Everyone wants to save a couple of bucks, but when is it worth it and when should you consider shelling out more than you might want to? When it comes to home appliances, decor, and furniture, you can find a lot of good deals and quality comparable to new when shopping secondhand. But before you head to your local second-hand store, know that some things require a closer look. Buying secondhand is great for the environment and your wallet, but you want to make sure that you’re returning home with quality items.
Thankfully, home experts have the scoop on what’s worth buying secondhand and what you’re better off skipping. Dominic Jaehnke is a Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity ReStore director and Ed Lee is the president and CEO of the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati. (ReStores sell donated furniture, appliances, home goods, building materials, and more.) Bailey Carson is the head of cleaning and senior vice president of growth at Handy, a platform that connects people looking for household services, from handymen to home cleaning. Hear what they have to say about buying secondhand furnishings and more.
Definitely worth buying secondhand: lighting
“ReStore donors often switch out lighting when moving into a new home as it doesn’t fit their style,” Jaehnke says. “This benefits our shoppers as there is such a variety of styles and looks in lighting as everyone has different styles that they are trying to achieve in their space. We also see a lot of vintage light fixtures that are donated, which can bring a different look to a room.”
Don’t shy away from DIY projects either, if you’re not finding exactly what you’re looking for. “For the DIYers out there, it is very easy to modernize old brass fixtures with a coat of regular or textured spray paint,” Lee says. “We often stock new and modern lighting that is half retail price.” And if the lighting isn’t exactly in working condition, here’s good news: Rewiring a light fixture is not as hard as it sounds.
Definitely worth buying secondhand: furniture
“With imagination and a little elbow grease, you can turn a worn but well-loved table, dresser, bookshelf, or chair into a refinished or repainted masterpiece to fit any decor, and at a fraction of the price of a new built-from-a-box piece,” Lee says.
Another benefit to buying used? A lot of old furniture is especially well made. Look for solid wood pieces, which have more refinishing potential since they can be both painted and stained. On dressers, sideboards, or end tables, check for signs of craftsmanship like dovetail joinery on the drawers; on other pieces, you can check for signs of peeling veneer to get an idea as to whether or not the wood is solid.
That’s not to say wood is the only thing you can refinish, though. Chalk-finish paint and spray paint are both versatile and work for re-painting a variety of materials, from laminate to metal.
Definitely worth buying secondhand: cabinets
When redoing their kitchens, a lot of homeowners think they have to either work with what they have or buy new. Not so, says Jaehnke. “Our ReStore has a deconstruction team that works with donors in Milwaukee County to carefully remove cabinets for resale,” he says. “We are often bringing in three-plus full sets of cabinets each week from this program in addition to the numerous donors who are donated partial or full sets of cabinets.” Those cabinets come from homes undergoing renovations, and often wind up at ReStore—or on Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace—for no other reason than the renovator didn’t care for them.
While you may not be wild about the finish or door style either, it’s crucial to note that doors are much cheaper to buy new than cabinet boxes—so even if you get used boxes to pair with new doors, you’re still saving a ton of money. As for finishes, cabinets can be repainted by any patient DIYer; solid wood ones can be re-stained, too.
Skip buying secondhand: appliances you don’t have the full scoop on
When it comes to large appliances—refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, dryers, and the like—don’t buy secondhand before giving them a thorough once-over. If they don’t meet the below standards, skip ‘em, pros say.
“If you’re considering buying a secondhand appliance, you’ll want to make sure first and foremost that it fully functions, so ask the place you’re buying it from to turn it on for you,” Carson, of Handy, advises. “In addition, make sure to check that the connections are all intact—the power cord should be clean from any taped-up wires. If it’s an appliance like a dishwasher or washing machine, make sure the water connections are clear and that the seller gives you all the correct hoses to install it in your home.”
Another thing to keep in mind with appliances is that older models—ones that are a decade old or more—might work just fine, but could cost you lots in energy usage. For instance, EnergyStar has a calculator to help you figure out how much extra cost to anticipate depending on the year of manufacture for your fridge, which will help give you a better idea of what your long-term costs are.
Of course, there are caveats to this recommendation: If you’re able to find a unique vintage piece with lots of character—like a 1940s gas range—it might be worth the hassle to get it up to working order for your own home. After all, with all the wear that comes with secondhand appliances, there’s tons of character to be found, too.