Furnish your entire house for $1000: The hidden deceased estate bargains

This article was written by Tom Cowie and published in The Sunday Age on Sunday 29th October 2013.

Please visit https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/furnish-your-entire-house-for-1000-the-hidden-deceased-estate-bargains-20231026-p5efba.html to view the original article.

Amanda Brook, chair of Abbeys Auctions. Photo credit: Simon Schluter

If you have moved house recently and decided to use it as an opportunity to declutter, you will have probably come to this realisation: it’s very hard to sell second-hand furniture these days.

From dealing with flaky tyre kickers on Facebook Marketplace to not having anyone interested at all, perfectly good pieces sometimes can’t even be given away.

Often, it means putting it out as hard rubbish or spending money on removalists and council tip fees to take it to landfill.

It’s a scenario Amanda Brook from Abbeys Auctions said arises regularly. Her business disposes of entire deceased estates.

The hardest stuff to sell, she says, is the furniture, particularly if it’s the type of dark brown tables, chairs and bookcases found in period homes.

“Some furniture is beautiful quality, really well-designed, really solid, really strong, it’s going to last for another 100 years, but it’s brown,” she said.

“And there’s not a lot of demand in fashionable decor for lumpy brown things.”

For those happy to furnish their homes with old-fashioned brown furniture, it’s great news. As the rising cost of living bites, this is one part of the economy where buyers are in control.

But even at bargain-basement prices, there’s not a lot of interest.

“Antique furniture, no one wants it. Period furniture, no one wants it. If you’ve got really nice deco furniture or retro furniture, people are still buying it,” said David Freeman, a valuer at Amanda Addams Auctions.

“It’s got to have style.”

Speaking of style: Mid Century furniture and retro items are in demand at Abbeys Auctions

Twenty years ago, an antique Victorian cedar table and chairs would have sold for $3000 to $5000, Freeman said. Now, it would be lucky to fetch $100.

A chest of drawers from the same era might have once got $2200. These days, it’s more like $200.

“The bigger the items, the less the interest,” he said. “We don’t take them in the auction rooms any more.”

Freeman said a young couple could furnish a whole house for $1000 if they went to the auction rooms and bought second-hand: “But they don’t want that [brown] look,” he said.

As density increases and people move into smaller living spaces, there is also a preference for items that won’t make houses and apartments feel cramped. Gone are the days of the large buffet to display the fine china.

“People are wanting lighter-coloured things, white things, smoother things, more modern things,” Brook said.

Another factor is the flat-packed furniture sold by brands such as IKEA and Kmart.

There’s an attraction in fitting a new loungeroom in the back of a car. Other furniture is often heavy and requires a truck or van to move it.

This does come with risks, however. Mass-produced furniture is usually made with medium-density fibre (MDF), a mix of wood and glue that is much lighter than standard timber.

It’s also put together, famously, by the person who buys it. Usually, that means it doesn’t last as long as other furniture – and is worth even less on the second-hand market.

“If you pick it up and take it to the auction room, by the time it arrives it’s wobbling,” Brook said.

“It’s not only going to not have another life, it has no value. You can’t resell it easily.”

Rather than throwing it out, there’s also the option of donating furniture to charity. But even op shops can struggle with the amount of furniture people are willing to give away.

“It’s got to be good enough to give to your family,” said Jeff Antcliff, executive general manager of commercial services at St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria.

“We don’t want something that’s broken, ripped or stained.”

Only a small amount of the 115 Vinnies stores in Victoria sell furniture because it takes up a lot of room and requires special equipment and training to move.

“Sometimes people will ring up and say they’d like to donate because they couldn’t move it on one of the social platforms,” he said. “There’s usually a reason for that.”