A Step-by-Step Guide to Flipping Furniture on Craigslist

I’ve archived this tutorial first posted to the /diy/ forum on 4chan, which deletes threads after a few days. Credit goes to the original anonymous author. I’ve edited it heavily for clarity.

flipping furniture on craigslist

This is a project that has consumed the last year for me. My best month I pulled in$3.5k and spent just 5 hours a week since A lot of the business is now done by employees.

To start, my method requires you own a vehicle of some kind. If you don’t have one, then save borrow or hustle the money needed to get a cheap but reliable car or better yet, a truck to start this out with.

Why I Started Flipping Furniture.

Here’s what happened. My wife gave birth to a darling baby girl. I was laid off about 6 months before she was born, and I knew I had to get my ass in gear and make some money.

Then we ran the numbers on child care. Oh boy. For decent child care we’re talking about $24-30k a year, with long waiting lists. You can find it cheaper but it’s always hit or miss with the locals/independents.

I spent a couple months just getting used to being “primary caretaker,” which I think sounds manlier than “Mr Mom.” Then I set out to find something I could do while taking care of the baby.

Financially we didn’t have a ton of breathing room, so my rules were:

  • Up front investment had to be $50 or less.
  • Could not take money out of the checking account to pay expenses for this at any time.

Here’s the step-by-step process that worked for me. This is how I went from having $50 in my pocket and a small truck to a 10’x30′ storage unit full of product and an expanding business with semi-regular workers, clients and  a website + web campaign.

Finding Treasure at Garage Sales

First I searched craigslist for garage sales. Depending on where you live there will be more or less, I live in Colorado and there are plenty during the summer months, and enough during the winter months but in winter they are “weather dependent.”

Take your $50 and look for big pieces of furniture, particularly dressers. Make sure they are in good condition. Dressers made of wood sell faster than anything else in my experience. Avoid couches unless you have storage space and are willing to wait and learn and lose some money in the process; tastes in couches vary and I had no fashion sense so I swung and missed on a lot of these.

Avoid painted pieces of furniture. The paint jobs tend to be atrocious, and even good ones reduce the market significantly. Just about everyone is okay with a wood dresser, and if you’re looking for a used one the finish isn’t that big a deal. In any event, “cherry dresser” attracts a lot more people than “horribly painted blue dresser” (I learned this the hard way too, don’t learn it the hard way.)

Don’t buy stuff with the finish flaking off, thinking you’ll refinish it yourself. Unless you already do that for fun, you won’t, and it costs money to learn if you don’t know how to do it already. You WILL fuck anything up you do it the first time and possibly the 2nd and 3rd time too, so keep that in mind.

So, you have to be a bit picky. Stuff has to be in good condition and above all cheap. At first I never bought anything for more than $10, preferably $5 or so, but I relaxed that to $25 after I learned the ropes a little.

The big thing is you need fast turnaround, shoot for less than 1 week. and BIG markup. I aimed for 10x+, but this was pure cushion; again, you are going to SUCK at guessing what something will sell for, even if you do a little research beforehand. That “It’ll probably sell for $50 if I pay $5 for it” leaves you breathing room so if you literally think it’s worth twice as much as it is, you’re still looking at a 500% markup.

Making a Sale

Okay, so if you’ve been following along you’ve now grabbed yourself a couple dressers and they’re sitting in the back of your truck. You’ve spent $20-30, less than $50 even with gas. Grab a tarp (if you don’t already own one factor that into your expense) and unfurl it over your stuff in case of rain, snow or whatever. You don’t have storage space so this is where your stuff will live until your profits can pay for some warehousing.

Now, take nice individual pictures of these pieces. A great time to do that is right when you buy them. People who do garage sales usually have neither the time nor proficiency to take decent pics of their shit, but you do.

Now go right back on CL or the equivalent site for your area and put those dressers (or other piece of furniture) up for that 5-10x markup. Look around at dressers for sale and compare.

