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Furniture and Scambags: Adventures on Craigslist

This is a guest post from Robert Brokamp of The Motley Fool. Robert is a Certified Financial Planner and the advisor for the Motley Fool’s Rule Your Retirement service, obviously someone who knows a thing or two about the smartest ways to spend your money.

I included his post in our blog because I think he has done a great job of summarizing most people’s experience of buying and selling furniture over their lifespan. I’ve shortened it to include mostly just the relevant furniture history.

“Here’s the evolution of my furniture-buying history:

Stage of Life

Type of Furniture

College student Dorm fare, boxes
Single college grad Goodwill castoffs, sturdier boxes
Newlywed Wedding gifts, furniture relatives no longer use
Up-and-coming professional Begin to buy “nice” furniture because we’ll keep it forever
Family man moving to a different house Sell “nice” furniture on Craigslist

Okay, so we have bought furniture that we’re likely keep for a very, very long time. But we’re also selling items that we thought we’d keep for much longer than we did — and getting a fraction of the price we paid. One example: I always wanted a roll-top desk, but I thought I didn’t deserve one until I became a real writer. So when I wrote my first book for The Motley Fool, I rewarded myself by using part of the money I earned to buy a swell-looking cherry roll-top desk, designed specifically to be used with computers. And I loved it…for a while…

But then I outgrew it. I don’t know why exactly, except that I now prefer to sit in a comfy chair with a laptop in my (guess!) lap rather than sitting at a desk — perhaps because I sit at a desk all day at work. I don’t want to come home and do it for another few hours. And the desk also takes up a lot of space, which we don’t want to devote to a desk in our new home.

So here’s my new thinking about furniture: Like clothes, furniture can wear out its style and usefulness. Our tastes in homes and the accompanying contents change; it just doesn’t make sense to pay premium for something we may no longer want or have space for a few years later.

The flip side is that cheaper furniture may not last even a few years. That’s been our experience with the dressers we bought from Target and IKEA. So, for now, I think our best strategy is to buy high-quality stuff used. Or go back to eating off sturdy boxes.

To sum up…What have I learned over the weekend?

You may not keep furniture as long as you think, so it may not be worthwhile to pay a lot or buy it new.

If you want to get rid of stuff, Craigslist works — but you have to be careful of scambags….”

If you would like to read the full text of Robert’s post which includes the scams that he had to deal with on Craigslist, you can do so here.

What I take away from Robert’s experience and observation is that although it does not pay to buy cheap furniture that will not last a year, it also does not make sense to pay retail for well-made pieces that you may not have for the rest of your days either. That gap is the niche that upscale furniture consignment stores fill. We provide the public the opportunity to purchase quality furniture that will last until they are ready to move onto the next stage of their life, at a fraction of retail.

And while the author buys and sells off Craigslist, and is willing to deal with the “scambags”, many people are not willing to expose themselves to the risk of having strangers in their home or the possibility of ending up with counterfeit checks or cash, or they just do not want the hassle of dealing with phone calls, no-shows and the real likelihood of scams. Those sellers frequently end up consigning, for the convenience of having someone else sell their items for them, for the peace of mind regarding their safety and for the security of not having to expose themselves to scammers.

Conversely, many buyers do not want to have to go from one garage sale to the next to the nest, or expose themselves to the risk of going into someone’s home, or in the inconvenience of having the right amount of cash. They love the convenience of having a warehouse of gently-used furniture all in one place, the safety of dealing with a licensed, business retailer and the convenience of being able to use a credit card.

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