Looking online for vintage furniture bargains? Be careful.
If you're lucky enough to live near a great flea market or antique shop, then you're spoilt for choice when it comes to hunting down vintage art, furniture, and decorations. For most of us, though, the internet is our go-to resource for vintage decor finds.
Online shopping provides easy access to secondhand treasures, but buying sight-unseen can be scary. "I don't do the internet," said Bev Burling of BB French Antiques in Sanson. "I'm a tactile person."
And that's the biggest drawback when buying on-line - how can we assess the quality of something we can't touch? And what should we be looking for to make sure we're not being scammed?
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We asked a few experts exactly what you need to find out before you click "buy."
Label markings: Look for furniture with labels with the designer's or manufacturer's name, as well as stamped or branded dates. These are often found on the underside of chairs and tables; or in the drawers or on the back side of cabinets. And, if you're interested in an art piece, be sure it's signed. High-quality glass, timber and ceramic pieces will often have an artist's signature. Michelle Te Rangi-Day of Manawatu Trading says, "Make sure the seller puts a clear picture of any maker's mark on the item. You don't want to buy an item that you thought was a certain make only to find it's a copy with a slight name variation."
Wear and tear: "Some wear and tear is a good sign. It adds character and value and can be a positive indication of age," says Mandana Dayani of on-line auction site Everything But the House. "Just make sure you can live with those acquired imperfections and that the item isn't seriously damaged. Surface scratches can be fixed, but structural issues are more of a challenge."
What's it made of?: Make sure the item has good bones. Vintage furniture is easy to refurbish with a fresh coat of paint or new upholstery, but there is only so much you can do about cracked plastic.
Authenticity information: Higher-value items or rare antiques should include documentation of provenance. Such proof can include original purchase receipts, documents from reputable auction houses, professional appraisals, or historic records. Not only will these documents prove the validity of your item, but they could be important if you want to insure or possibly resell in the future.
Knock-off warning signs: Furniture by highly regarded designers will be well made with great attention to detail. Replicas are rarely as well-crafted. "Just because it is old doesn't mean that the quality is great," says furniture expert Abe Abbas. "Every era has its share of poorly made furniture."
Photos: Look for a variety of photos showing the piece from all sides, so there are no surprises when your item arrives. If it seems that the seller is avoiding showing a certain part of the item, ask the question. "Don't be afraid to contact the seller," says on-line retailer Patrick Sandberg. "You are entitled to ask for more information, and most sellers and dealers will be happy to provide more knowledge about the item you are interested in."
Measurements: Photos can't help you correctly gauge the size of an item. Descriptions should include all dimensions so you know exactly what you're getting yourself into. Make sure to measure your space before any big purchases to ensure your item will fit in your home.
Know when to move on: If a seller won't provide additional photos, or won't answer specific questions about the piece, it might be time to move on. Sure, we've all heard stories about people who get remarkable deals online, especially on the auction websites, but know the risks if you decide to roll the dice on a questionable listing. "If something seems too good to be true it probably is," says Michelle Te Rangi-Day. "There are plenty of second-hand and antique dealers with good ranges of stock and it's probably more rewarding and fun to make the effort of rabbiting around a shop in person."