experience working in banking for 10 years, do not accept a check. It’s too risky. Even cashier’s checks can be faked.) Square and PayPal are good options, and there are probably others. And definitely receive your payment in advance if you’ve agreed to deliver the furniture to the buyer!
Not offering delivery. What stops most buyers from purchasing furniture, besides price? Lifting and transportation. Remove that barrier and it will be much easier to make the sale. Borrow a truck or SUV. Bring your spouse, friend, or hire a couple college students to help. Wrap the piece so it doesn’t get damaged in transit, get your payment before making the trip, and yes charge extra for delivery.
Not keeping in touch or asking for a referral. Once you make a sale, keep in touch with your buyer. Ask them to Like your Facebook page so they can see what else you’re working on, or follow you on Instagram. Leave some business cards with them and ask for referrals. Happy customers love to brag about their custom furniture (and excellent customer service) and you can gain a lot of new clients that way. Message or email them in a couple months to see if there’s anything else they’re looking for or needs refinished.
I’d love it if you shared this post with your creative friends who sell refinished furniture – it’s quick and easy to click the Facebook or Pinterest buttons on the side of the page. Thanks so much!
– Jen –
You might also like this article…
7 Pricing Tips for Selling Refinished Furniture
Friend, did you hear my first book Amazing Furniture Makeovers: Easy DIY Projects to Transform Thrifted Finds into Beautiful Custom Pieces is available now? Learn all about it Here.
Candyce Blodgett says
Excellent advice!! I’m going to use ALL of it. Thanks!
Thanks so much, Candyce – and good luck! I’m so glad you found it helpful.
Best article I have read on this topic! Thanks!
Great tips Jen! Pinned
Just wanted to let you know that I think this piece is so well written. Lots of good advice and pictures to boot.
Thank you, Bonnie – I appreciate it! I don’t know why I was nervous to publish it. 🙂
Great ideas!! I need to work on my photography and background and where I list it!! Thank you!
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Amy | Canary Street says
This is spot on, Jen! Great post.
Thank you, Amy! Glad you liked it. 🙂
Rose Arroyo says
Thank You for your great advice and showing examples.
Angie @ Postcards from the Ridge says
Great tips, Jen! Thanks for sharing your expertise!
Angie @ Postcards from the Ridge recently posted…Laundry Room Makeover Progress plus Free Printables
Tami @ Curb Alert! says
Great ideas! I always steer clear when I see excessive trash, trash cans and litter boxes in the backgrounds. It’s just no bueno for me!
Tami @ Curb Alert! recently posted…Metallic Silver Bombay Dresser Paint Tutorial
So true- it’s such a distraction!
You hit so many important points! I have been refinishing and selling furniture for years and have to say I whole-heartedly agree with all of these.
Whenever I get multiple inquiries about a piece within a day or two, I know I priced it too low.
Researching craigslist to look at similar items for sale and how much they cost in your area can usually help you set a good price.
This is great advice for anyone to know before they start flipping furniture.
Dean Rollinson-Mcmorrow says
What a great piece! I’m currently eyeing up an oak cabinet!
I’m going to be sure I’ll dress it up to sell on! Since I just got my car (Mariah) I can offer delivery.
Dinning. One of my all-time pet peeves!
Yessss! Amen to that.
Love the tip about charging too little. I did that when I 1st started. I actually think it is only fair when you 1st start since you are likely to make a descent amount of mistakes. But it is one of my big pet peeves when other “makers” devalue their own time because it also devalues my time as well as any other maker out there.
Yes, so true! Thank you for your comment Val.
I thought I knew what the problem was and I was right. I repurposed a 1980’s drab Broyhill dresser in silver. It is beautiful and priced to sell at $185. NO interest what so ever although e1 loved the staged photo and the quality work. Ty for confirming what I did not want to accept. I am going to put it in my home.
Karen Ann Ormes says
Hello Jen, Have a daughter named Jen who loves shabby chic redos and who, incidentally, looks very much like you! She’s a top techie for a hospital system and in her off-time does simple redos for her own home. Thank you for your excellent hints on what not to do when attempting to sell one’s creatively redone furniture! Have only one dual question: What is the hottest piece of furniture that sells as a redo and what piece would you avoid at all costs? Thanks in advance. Karen PS: Guessing “dinning”? anything is a bit too much of a ha ha… ❤️
Jen, Girl in the Garage says
That is too funny! 🙂 To answer your question, benches with backs/arms always sell very fast for me. Unfortunately it’s also really hard to find them for a good price, so I don’t get to work on a lot of them. Old converted radio cabinets do well. Dressers usually do well too – every bedroom needs one, and people are even using them as entertainment centers or in foyers these days! It’s really hard to answer what to avoid – typically I avoid cheaply made pieces, anything with a lot of warped areas (temperature/water issues), and pieces that have very strong musty odors. I hope that helps some!
Karen Ann Ormes says
Thank you, Jen! Very helpful information! On a further note of humor …Years ago, my hubby and I were knee-deep in paint removal w/harsh chems and heat gun—the worst job imaginable —stripping white lead paint off of the heavy, original frame around a very early, large rectangular curved, 3-part English stained glass treasure. Took a year. Bought at auction for $75.00 in the 80’s, then the husband dropped it last year while unchaining it in breezeway to protect from bad upcoming storm—costing us $250 for professional repair. I wanted to strangle him! xo Yikes! Today, the original look of old white lead paint would have been perfect! In the 80’s, we stained it medium brown and tung-oiled it… How quaint we were in the day! Thanks again! Thinking about redoing some of our garage wonders to match today’s style. Look forward to seeing more of your great redos! Karen PS: No need to use your valuable time to respond. Happy Refurbishing! k.
