A rush of people shopping for second-hand furniture has caused an 80 per cent spike in eBay searches over the past three months.
But not all of those hunting for bargains are looking to furnish their own homes. Some of the rise is down to savvy furniture flippers who are turning old chairs, sofas and tables into desirable pieces — and making a tidy profit.
They say it’s easier than you think to make money by ‘upcycling’ unwanted items listed on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, auction sites and Gumtree. There’s so much out there that a lot of it is available very cheaply (or even for free).
Upcyclers: Brenda Melaniphy and partner Stuart Cooper have made a £6,000 profit since starting their Flip It & Restore It business in January 2022
Brenda Melaniphy, 37, and her partner Stuart Cooper, 38, from Littlehampton, West Sussex, have been turning vintage furniture into profit for a year.
The couple have sold 34 items and made a £6,000 profit since starting their Flip It & Restore It business in January 2022.
They say the key is buying high-quality furniture, not just any old item. They also try to stick to a limit of £50 a piece.
Before bidding on something that looks good quality, check selling sites’ historic listings to see what similar items made.
The pair work on no more than three items at a time, in the evenings and weekends, alongside their full-time jobs at a bank and as an electronics engineer.
‘Look for real wood pieces that are only lightly scuffed and always avoid items with structural damage such as cracks or broken legs,’ Brenda says.
‘When it comes to paint, buy tester pots rather than a can, as you won’t need it all. If you’re using wallpaper to decoupage [where coloured paper is glued to furniture], look for freebies on Facebook Marketplace.’
Brenda and Stuart’s biggest profit was £275 — the result of renovating an Ercol table they spotted for £50 on eBay. Popular British furniture-maker Ercol has been around since 1920.
Furniture flip: A growing band of savvy bargain-hunters are transforming old chairs, sofas, tables and wooden furniture into a profitable side hustle
The couple spent about £50 on paint and varnish and, after a few hours of graft, listed the table on their website. It sold within ten days for £375.
Many furniture flippers learn their skills from tutorial videos on social media websites such as YouTube, which teach people how to upholster, varnish and use a staple gun.
Lucy Ward, brand director at second-hand website Vinterior, says that with chairs and sofas the key is focusing on the shape, not the fabric.
Mid-century and 1970s styles are popular. ‘You can easily purchase a cheap old sofa or armchair with a unique shape and reupholster it to bring it up to date.
‘Using a modern, on-trend fabric, such as a white or beige Sherpa, can allow you to sell it on for much more than it was purchased for,’ she says.
Fleecy Sherpa costs less than £10 a metre on websites such as Etsy.
‘If you’re reupholstering a chair, a staple gun is the easiest way to do it. There are lots of “how to” guides online,’ Lucy says.
Online bargains: Unwanted furniture listed on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, auction sites and Gumtree is often available very cheaply – or even free
Another easy upcycling trick is to focus on small details. ‘Updating hardware such as handles, knobs and hinges can make a big difference to an item. This gives the piece a fresh look, and makes it more functional,’ Lucy says.
Search for hardware at car boot sales and in charity shops, she adds.
Jamie Whittle, from Bournemouth, Dorset, says most people don’t check inside drawers or underneath tables to find out the manufacturer of the furniture, so can underestimate its true worth.
He says checking these details has helped him rake in a £7,000 profit from his hobby. He’s not afraid to get on his hands and knees to look for marks.
Quality brands will often stamp items with initials, dates and addresses.
The 37-year-old sports coach spends three days a week upcycling and his videos have earned him more than 20,000 followers on social media.
He says: ‘My biggest profit was on a G Plan sideboard I picked up for free on Gumtree. I knew it was a quality brand so I renovated it and sold it on eBay for £400.
‘It had extensive damage, so I had to strip it, repair it and reapply teak oil. All in all, it took several hours, and it was a project I could only do after months of practice on other items.’
G Plan is a British brand that has been making wooden furniture since 1898. Jamie sells his revamped pieces on Facebook Marketplace and eBay.
He advises that you should never be afraid to turn down furniture if it’s not in the condition advertised when you arrive to collect it. He says: ‘I focus on solid wood as it’s more sought-after and hard-wearing than items made with MDF or veneer.
‘Patterns in the grain and flaking or cracking in the surface are all signs an item is not made from real wood.’