Gaining a Competitive Advantage

Now, here’s the important part. In your ad offer FREE DELIVERY. Caps or not; I’ve measured, it really doesn’t add or subtract from how much inquiry you get.

People will begin to call, possibly wanting to look before they buy. Others will want higher res pictures; provide them. This is a huge selling point for you; people who don’t have a bunch of spare time, or people who don’t have a truck, will be your main customers. Your stuff will sell if you chose wisely and were conservative (I probably get 1-2 things every 5-8 garage sales I visited when I was at this stage.)

Start Expanding

Repeat my garage sale-craigslist-delivery method for a couple weeks and you’ll have enough money to buy a budget storage unit for a month. Go forth and do it. I recommend you start with a 10×10 or so, roomy enough to maneuver without being super expensive. I paid around $100/mo for my first unit.

A goal  to shoot for is to fill and empty your 10×10 storage unit every week. If you can achieve a 100% weekly turnover, you should be making between $500-1000 per week after expenses. In reality this is a rare achievement, especially when you first start; so don’t make any calculations where your month is dependent on you batting a thousand. But with a clear goal like this in mind you will automatically perform better than if you just play it by ear.

When Something Doesn’t Sell

Sometimes you will end up needing to dispose of a lemon. The problem with a lemon is not the money you sink into it; $5-15 is not a huge deal. What IS a huge deal is your VERY limited space. Always remember that it’s easier to dump a slow-moving $10 piece of furniture than buy additional space to store more shit.

Branching out to More Furniture Categories

At this point you can expand into other pieces of furniture. Expect to lose money at first when doing this, so keep that to a minority and/or when you find a stupid-good deal.

Dining tables with chairs are a good money-maker, but you need to get a feel for the size; you’re not servicing big timers with lots of room, so smaller tables are often best.

Chairs are another hit and miss one; I once got a nice, gently used leather computer chair for 5 bucks and sold it for $75 with delivery, so after expenses I earned $55 profit for a couple hours of work. Other chairs just sit there FOREVER. You have to be patient and experimental with these.

Desks like work desks or computer desks are another good place to expand to, but again you need a feel. Cheap, flimsy looking shit won’t sell, or won’t sell quickly, or won’t sell for a profit that makes it worthwhile.

Improving your Hauling Capacity

Now with greater warehouse capacity your next step is make sure you have a tow package on your truck/SUV and buy a trailer. 6×12′ is a good size.

Again, CL is your friend, along with patience. I have a standard 6×12′ that normally goes for $1600 or so. Someone was selling it, barely used. Guy did a lot of work on homes for a real estate investor who disappeared and never paid him. Go figure. He was asking $1200, I said $800 tonight, he said okay. You WILL get a lot of nos, and perhaps some verbal abuse for these lowball offers. Don’t let it get to you. It never hurts to ask.

A trailer expands your options significantly. You can schedule multiple deliveries in the same day and load it all up in the morning. I even use mine to deliver large office orders of multiple desks or cubicles.

Building a Crew

Crews with moving experience can be worth their weight in gold, too, once you have enough storage and product and can schedule everything for one day.

Let’s say you have 5 desks and 3 dressers for the day and you just don’t want to fuck with it. You can hire two guys with moving experience; they will know how to pack the shit, where to put blankets to avoid scratching. This is worth it, I had no idea what I was doing and pissed off some clients this way once.

Now instead of a grunt sweating all day you are just driving the truck and directing your workers; it also allows you to keep working with clients as they work, answer your phone, post ads, etc. Heavily consider this.

For wages, pay above market. I pay $15/hr for my workers; this means you will get a lot of interest in your ads, and people want to make a good impression on you so they will work harder. Don’t go for the false economy of a low wage. You will get people who don’t care and who will slack off the second you aren’t watching them, which is important because you might have to leave them on site and deal with something else.

Furniture Flipping Resources