Thanks for sharing your information. . I have just started to refurbishing furniture. I have several pieces to refurbish.
Maury Otto says
Huge turn off is painting over hardware instead of removing beforehand
Jen, Girl in the Garage says
Yeah, that makes it almost impossible for new owners to ever change the hardware without repainting the whole thing…
You are so right!! I’d go to these posh farmhouse chalk paint shops selling a cheap furniture (no dove tails drawers stick) piece with a thin slap of chalk paint for top dollar. I had a garage full of Amish made furniture painful from my divorce…studied techniques and brought the renewed pieces back into my home. I’ve also found quality pieces that just need TLC… question… are customers in the market who are looking for quality furniture repurposed with great care and not a slap of cheap chalk paint?
Jen, Girl in the Garage says
Good for you, Sandra! There are customers who will pay more for good quality furniture, but they may be harder to find. Unfortunately some buyers just want whatever option is cheapest. You may need to market outside your area if you have trouble finding people who will pay your asking price. Try out a few pieces and see how it goes for you. Best of luck!
Excellent points! I’m pinning this one! Thanks!
tina shackleford says
This is a great article and so helpful. I sell my items in a shop near me and I think it is important for the seller to remember that when approaching a shop owner always think how thrilled they are to find you. Shop owners just love finding new chic items for their shops. If you make money, they make money.
Jen, Girl in the Garage says
So very true! Thanks for your insight Tina 🙂
Violet R Anderson says
I took your quote “Done is better than perfect” to heart. When something is not exactly perfect, I take a breath and repeat that quote. Come back the next day, look, and have a darn hard time finding that less than perfect stroke. I remind myself that I am hand painting pieces, and they often look better when a little less than perfect. Thank you. I get a lot more “done” now.
I am stubborn and somewhat of a perfectionist. But I have learned that “Done is better than perfect” is so true. I have messed up many items that caused me both time and money. I would have a “done” project and feel that I needed “fix” that one little thing. And my attempt to “fix it” would just make matters worst. Not to mention my frustration. So I have learned that “Done is SO MUCH better than perfect”.
Jen, Girl in the Garage says
YESSSS that is the truth! Thank you so much for leaving a comment, EM.
Moira M says
Jennifer great article looking to start a side business prior to retirement in the coming year. Great advice across the board .
Melinda Albritton says
Please! Include diminsions in the information if you are selling on line. I have bought several pieces of furniture on Craigslist. If dimensions are not included I pass it up. I have to know if it will fit the place I want it for.
Jen, Girl in the Garage says
Agreed – great tip! Thanks Melinda 🙂
Brooklyn Dover says
Hi. I am new to the upcycling game. I was going through some extremely hard times about 2 years ago, and after about 6 months of the most stress I’ve ever felt in my life, and no outlet for any of it, I was at my witts end. So one day I was out on my porch watching my little boys play in the yard and I got a bright idea. I decided to try and resurface the coffee table my neighbor had just offered to me. I figured it would be worth at least trying to do something with it before they just sat it out for the trash truck. And almost instantly, my stress started to melt away. I was more relaxed than I thought I would ever be again. And I was happy again as well, so excited about putting my own creative spin on something that I would be able to put in the house and show the world. That first coffee table was an instant success too. Everyone who came to my house and saw it absolutely fell in love with it. And I knew then that my way of relief from stress, and my way of gathering my thoughts, and keeping myself grounded would always be in upcycling. Since then, I have completed a good number of pieces I have in my home, all of them bought at the local thrift store. (I’m a thrift store junkie. Lol). But I’d like to go beyond just pieces for the house. I’ve been a homemaker and SHM since I had my boys in 2012 and 2013. I do some house cleaning here and there for extra money. But I’ve been thinking about what I would really like to do with my time to make money. Now I’ve found it. And I want to say “Thank you so much” as I begin my journey into starting a business of my own. Your advice here is some of the best I’ve ever found. So simple and practical, and so spot on. And with just a few tips, you pretty much cover every one of the basics. If you have any other resources you can recommend to me to help me take already good pieces and turn them into hand crafted, one of a kind, great pieces that can be called art as well as furniture, I will be so thankful to you for any advice or other resources you can recommend. And anyone else who reads the comment, I am open to any suggestions from others as well. Anything helpful I can learn so that I can do the best possible work and do the best possible job of selling my work as well. Sorry it’s so long, but thanks for letting me share my story and for the great advice and resources you’ve made available here. You’re the best.
Jen, Girl in the Garage says
Brooklyn, thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment and share your story. First let me say that I am SO proud of you for stepping out and starting this journey. Also I can 100% relate to almost everything you said! I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have a creative outlet to be “in the zone” and de-stress. I have three boys and the oldest two are less than one year apart, so I completely understand how crazy that can be. We’re here to support each other, so I hope you feel welcome in the GITG community and get the encouragement you need. You might have already seen it but I have lots of helpful posts about running a creative business here: https://girlinthegarage.net/thinking-about-painting-and-selling-furniture and my most popular furniture makeovers are here: https://girlinthegarage.net/furniture-makeovers/ Also I’m currently writing an informative post on how to get started flipping furniture which I’ll publish in February. If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email! -Jen