Beginners Guide to Buying High-Quality Furniture to Flip

Hey friends! One of the most commonly asked questions I get is “would this piece make a good flip?” There is so much to consider when buying used furniture it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at times. As a beginner, finding high-quality furniture at a bargain was something I really struggled with.

I picked my fair share of poor quality pieces. I rushed to buy something because I was eager to paint and it’s turned into a disaster.  Over time I learned what to look for. These 5 tips will help you pick quality pieces to refinish, every time.

1. Overall Construction 

dresser broken

The first part to look at when buying a piece to flip is the overall construction of the piece. Is it well-built? Or is it particleboard held together by staples and glue?

Even if you are the most talented artist out there, a flimsy dresser will still just be a nicely painted flimsy dresser.

So how do you distinguish the treasure from the trash? Here are the key signs to look for.

The Weight 

This is a simple but effective way to tell the quality of a piece. In general, if it’s very heavy it’s probably well made. Heavy = Solid wood. 

The Material 

Take a look at the top. If you see a thin piece covering the top, that’s veneer. Veneer is a very thin layer of real wood. It sits on top of another type of wood, either hardwood, plywood or particleboard.

Many Mid Century pieces were made with veneer and if it’s in good shape, it may be worth it to refinish. Especially if it has hardwood underneath. The veneer can be sanded and restained as long as you are careful to not sand through the veneer. 

Look closely at the wood grain. If it has no texture to it, its likely laminate. Laminate is printed to look like wood. It cannot be restained with traditional stain. It is the cheapest furniture to construct and the material I usually avoid.

The Drawers 

Dovetail drawers

Inspect the joints on the drawers. The joints are where two pieces of wood come together. 

The absolute best joints are dovetailed, and mortice and tenon. Screwed joints are also solid. Keep away from the flimsy joints that come apart easily, like staples.


The Brand

After taking a look at the joints, look on the inside of the drawers for any distinguishable markings. Also, look on the back or the underside of the piece.

A quick google search of the brand can give you a little history on the piece and help you understand its value. However, don’t rely soley on labels. They can wear off over time and many quality items never had markings at all.

2. Condition of the Piece

The condition of the item is so important. The number of repairs each person is willing to do varies based on skill level to personal preference.

wooden buffet

I’ve fallen in love with furniture that had broken legs, missing chunks of veneer or other major problems. During the repairs, I was thinking I’d rather be painting. 

Now I only select furniture that is in good condition. Check that there are no broken legs, or huge cracks, or other structural damage. Make sure the drawers glide smoothly. If they don’t, I make sure all the tracks are included and all it needs is a simple screw to fix it.

Is all the hardware included? If it’s not, factor in the cost of replacement hardware and how easy it will be to find it.

Smell the furniture. Yes, smell it. Is there an unusual odor? Smoke and pet odors are very difficult to get rid of. It there is a strong smell,  I’d recommend finding a different item.

Minor odors can usually be removed easily with a mixture of white vinegar and water.

sanding surface damage

Look at the condition of the finish. Are there large chunks of wood missing that can’t be filled easily with wood putty?

Minor damage to the finish is okay as long as it can be sanded down or painted over. These nightstands were covered with burns and scratches, they sanded off perfectly and it was no fuss. 

stained top

3. Style 

Select pieces that are selling well in your market. Browse local buy and sell pages and try to see what items are most popular.

Mid Century Modern is very popular right now. The features of this style are clean lines, smooth surfaces with minimal fuss. To spot MCM I look at the legs. Look for round tapered legs frequently set at an angle. 

Farmhouse is still very popular. Paint it white and it will sell. Just kidding, kind of.

Although the style is important, almost any solid piece can be made beautiful and will fit someone’s decor. Remember that updated hardware can go a long way in changing the overall look. 

    4. Price

Before you even go look at the piece, try to get a gauge of how much the item will sell for.  How much are similar items going for in your area? How much room is there in between the purchase and the selling price to make a profit?

 Make sure you factor in the cost of the supplies as well. For more pricing guidelines, download my free furniture pricing guide HERE.

Negotiate, negotiate negotiate. Especially at yard sales and on sites like Craigslist. They are usually looking to just get rid of their furniture quickly. The worst thing that they can say is no!

5. Time needed

Sure, that piece could seem like a great deal but if you know it will take 10 hours to strip, sand and stain and you can only sell it for $50 you need to pass. Select a piece of furniture that you can charge a fair wage for your time.

This could be the most important item listed. 

Value your labor, my friends. You are running a business and your time is not free. 

Remember that restaining generally takes longer than painting because it needs to be sanded down to bare wood. Painting white takes more time than darker colors because it requires more coats. 

Create your vision for the piece and estimate how much time it will take to fulfill it.

Once you’ve considered everything on this list and found the perfect piece, you are ready to bring it alive. Don’t rush, there is plenty of quality furniture out there if you hold out for it. It’s okay to be picky!

What is the best treasure you ever found to redo? Let me know in the comments! Make sure to subscribe to my email list for more furniture flipping tips and tutorials.