If you're convinced that the new buffet for your dining room must be vintage, then congrats! You're making a super smart choice. I'm here to help you find it!
These days, shopping is just a click away for almost anything, and that includes finding great vintage furniture. The days of driving all over town to find the perfect buffet is time consuming and a long weekend of antiquing doesn't always pan out. Of course antiquing just for the fun of it is loads of fun. But if you need that buffet in a certain dimension and with specific storage needs, then my recommendation is to shop online.
If you're in a big metro area, then in person will often be as good as online. You have a MUCH bigger selection to sift through. But, I have had amazing success online and thought I'd share my tips and tricks.
There is a Part 2 of this series, so don't forget to check that out too. In this article, I focus on the "where" aspect. But to secure that piece at a good price also requires some practice, so in Part 2 I focus on the "how" to get a good deal.
Let's dive in! A few things will be consistent when you shop online or via app. You will always need to create an account. This is required to save an item you’ve found, if you want to message someone about an item, or you want to purchase. All they want is an email address and password usually. You can also opt out of any mailings they may start sending you. However, note that some of the emails are very helpful. Especially if you’ve created saved search criteria, another useful feature you should always take advantage of. Finding a Henry Link or Dorothy Draper piece can be rare in my part of the country. Turning on notifications can help you get to those fast.
Below are my most successful online platforms. I’ve found reasonable deals. All of these have mobile apps or websites you can go to via a browser on a desktop or tablet. I’m sharing tips on each, so hunker down, it’s gonna be a minute.
You’ll find Facebook Marketplace at the bottom of your main feed in your Facebook phone app. It literally looks like a tiny shop front. This is my first go-to, almost on a daily basis. There are seasonal ups and downs for the items I look for most, so don’t give up. Consistency is your friend when it comes to shopping vintage.
FB will require you to create an account, but you can just create a Marketplace Profile without ever using the main FB feed. One detail to know is that your main feed can be private, but your shopper profile in Marketplace will always be visible. There is a reciprocal rating system for buyers and sellers to rate one another. Ratings cover things like communications, timeliness, fair pricing, etc. Your profile will also be where you keep payment and address info. So if you buy something on Marketplace, especially if it’s being shipped, it can be paid for directly in the app. If it's a local item, I often pay in person and with cash based on whatever the seller's preference is.
To find vintage furniture you should search in two categories, “antiques” and “furniture”. But don’t overlook listings for an estate/garage sale with multiple photos. You can search using your key words, brand names, etc. Keep in mind that not all sellers are well informed about how to write a listing. Sometimes titles can be misspelled, or in Spanish, or Russian. They will show up in the search results but usually farther down, so keep scrolling. If you start to think like someone selling something they want to get rid of you're going to come up with unique search terms. What are all the ways someone could describe the thing you want to find. A buffet, could also be called a sideboard, or even a cabinet, or china cabinet. Different generations use different terms. Always try lots of variations.
Consider joining a buy/sell group specific to your area or subject. Some of them require you to live in their area and you’ll have to answer a few questions. These are groups created by citizens trying to create a community around a specific topic. The person who created the account will be the administrator to let people in or not and police any rules of conduct they create. A lot of people only sell within the groups and don’t use marketplace at all, so although it’s time consuming, groups can be a great resource.
When you search, Marketplace will return results based on a specific locale and radius that you designate. You'll see the city name at the top of the scroll in blue text. You can select that and change the city if you'd like. But if you keep scrolling looking for your thing, you’ll start to see locations broader than your designated radius. Marketplace will automatically widen the search to keep you in the Marketplace feed. Always open a listing and scroll down to the little map, which will give you an approximate location of where the item is. Just don't assume it's in your neighborhood.
On Marketplace you can save your search queries and get notified when something new gets posted, as well as follow certain sellers. There are lots of sellers that are estate sale agents, or “pickers” that find good pieces for people like me or resell to thrift shops. So when you find a seller with good product, scroll down and click on the “seller profile” below. You’ll see everything they have listed currently and potentially recently sold. The review is visible there too and you can “follow” the seller. If you have FB notifications on you’ll get pinged when new product arrives for your saved searches or from a seller you follow.
FB Markeplace is also a breeding ground for scams. I recommend you read Part 2 of this series, where I talk about scams.
I’ve had very good luck on this app. There are tons of people that don’t use any social media and still need to sell stuff. OfferUp also lets you save searches and follow sellers. If you turn on notifications you’ll get pinged when an item hits your search requirements or a seller you follow has new items. I find that OfferUp has less listings overall and many of them are ads. Also with just a few full page scrolls, your feed will start showing things that are VERY old. Once something sells, sellers often don’t delete their listings. So, make sure you check how long the listing has been posted so you don't get too excited about that thing you just found. It could be a year old!
However, don't be afraid to message someone about an older post too. That thing may still be available and sitting in the garage, basement, storage unit, etc. Especially people that are thrift store owners. They often list something once just to get more visibility, but it's actually still sitting in their stores.
