Furniture Flipping: My Ultimate Side Hustle
Jenny is the author of the personal finance site Living Life Loving Us. Today she gives us an inside look at one of her favorite side hustles: furniture flipping.
I have been
flipping upcycling furniture for as long as I can remember. My mom is incredibly handy, and she taught me a lot of really amazing, yet simple skills. We used to sand down and reface furniture WAY before it was considered trendy, turning old throw away pieces in to unique little conversation starters in our home.
So, when my hubby and I needed some extra money for paying off debt (we had accumulated over $120,000 in debt between medical bills and fertility treatments), I racked my brain trying to figure out how to come up with that extra money.
It didn’t take me too long to figure out that flipping furniture was our answer. It was a side hustle that I could not only make a little profit from but also thoroughly enjoy doing!
First, I started out with “practice” pieces. We actually needed furniture at the time which was a perfect place to start. After a few trial runs I was kicking myself for ever buying new furniture in the first place!
We are in a prime time for furniture flipping. A huge majority of the used pieces you can find are quality pieces and cost next to nothing. They’re made with wood and will stand the test of time. They just need a little cosmetic help to bring them up to date.
Ten years from now this will not be the case. Think of the majority of the furniture you see. It is made partly from wood but mostly particle board and veneer, and even those are expensive.
So take advantage of the now, grab a paint brush, and let’s get flipping!
Buying and selling anything can get you in to trouble if you’ve never done it, and even if you have, it can still be a slippery slope. How much are you willing to pay for something? How much time will it take to transform it into something worth selling? What will you sell it for? And how the heck do you even refinish furniture?!
You might find yourself paying too much for a piece, putting your hard work in to it, and not being able to sell it for the price you want.
I’ll cover other questions in a second, but if you take nothing else away from this, please take this piece of advice: If you’re in it for fast flips and quick money, then buy low and sell lower than you first think. Look for pieces that are $10 or less. It’s pieces like that which will leave you plenty of room for profit.
Where do you find furniture?
Anywhere and everywhere. Thrift stores, Yard Sales, Craigslist (there’s a free section too), Facebook, Goodwill, Curbside, etc. You can find furniture nearly everywhere from the garbage to name brand stores – check out the damaged and clearance sections!
One of the best pieces I’ve ever found was at the curb for garbage pickup. I drug it home at 7am in my bathrobe, did some magic, and it’s now our media console!
If you’re just starting out, I would check out your local thrift stores and Goodwill to get a feel for what kind of things they carry. You’ve got to continuously be on the lookout, and there’s no use wasting your time looking at places that don’t usually have good furniture.
Even though you can find great pieces online, right now my absolute favorite places to buy furniture are Goodwill and consignment shops. Goodwill sells their furniture at rock bottom prices. I’ve gotten solid wood, name brand nightstands and end tables there for less than $5 on a regular basis!
As for consignment stores, make friends with some of the employees. They’ll let you know when items get price reductions or when they get a new shipment in. These are normally my larger pieces and priced a bit higher. However, they’re also in very good shape and only require a bit of paint and some creativity.
I find that the world has caught on that people are flipping furniture, and some are trying to get top dollar for their “junk”, so it’s made it harder to find as good of deals online. Stick with thrift stores and Goodwill when you’re first starting out. Can’t go wrong there!
What pieces sell well?
I don’t look at it as much as “what pieces sell well”, but rather, “which pieces can I make the most profit with?”
However, even though a large hutch will sell in an instant, it may not be worth the amount of work I have to put in to get it ready to sell. Remember, your time is worth something.
Large, complicated pieces require hours upon hours of labor. There are doors to take off, hardware, taping around glass, sanding awkward spot after awkward spot. Though, in the end, it is quite satisfying to see what you’ve created, it simply isn’t conducive to flipping furniture for profit. Save those projects for a piece you’ll keep in your home and admire.
Focus on solid pieces with unique features, and mainly smaller items like end tables, coffee tables, and small dressers or nightstands. Occasionally, I will pick up a larger piece like an entryway table or larger dresser, but simple pieces that don’t require a great deal of supplies or intricate work.
The key is that it’s a solid wood piece. You can do all of the refacing you want, but that particle board Ikea piece is not going to be worth your labor to resell.
After doing it a few times, you’ll know what to look for. There is actually a lot to take in to account. How much damage does it have? Is it a quick fix with some wood filler and sanding or is there a huge chunk taken out of it? That will determine how much time, effort, and materials you’ll need for the piece.
How many layers of paint will you need to sand off? If it has drawers, take them out. How are they joined? The highest quality pieces are dovetail jointed, and quality is what sells.
You can flip a cheap piece easily and quickly, but cheap begets cheap. People pay for quality. Period.
How much should you sell for?
This is something that everyone struggles with. There are the obvious things like what you paid for the piece and the cost of materials, but then you need to take in to account your time. Did it take you 2-3 hours or was this one you really put your heart and soul in to?
In the very beginning this was a little difficult because it took me longer to finish a project as I had zero idea what I was doing when it came to selling for profit. However, as time went on I perfected the basics and can now look at a piece and know just how long it will take me to bring it back to life. These days I price my pieces based on about a $25 per hour labor rate.
Occasionally, I get in over my head and a project takes much, much longer than expected. Though your time is valuable, you can’t expect others to pay a premium because you hit a speed bump or two. That’s why I focus on pieces I know will be relatively simple and require a minimal amount of materials.
