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Furniture Buying; . . . Things To Consider And What To Look For When Buying New Furniture.

Updated on January 21, 2016

When Shopping For Furniture, Be Prepared!!

Very seldom do consumers visit furniture stores on impulse. Their visits are almost always deliberate visits to look at specific pieces. With this in mind, be prepared.

Have room dimensions, that have been measured and written down, rather than trusted to memory. (Invariably, people who trusted dimensions to memory question their memories at the point that they really want to order their furniture, which causes the inconvenience of having to go home to remeasure, then go back to the store order, or having to call the store to place the order.)

Bring swatches of fabric, or wood chips or carpet samples, etc. from furniture that you're trying to work with at home, and have an idea beforehand as to the color palette that you think you prefer.

If you think that you might want to do some interest - free financing, go to the store prepared with you driver's license and a credit card for proof of ID, and a co-signer, if you think that you might need one to obtain the financing.

If you think that you want to take a cash / personal check discount, be prepared by having the appropriate cash or a check with you, so that you don't have to be running around after you make your decision.

Be Sure That What You're Buying Is What You Really Need

Two things that can become obsolete quickly as far as meeting your needs are patterned fabrics on upholstery, and sectional sofas.

The reason that you see less and less patterned upholstery (with the possible exception of accent & club chairs), is twofold;

1) People tend to become tired of patterned fabrics very quickly, leaving them the option of living with a look that they don't like for years, or getting rid of the patterned pieces much sooner than they had planned, and having to buy more upholstered furniture to replace the pieces that they grew tired of, which is generally a poor move financially. (With solid fabrics, when you get tired of the look, you simply change the accent pillows, giving you a new look with the same upholstery pieces.)

2) Patterned fabrics are typically more expensive than solid fabrics, with the cost going up as the size of the pattern repeat increases. (A club chair that requires 5 yds. of a solid fabric will very often require 10 or more yds. when using a patterned fabric with a wide repeat.)

3) The best wearing and most stain resistant fabrics are always synthetic fabrics, which are less expensive to produce, and will keep the price of the upholstery at the lower end of the range. (Cotton fabrics, for example, need to have the cotton grown, then harvested, then processed, and then turned into fabric, which is an expensive process, resulting in fabrics that cost more, yet are not as stain resistant, and do not wear as well as the synthetics.) (Fabrics are one of the most costly components of any piece of upholstered furniture.)

4) One of the best fabrics to buy for a household that has cats, or pets in general, is microfiber. It tends to have almost no nap to it, which makes it less attractive to cats, because it has less for them to hook their claws into, and it tends to wear exceptionally well and be very stain resistant. (You will see lots of micro fiber furniture in store showrooms, because of its great performance characteristics, and because of its low cost.)

Consider Furniture Function Carefully Before Making A Descision

The furniture that you choose will impact your space, traffic patterns, mood, etc. for years to come.

One example of this, in the living room, is the question of chair and ottoman vs. reclining chair. The chair and ottoman will achieve the same affect for its user of allowing them to relax in a chair, with their feet up, as a recliner will, but will take up much more room. It will, however, give you an extra seat, should you need it, when entertaining. A recliner on the other hand, is a chair with an ottoman that has the footprint of a much smaller chair, when the recliner is not extended.

When choosing a bedroom suite, you need to decide if you need two nightstands or one, and whether you need a media center that matches the bedroom suite, so that you can conveniently have a television in the room.

For dining there is the question of conventional or counter height table, and benches or chairs / stools for seating. (Many people feel that counter height tables are better for the elderly relative that might come to visit, and most parents prefer benches to individual chairs for their young children.)

Remember To Plan Ahead; Allow Up To Twelve Weeks For Your Furniture To Be Delivered

These days, furniture retailers are forced to run their businesses "lean & mean", which means that they are inventorying as little as possible, and doing more ordering, as it helps keep their inventory down, and their cash flow better, particularly when ordering upholstery, where many fabric options are available, and its difficult to predict what fabric options to stock in inventory.

You will find that furniture retailers that do not offer fabric options on their upholstered furniture are much more likely to keep inventory of the upholstery in their warehouses, as there is less guesswork as to fabrics covers to stock.

(People looking for furniture for Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, for example, should start the process in late August / early September, in anticipation of the potential 8 - 12 wk. order time they might run into.) (There's nothing worse than that last moment panic, worrying that your furniture will not be in before your guests start arriving.)

Suggestions & Ideas

There are many practical approaches to furniture buying that make your shopping more efficient, save you money, and eliminate a lot of aggravation.

1) Put your money in furniture that you expect to have forever. (i.e. - Bedrooms, which if bought right, will last a lifetime, and are not commonly seen by visitors to your home, which makes them much less subject to styling trends, etc.)

2) Buy the best mattress and foundation that you can afford, as people truly do spend 1/3 of their lives in bed, and a good nights sleep is imperative to a good performance the next day at work, etc. (Be sure that you buy a reputable brand. and that the "Mattress Re-select Policy" is strong.) (See installment #2 of this Furniture Buying Guide to learn how to buy mattresses efficiently.)

