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The 7 Keys to Shopping for Furniture without Getting Bamboozled

The furniture industry is big business in the United States today, bringing in $55 billion in 2005, with estimates reaching upwards of $80 million for 2007, according to the federal Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Shopping for Furniture

Experts recommend bringing a sample of upholstery home with you before deciding on a new couch or upholstered chair.

Furniture shopping is also a major headache for consumers, as it can be just as stressful, just as confusing and even just as costly as shopping for other big-ticket items like cars or electronics. However, while most consumers do their homework before deciding on a car to buy, many walk into furniture showrooms completely unprepared and vulnerable to sales pitches and price mark-ups.

It's essential to know what you're doing when it comes to buying furniture, so read up on the necessary tips below (and send them on to your furniture-challenged friends and colleagues as well) to ensure your next furniture purchase is a wise one.

1. Compare prices online first. The Internet is a virtual treasure-trove of information when it comes to comparing prices, and many consumers are wising up to the benefits of online price-checking.

"The first thing is to look online," said Jennifer Litwin, author of "Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever."

She estimates that 60 percent of furniture shoppers now use the Internet to not only research but also to purchase items.

"It's a pretty staggering number, considering you can't even see or check out the product in person," she says.

2. Negotiate the Price. Furniture prices are often flexible, and experts recommend asking for a 20 percent discount (and expecting to receive around 15 percent off). Price negotiations are common at mid- and upper-end furniture retailers, and less so at chain stores, however, even lower-end stores can throw in better finance packages and extras if you ask.

Further, if the store won't budge on price, wait for a sale. Most furniture stores offer big discounts during three-day weekends like Memorial Day and other holidays.

3. Wheel n' Deal for Extras. Seemingly small things like delivery and assembly can add up to 10 percent or 15 percent of the furniture price, so definitely ask the salesperson to throw these in for free (or at least for a reduced price). Also be sure to get any and all extras, including a warranty, in writing.

4. Come prepared. About six out of 10 consumers wish they could repurchase a piece of furniture because they didn't get it quite right the first time, according to research by the American Home Furnishings Alliance.


Always find out the store's return policy before purchasing any furniture. If the couch doesn't look right when you get it home, can you bring it back the next morning? Are there restocking fees? Or, are all sales final?

To avoid this scenario, it's essential to do your homework before deciding on any furniture. This includes making sure you have the exact measurements of the room (including the door or window you'll need to move the furniture in through), getting an idea of what styles appeal to you by leafing through a few magazines, and bringing color samples of paint and other fabrics with you to the store. You can even snap a couple of photos of the room you're decorating to take with you.

Remember, also, to pay attention to scale. A huge four-poster bed may look ideal in the expansive furniture showroom, but how will it really look in your cozy apartment?

5. Pay attention to the cushions. Cushions, experts say, can be even more important than the actual wooden frame.

"I think they [cushions] are, and I review furniture for a living," Litwin said. "I don't care what these salespeople tell me about the frame and the eight-way, hand-tied springs and all of that. You really want to make sure it's properly upholstered and comfortable."

Cushions, after all, are what will make the sofa or chair soft and inviting versus lumpy, stiff and never-used. Be sure you sit in, lie on and get a good feel for the piece of furniture before you buy it.

However, says Litwin, don't necessarily rule out a piece of furniture because it seems uncomfortable. You can simply take the cushions out of the cover and have a professional upholsterer make you new ones.

"And it's only a few hundred dollars," Litwin says. "That's the difference between a $600 or $700 couch and a couch that might cost $5,000 or $10,000."

6. Don't get fabric protection. Fabric protectors like Scotchguard are not only costly, they're often ineffective. You can easily apply your own later, if you want, but be aware that stain-repellants often contain volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to serious health effects.

7. Don't assume higher price means higher quality. In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission rescinded guidelines for accurate labeling in home furniture, which means that today furniture often carries misleading labels.

"That's an important point to note because they can sell any kind of furniture they want and label it any way they want," Litwin said.

So be wary of buying something just for the label, and also be aware that it's perfectly acceptable to mix a couple of higher end pieces with a few less costly ones.

Recommended Reading

8 Products You Should Almost ALWAYS Buy Used, Not New

How Stores are Secretly Using Barry Manilow to Rob You

Sources January 7, 2007

Top 10 Furniture Shopping Mistakes

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