How to Negotiate when Buying Vintage Furniture (Part 4 of 4) - Casey Grace Studio, LLC

How to Negotiate when Buying Vintage Furniture (Part 4 of 4)

This series wouldn't be complete without a few thoughts on this point. I have an inkling more than a few people out there may disagree with me, but I'm going there anyway. My focus here is not buying from a big-name vintage super site. I’m focused on how to negotiate that gem you just found on OfferUp, Facebook, or an estate/garage sale.


That is the question! Generally, when buying from an individual - not a dealer, picker, or flipper - I avoid lowballing, especially for brand-new listings. If someone is selling a family heirloom or a failed furniture flip, a lowball offer could offend them. Even if they reduce the price later, they might choose not to sell to you.

Assume that people have done some research, or the item holds sentimental value. I also assume that I may learn more from this seller in person. I’ve often experienced a seller offering additional items they have not listed yet or may be listed in the future. Consider each transaction “a relationship”, even if it’s short-term, being professional and personable always pays off.


Sellers, in various situations, can be attached to an item's "potential". They envision how it could be made beautiful and functional again. Frequently, I come across listings where sellers describe an item as a "great project piece" to highlight its potential value, knowing it will require some effort. If the price is relatively high, they are targeting homeowners who will restore and keep the item. If this aligns with your interests, go for it! But, if you plan to resell later, wait for a price drop. Be patient. The waiting game works quite often.


The key to a great deal you can also feel good about (vs. slimy), is to understand your sellers’ profile and motivations. Honestly, that is a big step that a lot of people don’t bother to take. Most just throw caution to the wind and drop a number that “feels” right. This approach just isn’t very predictable and honestly frustrating. My approach is more nuanced and admittedly takes a tad more brain space, but it works. 


You need to initiate questions about the piece or their situation first. Here are a few I use:

  • Do you need this moved quickly? 
  • I love this piece, can you tell me more about it? Is it a family piece?
  • Wow your listing looks to be in great shape. Is there anything I can't see in the pictures that might be an issue?
  • Is there anything that needs repair?

You're trying to figure out their situation because it ultimately informs their motivations. 


So let’s dive into motivations. Below I’ve outlined 6 motivation profiles that I most commonly run into. I think it’s helpful to understand where each is coming from and what they need from you in this transaction. Note that each one has different points of leverage.

People that are in the middle of a move, or just even planning a move are tired and under time constraints. The decision fatigue about what to keep or let go alone is exhausting. So when people list items for sale in this situation, you can bet the pieces have emotional value. Whether they bought it 5 years ago in a thrift store themselves, or it's their grandmother's buffet, the process it took them to decide and list has value. Respect it. Curiosity, respect and speed are your leverage here. 
Retirees / Downsizers
These folks need the emotional value of the piece acknowledged. They will usually ask what your plans are with it. What you share will be very critical to them. Being very personable here is your leverage. Even if you disclose what you plan to do with it, just make sure they know how much you love it.
Failed Flippers
They feel bad about the whole thing and just want it gone. They also want to recoup at least what they paid for it. The piece symbolizes failure to them. Despite that, here you can get a little more picky about price and condition. They know what they have and how much work it's going to take. Leverage here is empathy, your knowledge about what it might take to make it more valuable again. In these situations, I prefer to pay in person and negotiate on the spot. They will usually take a deal for you to haul it away.
Dealer Shops
If you’re in a thrift or junk store and you find a piece, your leverage here is tricky. Their margins are already pretty low, and their list price is usually pretty reasonable. They are assuming their customer is not a flipper, but a buyer that will love it as is.  But if it’s a piece that’s been there a long time, they may be willing to deal. You can say things like: “Wow I was in here last month and am surprised this is still here, has there been a lot of interest?” You’re just trying to figure out how desperate they are here. Often times a dealer will list a piece they want to move faster on FB Marketplace or OfferUp. In fact, if you figure out from their seller profile online that they have other things you want, you can definitely negotiate on buying more than 1 item from them. But if it’s just one item, that online price is usually their final markdown. 
One of the benefits of buying from shops like this is they often have delivery. So you can do things like offer full price if they deliver. Leverage here is an easy transaction, no negotiation, and you get it out of their way so they can restock.
Estate / Garage Sale Sellers
These are both homeowners and estate dealers. They have a big time constraint. They often double-list the sale on multiple online platforms and individually list some of the pricier items separately on Marketplace or OfferUp, etc. If you can get a response from them before the sale on a single piece you saw online, they will want their list price. The other option is to wait until the last day when prices are always negotiable, but you risk it being gone already.  Leverage here is being able to take it away during the sale, not following up later.
One warning here, these folks don't check their online listings very often if they are also getting ready or in the middle of a sale. So, it's risky. If it's the perfect thing you want, offer full price if you can get them to respond before the sale or just show up the day it opens. Also, pick it up during the sale. These people want everything gone by the end of their weekend.
These are people who do nothing but buy and sell, usually to thrift stores. They hunt at garage sales, estate sales, etc. Often they also buy abandoned storage units. Most pickers want to turn things fast. They will usually provide reasonable offers and they are good at negotiation. If it’s a VERY large piece, they want it gone. If it’s smaller and in great shape, they may be more willing to stick to their price. Pickers sometimes deliver as well, for a fee. The leverage here is commitment. Don’t dilly-dally with a picker, they will sell to anyone who has the highest price and fast. 

The best transactions occur when the price is fair, and negotiating is easy or not even necessary. Remember, people always appreciate when you acknowledge the value of their heirloom. Offering the full price shows that you appreciate its' potential. You’ll have more luck offering below list when you have figured out the seller needs a quick sale, or the item is excessively large or heavy. Spending a few minutes trying to understand the seller is always worth the effort. 

If the price is reasonable and they’ve answered all my questions to my satisfaction, I offer to pay the full price to simplify things for everyone. If there's a significant distance involved, think twice. Your time is valuable and the cost of gas should be factored in. If you comment about that, they may offer a lower price because you have to travel so far....or rent a truck....or ask a friend. Any challenge you have regarding the piece is worth mentioning. Often sellers will lower the price to compensate for your hardship. Remember sellers are attached to their stuff, just like the rest of us. Most would rather have a buyer that will love it, then a few more dollars in their pocket.

Hopefully, this has shed some light on how to negotiate next time you're on the hunt for vintage treasures! Please let me know in the comments if you have any tricks or an alternative approach. I'd love to hear them!

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