Not as many features here, but lots of sellers double or triple list here, so you may see listings on multiple platforms. This is an older platform and in some ways I think there is a generation that trusts it more, so you still may find new listings here periodically. They do have an app now and of course are still desktop browser based too.
In Craigslist you can star pieces you like and come back to them later. If you initiate an email to inquire about a piece, it will take you outside of Craigslist and into your email. I recommend choosing this option to hide your email. Make sure to check your spam or junk folders for the responses though. Since the email addresses are hidden, gmail or whatever email service you use, may think it’s junk mail. So just check your spam and junk folders regularly if you’re anxious to get a specific item from a seller. Sellers want fast transactions so responding quickly is key.
EBay has been around a while now, but I don’t want to assume you’re familiar. As these services have grown since their beginnings. The options and functions of sites like this get more and more complex over time. If you were an early adopter, you're probably aware that Ebay has both auction and buy-now options. The seller makes that determination based on their needs. So make sure to look for both types of offers. There are lots of search criteria options, so test it a bit and see what comes up. Location, category, brand name, age, etc are all viable critieria to find a great vintage piece.
I believe that most of the sellers here are actually thrift store or antique dealers that expand their storefronts to online. You rarely find a single individual offering up a family heirloom….unless they happen to have been past dealers or have sold there in the past. The account creation process is cumbersome so it’s a bit of an investment to actually become a seller. This is important to know because the sellers on eBay are quite knowledgeable. I see eBay as mainly a cross-listing platform for sellers. These folks are knowledgeable and know the market value of their item and how to negotiate. Unless they just want something out of their way, they are selling on eBay hoping to find someone that agrees their item is of high value. Hard to get good deals on eBay with big items like furniture.
With all that said though, go ahead and save your search criteria for items listed locally only. It takes a bit to figure out how to do it, but if there is no shipping involved getting a piece you love may be worth a little higher price.
EBTH (Everything But The House)
Everything But The House is an online auction company that is based in Ohio. They have their own app and website with pretty good navigation. They do large lots of multiple estates and often group their items by type, such as, fashion, mid-century art, jewelry and designer bags….you get the point. You can save searches here too. The difference with EBTH is that the listings are auctioned. That means you are competing with other people making offers. You’ll need to create a login and add payment details to make an offer. When you do make an offer, you can put a cap on how much you will pay for the piece. If someone outbids you, it can notify you to change your bid or you can set it to automatically jump in specific increments for you. So if you make an offer and someone else immediately outbids you, that’s because they have their automation on for their bids.
It’s important to know that all pieces also have a reserve, so if you win, but the reserve price wasn’t met, they won’t sell it because the price is too low. The reserve is of course a secret. It’s essentially the lowest amount EBTH will sell it for.
Like most auction houses they also expect the piece to be picked up within 48 hours. They do have shippers arranged usually and they will share the shipping price up front, if you have an account with all your address and payment details provided. They will also require your account set up before you can bid. It’s a good place to just see what’s coming and what their prices are. As auctioneers they do their research &/or know what the value of items are. If you take the time to save items, you can go back and see what they sold for after the item's auction has closed. It's a great place to learn and develop good vintage instincts.
This is an app & website that estate sale agents can list their auctions on. This is a VERY old app so it’s quite slow clunky, worse than Craigslist, but you can find good deals. You can search by map, by seller or type of product. Each seller, sells in "lots" which have a specific date window when bidding is open. Make sure to read the fine print for each seller and the listing you’re interested in. Shipping is not always offered or the seller my require the item be picked up within a day or two. I find this site most useful for local auctions.
The site takes some getting used to, and requires a boat load of patience, so it's a bit of an investment in understanding its' quirks. Because it's so slow, I suggest doing another activity at the same time, like binge watching a new show!
This website is new to me. When someone stops paying their storage unit bill, the contents become the property of the storage place. They however want their space back, so they can re-list a unit and start getting paid again. Usually only a few photos of the contents are available, so you usually can't tell what's in it. They essentially open the door and shoot a few pics. They don't have time or perhaps permission to actually go through it. If you bid and win the contents of a unit, you must come get it all within 48 hours. I have now purchased pieces from other "pickers" who buy these units. They often don't know what they have with old furniture and sometimes they will deliver because they have the means. If they're buying whole storage units of stuff, they most likely have a truck.
I’ve had GREAT luck here listing pieces from my own garage sale here, so don’t overlook the classifieds on this app. Similar to FB though, often people just put the listings in the feed and don’t bother actually filling out all the details for the classifieds page. So you may need to go through there regularly, or ask someone else that you know is on there all the time, to keep their eyes out for you!
There are new brands and apps cropping up all the time in the vintage and furniture re-sale space. What I've listed here are usually the best for good deals at your fingertips. If you don't mind paying shipping or higher prices, there are other places like Chairish, Rubylane, Kaiyo, Kashew. Make sure to check them out as you shop.
The hunt itself could net you a great cocktail party story in addition to a one-of-a-kind item! So be patient, and happy hunting!