Used couches are a hot property for buyers and sellers alike. | Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images
The pandemic has people selling and buying old couches like never before.
For Jeremy Adams, a software engineer living in the San Francisco Bay Area, the score was a Pottery Barn sectional for $400 on NextDoor.
For Anne Hersh, it was a $800 sideboard buffet she bought on Facebook Marketplace for $30.
And for Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, it was a $13,000 Roche Bobois sofa set she got for free from a neighbor.
The furniture resale market is having a moment. With people fleeing cities for more space in the face of coronavirus lockdowns, unemployed millennials moving back home with their parents, and boredom-induced redecorating taking the country by storm, tons of people have been selling their furniture, often at rock-bottom rates. For prowlers like Chizhik-Goldschmidt, Adams, Hersh, and many, many others, their neighbor’s trash is their latest treasure.
“It is like Black Friday every single day, where I can just type a piece of furniture I’m looking for into Facebook Marketplace and buy it for, like, 80 percent off,” Adams gleefully said. He’s been redecorating his apartment with used furniture sold by other engineers leaving the Bay Area. “I will probably never buy another new piece of furniture again.”
Facebook Marketplace, the social media giant’s portal for buying and selling used goods, has seen a spike in furniture action over the last few months, the company told Vox. Furniture listings have increased nearly 100 percent since April.
Over at NextDoor, a local social networking service for neighborhoods, furniture sales were up 28 percent in August 2020, the company said, compared to the same time last year. Pieces from Ikea, Pottery Barn, and Ashley HomeStore are flooding the app.
On AptDeco, a furniture resale marketplace serving New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, listings of furniture have nearly tripled since May, said Reham Fagiri, the company’s co-founder and chief executive.
This all spells for victory for furniture buyers, but it’s not a win-win. Besides the inevitable losses for individual sellers, sales at furniture companies could also be impacted, as shoppers who turn to used furniture might abandon retail all together.
“If resale furniture does continue to soar, there could be more of an impact on the retail part of the market,” said Neil Saunders, a retail analyst and the managing director of GlobalData Retail. “Unlike fashion, where people buy a lot of apparel items in any given year, furniture is purchased more infrequently — so if you buy a dining room table via resale, you’re not likely to go out and buy another one anytime soon from a retailer. This is one of the reasons why players like IKEA are looking more seriously at resale and starting to open new concepts as bolt-ons to the main parts of their business.”
The used-furniture market also illustrates which brands do and don’t have resale value — and some of the findings might actually surprise you.
The coronavirus has city dwellers fleeing their apartments — and turning to the resale market to get rid of their furniture
One large segment of people selling their furniture today are city dwellers leaving for the suburbs, favoring more space and cheaper rent.
During the second quarter of 2020, 51 percent of properties seen in America’s most populated metro areas were in the suburbs, according to Realtor.com. An economist at the real estate company Zillow said in July that 64 percent of homebuyers were looking at the suburbs — a stark contrast from the 2010 US census, which found that eight in 10 Americans lived in cities.
“A lot of our friends and neighbors left the city because they were scared of the pandemic, or realized they needed more space when they were under lockdown and were just desperate to get rid of their stuff,” said Chizhik-Goldschmidt, who picked up her new furniture from a fellow synagogue congregant in New York City’s Upper East Side.
Many have argued that the narrative of American cities facing an empty, apocalyptic future because of coronavirus is a huge exaggeration. But lots of former city residents say the pandemic changed their perspective.
Jessica Green, a mother of 1-year-old twins and a fashion retail associate, has been camping out at her parents’ summer house in New Jersey since May. “It was horrible being trapped inside a tiny apartment with two small children,” she said.
Green, whose lease is up in October, decided to let go of her Brooklyn apartment and is now selling all of her furniture on Facebook Marketplace. Her wares include new pieces from AllModern and Room and Board, which she’s had to “sell for pennies.”
“I didn’t want to deal with paying movers and I’m definitely not looking to pay for storage, so at this point it’s not about making money — it’s about unloading,” Green said. “I would rather just post stuff at prices people will buy.”
Green joined a growing list of young people who moved home during the pandemic due to financial or social hardships. In a September poll from the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds reported living with their parents because of Covid-19. Before that, “The highest measured value was in the 1940 census at the end of the Great Depression, when 48% of young adults lived with their parents,” according to the center.
Rebecca Davis recently gave up her Manhattan apartment after fleeing in March to her secondary residence in Florida with her three kids. She convinced her landlord to let her out of her lease and had three weeks to empty her apartment, which was filled with furniture from Pottery Barn, CB2, Article, and Wayfair.
“The hardest part was that I wasn’t on the ground, so I really stuck with selling everything for whatever people wanted to give me,” said Davis, who sold most of her stuff on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.