3) If you, like most consumers, like to change the look of your living space occasionally, consider adopting the popular upholstery buying philosophy of not spending a lot on upholstery, so that when you're tired of the look, you can replace the pieces with a clear conscience. (People that spend a lot of money on upholstery tend to think that they have to keep their pieces for 20 yrs., which makes it difficult to keep a current, trend aware look in their homes.)

4) Again, allow yourselves up to 12 wks. for your furniture to be ready for you. (It may, and probably will be quicker, but it's nice to have that extra time to be sure that your furniture will be ready when you're ready for it.)

5) If your order time goes beyond 8 -12 wks., become inquisitive, as this is a strong clue that there is a problem with the store getting the furniture from the manufacturer,

Sectional vs. Sofa, Loveseat Or Chair

The simplest rule to apply when trying to choose between a sectional or a sofa and love seat or chair, asks whether you own your home, or are in a rental situation, and whether the room the upholstery is going into will need to be rearranged periodically.

When renting, buying a sectional will most likely determine the next rental home that you can move to when it's time to move. (They tend to be big, and when considering the size of a room, and door and window locations, they can be very limiting.)

When rearranging their room, many people find that the way that they have the sectional is the only way that it will fit into the space.

A sofa and love seat, or a sofa and chair will be much more versatile, allowing you significantly more freedom when picking the next rental that you move to. (Also consider that love seats, because they are much less in demand, are always almost the price of the sofa, and many people find that it's difficult to get two people to sit in a love seat, with the exception of relatives at the holidays.) (Most experienced furniture buyers go with a sofa and 2 chairs, or two sofas if the room allows, as opposed to buying a love seat.)

Interest Free Financing Is A Great Way To Pay For Your Furnuture, If Used Judiciously

Furniture stores will generally offer interest free, no money down financing as an incentive to buy more furniture, but there are a few things to consider before opting to finance.

1) Never try to finance if you are waiting to close on a home, as the furniture financing can very easily impact your debt to income ratio, and cause your closing to be delayed, or fall through altogether. (I've seen this happen many times)

2) Generally, interest free financing will be offered as an alternative to discounts on the furniture, as the furniture retailer has to pay a percentage to the finance company for the privilege of giving interest free financing, so don't expect a discount on the furniture and interest free financing.(Sometimes, though, the store will offer short term (6 mo. or even 12 mo.) interest free financing along with a discount, because the percentage charged to the store for the financing is less than what the store pays to take credit cards.)

3) Furniture stores can usually be convinced to give a discount equivalent to what they pay to use a credit card, if you give them a check or cash. (Typically 2%). (Debit cards often cost as much for the store to run as credit cards do, so they will probably not receive a discount like a check or cash will.)

4) Most stores will offer an additional discount for veterans, in appreciation for their service to our country, so be sure to ask if you're a vet.

When Buying Case Goods (Wooden Furniture) Don't Be Afraid Of Veneers

If you're looking to buy a new bedroom or dining room set, don't get fixated on buying "solid wood", unless you have very deep pockets. Solid and veneer combinations can last forever, depending on the quality that you buy, and without the potential warping issues that can sometimes plague solid wood, and without the often exorbitant cost.

For guest bedrooms and dining rooms, depending on your budget, even laminates can be great investments, as they will last a long time, at a fraction of the cost of solid wood, or even solids and veneers.

To Pick - Up Yourself Or Have The Furniture Delivered

The key thing to consider when making this decision, is that when you pick - up from a furniture store warehouse, anything that happens to the furniture after it is loaded in your vehicle, is your responsibility. (Also, keep in mind that if you pick-up, there may be assembly involved, where-as if you have the furniture delivered, it would be assembled for you.) If you have your furniture delivered, however, until the furniture is in place where you want it in your room, anything that goes wrong is on the furniture store. (Be sure that the delivery is an in the house, in the room delivery, rather than a tailgate delivery, where the furniture is simply unloaded out of the truck onto your driveway or into your garage, with the responsibility for bringing it into the house on you.)

Finally, if the delivery crew was good, conscientious and professional, consider giving them a tip, as their job is not an easy one, and they're probably not making a ton of money from their employers.

Be Considerate Of The Salesperson Who Tries To Help You

Most of the sales people that I have worked with understand that there's no long term gain in trying to take advantage of customers, so they've adopted the attitude "Treat customers as we ourselves would expect to be treated." (This is really the only philosophy that works as far as growing and keeping a retail business healthy.)(There is quite an investment in advertising money, marketing and merchandising, to bring a buying customer into a store, and negating this investment by treating a customer poorly in very short-sighted.) (By the same token, should you, as a consumer, feel that you have been treated in a non-professional manner, it is your duty to let store management know of the incident so that they can take steps to rectify the situation)

The idea of walking into a store, where most salespeople are on straight commission, with a phone glued to your ear, and refusing to let a salesperson talk to you as you walk the store, is extremely rude. (Salespeople are generally on an "UP" system, which means that they have to wait on a list, to cycle through the salesmen in front of them until it is their turn again, and for them to have to wait their turn to "Greet a customer", and then not being given the opportunity to help that customer, is very inconsiderate.)