These end tables for example:
Unfortunately, I don’t have a before picture to share with you, but they were a little rough. They were stained a very red/orange light wood color with layers upon layers of shellac. There were a few cosmetic flaws with chips to the legs, but overall, they had good bones.
I knew they would be a relatively easy project. They were on the small side, had enough detail to make them unique but not add too much work, and only had cosmetic damage.
It took me about 2 hours of sanding and prepping and 3 hours to paint, distress and seal them. They, themselves, cost me about $25, I used 2 sheets of sandpaper at $1.20 each, a quarter of a can of paint and about the same amount of wax.
Both the wax and paint I had leftover from another project. Grand total, including time, I was in for about $130. I listed them at $170, got great responses and ended up selling them for $225!
The point is that you don’t want to price your items too high if you want them to sell, but you also don’t want to sell yourself short!
How long does a project take?
This is a huge variable. It depends not only on the piece but also on your skill level. As I said, I really focus on end tables, coffee tables, and small dressers or nightstands. These items that proven to give me the fewest hassles, take the least amount of time, and yield the highest sales.
A lot of things need to be taken into account such as curvature or details on a piece. Just know that they will take a bit longer to prep and paint due to the detail than say a more square or streamline piece would.
Another thing is the condition of the piece to start with. The amount of damage and whether it’s cosmetic damage or needs some serious work will really affect the time you’ll need to invest.
As a whole, for furniture flips with cosmetic damage only, the following is a pretty good estimate for hours of labor you should give yourself:
- End tables: 2-3 hours
- Coffee table: 4-5 hours
- Small dresser/nightstand: 4-5 hours
- Large dresser or entry table: 8+ hours
Time is such a large variable based on your experience. Always estimate the project to be longer than you initially did because you are bound to hit a few stumbling blocks along the way. That’s how you learn and develop your furniture flipping skills!
How do you refinish furniture? THE BASICS
Obviously every piece is going to be a little different, and honestly, there are tons of incredible techniques out there. There are modern finishes, classic finishes, crackle technique, pastels, painting with latex, spray paint, stain, and much much more.
Why is it my favorite? It is so so so forgiving, takes such a small amount of paint to do a project, and can be done in a variety of ways.
After trying a few of the other techniques I found that this one gave me the best results. Aside from that, it sells! Keep it simple and it will appeal to more buyers!
Chalk Painting in 4 Simple Steps
If you start out with a lightly finished piece or even one that only has a coat or 2 of paint on it you literally have to do next to NOTHING. Dust your sandpaper over the surface to scuff it up a bit and you’re done!
If the piece has a weird texture, damage like water stains, or layers of paint then it’s going to require a bit more work. You don’t want to skimp on that step, even if you’re tempted to. Start with quality, end with quality.
Chalk paint is very forgiving as I said. The absolute key is to do very thin coats. You don’t want to paint a thick layer on but rather brush and spread the paint almost in a buffing motion. This will give you a more even finish.
Don’t worry, the layers dry super quickly and by the time you finish with the piece you can pretty much start painting it again. The piece will tell you how many coats you need to do. If you are going for a more rustic look, maybe only 2 coats. If you want a more finished look, I’ve done up to 4. But remember, THIN COATS!
Here is the fun part! If you are going for a more finished look then you can skip the distressing all together, but distressing is kind of what takes your piece from a repainted piece of furniture to an upcycled, funky piece.
There is so much you can do. Everything from sanding to hitting the piece with chains will create different effects. Unless I’m doing a really rustic piece, I stick to sanding. It’s a bit of an art and is where you can get creative.
Fine grit sandpaper lightly removes the paint and lets the under-layer peak through. While heavier grit sand paper will pull big pieces or chunks of the paint off revealing the wood underneath. Remember, you can always sand more, but it’s hard repaint areas you may have sanded too much.
The final step. This is one that a lot of people skip. It’s not hard, but time consuming. To seal chalk paint the best thing to use is chalk wax. You can find it next to the chalk paint at nearly any store.
To get a good seal it requires 2 thin coats and you’ve got to buff, buff, buff that wax in. Like I said, not hard, but the buffing can get a little repetitive.
Apply a thin layer with either a wax brush or an old rag or T-shirt to the entire piece. Once applied go back and buff the heck out of it. It just rubs the wax in to the pores of the paint making a nice seal.
Though these steps are simple, each one should be done well. Quality pieces sell. Simple as that.
Flipping furniture as a side hustle can be as lucrative as you want it to be. If you have the time and are willing to do a little work you can very easily make over $1,000 a month. Easily.
Personally, I used it as a way to help us pay off debt sooner ($120,000 in medical debt to be exact), and as a way to fill in when my summer nursing job doesn’t offer many hours.
It’s something I can do even with having our toddler at home. I just give her a dry paintbrush, a piece of wood, and she “helps” mommy while I paint. You can make anything happen with a little creativity.
Remember, if you’re buying solid pieces at a low price, or even getting them for free, this leaves you plenty of room for profit. List your pieces a little lower than others you see if you want a quick sale, but always sell quality pieces. Believe it or not, if you do it long enough people will start to know your work and will be willing to pay a little extra for that.
Republished with the permission of Living Life Loving Us.