Click and Brag: Finding Great Furniture Deals Online
WASHINGTON – Want to know how to work the Web on behalf of your home? Pay attention. Two weeks before closing on her first home in suburban Washington, Olivia Doherty saw an ad on Craigslist for the couch of her dreams: simple lines, neutral color, plush fabric, terrific price. The posting, with photo, went up at 8 p.m., and within minutes of its appearance Doherty shot back an e-mail making clear she wanted it. Right now. Grabbing her brother, she bolted from their parents’ house, jumped in his truck, hit an ATM and arrived on the sellers’ doorstep with $200 in hand. By 10 p.m., the deal was done. A few days later, she scored a pair of end tables for $37.50 each (retail value, $260 each). Doherty, a public relations associate, and her husband, Seth, a Navy petty officer, have a strong sense of style and an equally strong aversion to paying retail, or even discounted, prices for new furniture. The couple and countless fellow cyber-shoppers have strategies for snagging bargain furnishings on the Internet. Some intrepid trollers have filled an entire home or apartment for what it would cost to buy one brand-new brand-name sofa. Much of this nest-feathering is done through sites such as http://www.craigslist.org and http://www.freecycle.org. Another site, newcomer http://www.swapthing.com, relies on barter – a rug for a crib – rather than sales or giveaways.
Shatever the Web sites, the operative words are speed, cash, brawn and “as is.” Those who have never ventured into the Internet world of previously owned furnishings would do well to heed the advice of canny Web shoppers. “If you don’t respond within five to 15 minutes of a post, it’s either physically given to someone or spoken for,” says Amanda Wimmer, whose Washington walkup is a case in point. Her favorite deal is the $200 three-piece white sectional sofa that looks a lot like a $2,500 Pottery Barn model. A counter-height table and two high-back swivel stools in the living room (comparable retail, $570) were free. They came with a set of dishes, all given to her by a seller whom she asked in passing, “Do you have anything else you’re getting rid of?” Another Wimmer axiom is, “You have to go further out for good deals.” A recent 45-minute drive to the suburbs yielded a six-piece art deco bedroom set for $200. The price was so low she didn’t bother to haggle. Used furniture rarely will be showroom perfect. But Melissa Petersen shrugged off a coffee stain on the 8-by-10-foot Pottery Barn rug she bought. “We have a dog. Excuse the visual, but I knew he was sure to vomit on it within the week, which he did, so I was much happier to pay $120 for it than the $700 it cost new.” With furniture so inexpensive, it is sometimes regarded as temporary by its new owners. Last year, roommates Chor Li and Amanda Clemmons paid $600 for a Queen Anne sofa and matching love seat, two wing chairs, a pair of mirrors and a hall table from Craigslist. “We like to watch TV in the living room, and there was always an issue over who got the long couch and who got the short love seat,” says Li. Because neither piece works well for lounging, the women plan to resell the couches and chairs on Craigslist ($400 to $500 for the set) and buy something slouchier for their Washington apartment. Library acquisitions specialist Alicia Jones is such an avid Web shopper that she finally decided to quit imposing on friends with trucks to haul things back to her condo. “So I went on Craigslist and found a van for $250.” Although Craigslist posts giveaways as well as sales, Freecycle is totally anti-cash. The site is about ecology as much as economy, applauded by consumers aiming to keep as many usable items as possible out of landfills. “The items are seemingly ridiculous,” says David Cheng, a Washington “moderator” who oversees the Washington Freecycle group. “They are smaller things than furniture: diaper-related stuff, paint, plastic food containers, old cat food. A lot of people don’t want anything to go to waste.” Attorney Janet Benson Forville says simply: “I love Freecycle. It’s amazing what people want. We have given away extra sheets of drywall, paving stones and a driveway full of mulch we over-ordered.” Elizabeth Buchbinder happily Freecycled high-end furniture she had bought 25 years ago because it took up space in the Georgetown basement she wants to redecorate. “It costs a lot of money to have someone haul a sleep sofa, a very heavy three-piece bookcase unit, a coffee table and end table up a flight of stairs and take it all to the dump,” says Buchbinder, an Ernst & Young national tax principal. “I was much happier giving it to people who needed it.”
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