A lot of the flight has been residents living in cities with big tech companies, where rents are rising as a result. Now that many tech employers are allowing employees to work from home indefinitely, it’s hard to justify city rent.
But people are also purging their stuff and fleeing out of panic, said Michael Solomon, a consumer psychologist and marketing professor at the Erivan K. Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University.
“It’s a catharsis of some kind because it means people can start over, leave a city, not be tied down to an old life, and just get rid of stuff and make a positive change,” said Solomon. “Selling all your furniture can be about a restoration sense of agency.”
Covid-19 is pushing people to redecorate
Just as a natural market of sellers popped up, so too have buyers — not necessarily out of the same sense of panic, but from a homebound desire to redecorate. What else are they going to do with their time?
“You go to your nest — it’s what people do to feel safe,” Solomon said. “Medically, politically, environmentally. Nothing is going right, but people can decorate as a creative outlet that also allows them to exert some sort of control, especially when they can’t control anything outside of your four walls.”
Victoria Lesina Smith, a research pharmacist at Cornell Medical Center and a former Brooklyn resident, recently moved her family to New Jersey. She’s been selling much of her furniture from West Elm, Pottery Barn, and Anthropologie on Facebook Marketplace and LetGo, another resale marketplace.
“A lot of this furniture I got when I had my first apartment, and I felt like I’ve grown from that taste,” she said. “You want a clean slate with a new place, as opposed to designing around pieces.”
Consumers like Lesina Smith, who’ve turned to redecorating during the pandemic, are helping spotlight home-improvement companies as one of retail’s few shining spots in an otherwise dismal shopping environment. Home Depot’s revenue rose by 23 percent to $38 billion from May through July, up from $30 billion in the same period last year. Lowe’s same-store sales rose 30 percent in the second quarter to $27 billion, compared with $21 billion in the second quarter of 2019.
“People are using their time at home to do projects and to make the living and working spaces in their houses more comfortable and functional,” said Saunders. “When stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits were paid, a large number of consumers used those funds to do things around the house, including decorating and remodeling.”
Fagiri, AptDeco’s CEO, said the company has seen different segments in home goods rise and fall along with Covid-19 habits.
“With phase 1 of [coronavirus], everyone was saying, ‘Let me get these things for utility, like organization-type products and bookcases,’ and once everyone started realizing they were working from home and doing Zoom school long term, we saw people buying stuff to make home and work more comfortable, like desks,” Fagiri said. “Now we’re seeing people replacing sofas and living-room furniture because they want their homes to be cozy and to upgrade to better-quality pieces.”
Some brands hold their value while others don’t
The resale market for furniture has become way more sophisticated since Craigslist was the only game in town. Platforms like AptDeco provide shipping and disassembly, while many users I spoke to say they prefer Facebook Marketplace because sellers are real people with Facebook profiles.
Of course, this route isn’t for everyone. Facebook Marketplace and NextDoor are convenient ways to buy items locally or within driving distance, but it still requires more time than ordering something online.
There’s also the buyer’s remorse that can come with shopping in the resale market: feeling pressured to beat out other shoppers by buying something immediately, as well as the lack of returns. Not being able to get a sense of a product is another concern that’s been exacerbated by Covid-19, since most sellers are opting for curbside pickup and won’t let strangers into their homes to test-drive a couch or table.
Not all brands are created equal when it comes to resale. On AptDeco, Fagiri said that furniture with the millennial-favorite mid-century design tends to get snatched up quickly. And even though it has a bad reputation, West Elm is one of the most in-demand furniture brands in resale, Fagiri said.
“West Elm typically retains its value; if you spend $1,000, you can definitely sell it at a 30 percent discount,” she said.
Ikea, Fagiri noted, also has a high resale value. “Many shoppers are willing to pay a premium to buy Ikea used because their furniture takes forever to assemble,” she added.
Meanwhile, furniture from Wayfair and sister brands like AllModern also sell for close to their retail price — they’re not priced that high to begin with, plus they’re trendy.
But much to the chagrin of sellers, expensive furniture has a harder time moving in resale. Lesina Smith has found that her (notoriously expensive) Anthropologie furniture has plenty of allure — lots of views and messages on Facebook — but few shoppers are willing to spend so much on the brand’s home goods, even for half off.
Fagiri said high-end brands like Restoration Hardware and Ethan Allan also take longer to sell on AptDeco, and usually sell for a steeper discount.
“The used-furniture shopper is someone who is looking for a deal and has done their research, and a brand like Restoration Hardware doesn’t have the same type of brand equity to Gucci, or another high-end brand that would retain its value,” Fagiri said. “There’s no level of scarcity at Restoration Hardware, and the stuff is expensive. So with a lot of supply, people want deals.”
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