Most older Singaporeans I know still frown upon anything second hand ("what if the previous owner died?!"), but whatever, they're totally missing out on the amazing deals you can get on used furniture in Singapore.
By second hand furniture, I don't mean some $200,000 antique suar wood dining table, carved from a single tree felled in a primary rainforest.
I'm referring to ordinary used furniture - you know, basic items such as Muji sofas and IKEA shelves - that people often sell at low prices (or even give away) on platforms like Carousell or Facebook groups.
WHY BUY SECOND HAND FURNITURE IN SINGAPORE?
At this point you might be shaking your head and tsk-tsking me: "Nowadays writers get such low pay meh? Why must buy second hand? IKEA furniture very cheap already what!"
Well, one doesn't have to be poor to want to save money, right? An IKEA Poang armchair may cost only $199 brand new, but if someone is selling a used one in good condition for $30, I'm sure as hell not going to pay an extra $170 for the privilege of taking the parts out of the box myself.
What I like more about buying used furniture is that you can get great deals on furniture that's just a little bit too pricey first-hand. For example, I'm not rich enough to outfit my entire home with Muji furniture <3 but I snagged a Muji reclining sofa for $250, a third of its original price tag.
Sure, it might gross some people out that I sit on something that some stranger has sat on before - God forbid! - but I love the sofa and enjoy it every day, and that's really all I care about.
Finally, I also love the chance to get hold of amazing vintage furniture for cheap. I have very fond childhood memories of my grandma's rattan armchair, and was over the moon to have scored two for my new home (from a lovely old lady in Yishun clearing her very well-maintained furniture to make way for grandkids) for only $15.
REALLY GOT SO MANY GOOD LOBANGS!? SHARE LEHZ…
I got most of my used furniture from Carousell - where else!? The best thing about it is that you can search for items very easily.
While shopping for furniture at a "normal" store like IKEA, I'd have my Carousell app open to search for furniture that I'm hoping to find second hand. After "testing" the IKEA Ingo dining table ($79), I searched for "ingo" and found someone selling a second hand one for $15.
It's not restricted to the cheapo IKEA stuff - you can find more stylish brands like HipVan, Castlery, Commune, Crate & Barrel and (of course) Muji too.
For example, someone's giving away a Commune sofa, another one is selling a HipVan armchair at $80 (U.P. $149), and there are uncountable Muji bean bags / floor chairs / sofas on the platform.
Other online platforms you can try are Gumtree and Facebook groups like Freevo or Freecycle. These don't allow you to search, but if you're an active user, you might be able to snag very good deals (furniture giveaways on Facebook, especially).
I should also mention there are also a couple of brick-and-mortar used furniture stores but they're a lot more expensive than buying "peer to peer". The best known ones are Hock Siong and Second Charm, which both sell refurbished vintage furniture, very stylish but also quite expensive.
WHAT ARE SECOND HAND FURNITURE SELLERS LIKE?
To me, the most important "homework" you should do when buying on peer-to-peer marketplace is to research the seller. Read the descriptions, look at his/her other listings, ask questions - the point is to find out what exactly the reason for selling is.
Most people on Carousell are just "normal" folks looking to declutter before Hari Raya, making way for a new baby, getting rid of furniture before moving house, changing up their home decor, etc. and they are usually happy to tell you so (if it's not already stated on the listing).
My favourite sellers to buy from are expats who are relocating, because most of their furniture is generic IKEA stuff they got for their rental and in very good condition due to the short term nature of their stay.
I also look out for sellers who obviously take care of their belongings. These are the ones who can tell you how long they've had the item, when it was last laundered/maintained, what type of household it's been in (smoke- and pet-free), etc.
I would steer clear of sellers who are evasive when you ask for details. For example, I asked someone about the accessories and condition of the shelves he was selling and he basically told me to piss off and stop asking stupid questions. Dodgy.
There are also sellers who totally overprice their items; I've seen many trying to resell their used IKEA and Muji furniture practically at their retail price. You should definitely check the price of the item first hand before buying.
WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK OUT FOR IN USED FURNITURE?
After screening the seller, there are some things you should think about before making the purchase.
There's the product name, specifications (dimensions), and probably most important of all, condition. What's 8/10 to one person is 3/10 to another, so take the seller's rating with a heaping spoon of salt.
The actual condition of the item varies a lot with what material it's made of. There's a massive difference between particleboard (MDF) furniture and solid wood, for example.
MDF - which is what most IKEA stuff is made with - tends to chip and show its age very easily. You can't tell the difference when you buy brand new, but a second hand MDF bookshelf almost always looks way worse than a solid wood version.
With solid wood, there's always the risk of termites, no matter how good it looks superficially. Generally, items that are in regular personal use by the seller - like a bed frame or sofa - is fine. If it had termites it wouldn't be in the person's house, presumably. I would avoid anything that's too untouched, e.g. old cabinet collecting dust in the warehouse for 30 years.
While collecting the item, you should definitely do a final check for termite damage - the telltale "sawdust" or termite droppings - before paying, especially if it's an old item.
I personally like steel as an alternative material - it's more portable, durable and weatherproof. IKEA makes quite a few pieces - drawers, side tables, cabinets - in steel. Steel furniture can get dented and/or rusty, but the good thing is that these flaws are easy to spot.
With fabric materials such as sofas and mattresses, you'll want to triple-check for stains. Some sellers are not up-front about these things and I've been burned before - think mattresses with huge brown stains (ew). Don't assume that you can get it out in the wash; just walk away.
HOW DO YOU EVEN MOVE SECOND HAND FURNITURE?
Unlike shopping at a regular furniture store, you can't just walk up to the second hand furniture seller and ask for delivery. Some sellers do have contacts and will help you to arrange a mover, but for the most part, you're on your own.
I'm a total cheapo, so I personally try to move anything I buy on my own. Here's how:
Before buying an item, I first research how it can be dismantled. With IKEA stuff this is easy; just Google "[name of product] assembly instructions". Read the manual backwards or watch a video tutorial to see what tools you'll need. Usually an Allen key (IKEA has a couple of sizes) + Philips screwdriver will do the trick.
If it's not an IKEA item, ask the seller to try dismantling for you and/or take photos of the joined areas so you can decide what tools to bring.
This is what I bring along when I go and collect second hand furniture:
-Tools (if exact tools are unknown, I bring a double-headed screwdriver, set of Allen keys and a bicycle multi-tool)
-Yoga straps / rope / packing tape for binding loose bits together
-A small plastic bag or pouch for screws
-Very large bag or basket to contain the items on the trolley
-Bungee cords or rope to secure furniture to trolley
-Extra muscle e.g. spouse or friend (if needed)
I've carried small items such as chairs, shelves, lamps, racks, side tables, etc. on the bus or train, sometimes by Grab or taxi if the item is really bulky (Muji beanbag, rolled-up mattress). Things like tables may not fit in a car, but they can be brought on the MRT.
However, there are times when the furniture is WAY too huge to transport normally.
And unless your Grab driver is cool enough to let you strap it to the top of his car like my dad did…
… IT'S PROBABLY BETTER TO FIND A CHEAP MOVER.
There's a bunch of extremely affordable movers in Singapore that you can engage for a one-off job like you would order a Grab. Off the top of my head, there's:
-Fast Fast Delivery
They don't cost an arm and a leg either. For transporting just one bulky item (one-off), you can expect to pay $20 to $50, depending on how far the van needs to travel.
Once you get home, all that remains is to assemble your "new" furniture, if necessary. (And since you dismantled it yourself, this should be a cinch.) Enjoy!
This article was first published in MoneySmart.