Also, beware of the store's hours of operation, and abide by them. (If a store closes at 6 PM, and you walk in at 5:55, and expect great service when a sales person has been there all day, and is waiting to go home, you may be in for a surprise.) (Be considerate of the salesperson, and the fact that he or she has a life and family too.)

The other action that is very inconsiderate to the salesperson, is leaving a store where someone greeted and worked with you, and then returning at a later date, and not asking for the salesperson who helped you previously.

Remember That The More Specific A Furniture Piece Is, The More Difficult It Will Be To Find In - Store.

Keeping in mind what was discussed above about furniture stores needing to stay "lean & mean", furniture stores are less willing to devote valuable retail floor space to items that are less likely to turn (sell), than other items. (Furniture store success is determined largely by the number of dollars that is generated by each square foot of show room space on a yearly basis, so non - selling pieces cannot be kept in the store.)

Generally, items other than those shown on the showroom floor can be ordered through the retailers manufacturers catalogs as "special orders," but remember that items ordered unseen through catalogs, may not be as they appeared in the catalogs. (They may sit differently than you expected, they may be a slightly different finish than you expected, the possibilities are endless.) Generally, though, when attempting to return special order items, the furniture store will charge you a restocking fee that will be deducted from your refund.(These may run as high as 30%, depending on the retailer.)(Special order items that are not seen on the retailer's showroom floor, are more difficult and labor intensive for the retailer to sell off than those items that the retailer is set up to sell regularily.)

Clearance And Floor Model Items

You can find some tremendous values in clearance and floor model furniture, provided that that the pieces are what you need, and provided that they are in a condition that is satisfactory to you.

Remember that clearance and floor rmodel items are almost always sold "Final Sale / As - Is", and cannot be returned for any reason, so be sure to inspect them carefully, and ask if warranties are still in place, etc.

When they're shown on the sales floor, be sure to tell your sales person that you want them taken off the floor as soon as you buy them, to prevent further issues caused by then staying in the store on the sales floor.

If you decide to purchase floor model pieces, be sure to note any damage to the pieces on the sales slip and have the sales person initial it, and recheck them at the time that you take receipt of the furniture to be sure that there isn't additional damage..


Working With The Sales Person

In the furniture business, there are certain protocols that the business and it's sales people should follow to be successful, and there are certain protocols that you, as a consumer, should follow when working with your salesperson.

1) To be successful, most furniture businesses understand that professional treatment of customers is imperative. Without this professional treatment, the customer will go to a different retailer who will treat them as they would like to be treated.

2) The salesperson should act as your advocate throughout the ordering and delivery process, and be available to you when you need to contact them throughout the process.

3) Don't walk around a store looking at $399 bedroom dressers and complaining that they're not solid wood with dovetail drawer construction. (You're 50 yrs. too late to find that construction and pricing on the same piece.)(Be realistic as to your furniture pricing and construction expectations.)

4) If you liked your salesperson, and thought that they acted as your "advocate" through your furniture purchasing experience, refer your friends to them, and tell those who ask, to ask for him when they go into the store.

Accidental Damage Warranties

There are extended warranty companies that offer accidental damage warranties on the furniture that you buy, for stain removal, accident repair, etc. These warranties will allow you to have the furniture repaired or replaced if damaged by accident.

These companies often offer to give you the money you paid for the accident warranty back as a credit in the store where you bought it, after an agreed upon period of time (often 5 yrs.), if you never file a claim against the warranty in the agreed upon period of time. (Generally, at the end of the agreed upon period, it will be your responsibility to remember to bring your expired, unused warranty back to the store to convert it into a store credit.)

Rent - To - Own Furniture

If you're considering getting furniture on a rent - to - own (RTO) basis, from an Rent - To - Own store and can find any way to avoid doing so, do it. (Try taking the model numbers of the items that you're considering at the RTO store, and going to furniture stores who carry the same items, and you will find that what you pay at a furniture store is much less expensive than what you will pay at the RTO store.) (Generally, you've paid for the furniture in the 1st year of a RTO contract, and still have a year or two left to pay on your contract before you truly own the furniture).

Most traditional furniture stores will offer no money down, interest - free financing on their products, or they will offer Lay - Away, where you pay regular weekly or bi-weekly or monthly payments on the furniture, and when it is paid for, you can pick it up or choose to have it delivered to you home. (This will be much less expensive that what you will pay at an RTO store.)

My Experience

After 27 yrs, in the furniture business, first as a salesman, then as a sales manager, then as a buyer, then as a store manager, I've seen a lot, and have definite opinions based on my experiences.

If you have any questions, submit them as comments, and I will try to answer them as soon as possible.



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