Miles Swaim is the co-founder of OC Recycled Furniture. He is a serial entrepreneur with over a decade of business startup experience.
About Couch Flipping
Let's be clear about what this is and is not:
- It is a great way to make quick cash.
- It's not a get-rich-quick scheme.
- It is a proven method.
- It's not for everyone.
If you are willing to put in some work and have the resources and capability to pick up and move couches (or have someone willing to help), this is a great way to make some cash.
What You Will Need to Get Started
Here are a few things you'll need before you can start flipping couches:
- Access to a pickup truck or vehicle capable of hauling a couch
- A phone (text capabilities recommended) and a computer with internet
- Ability to lift 50+ pounds
- Someone who can help out with pickups and unloading
- Some pocket cash to make your first purchase (no more than $50 should be needed)
Where to Begin
The first thing you have to do is buy a couch for a good price. This is one of the more difficult areas of the process (good to get the hard part out of the way, right?).
You will be using Craigslist for both the buying and the selling, as this is a thriving marketplace on both sides. The first step will be learning what is in your area with regard to products and prices (market research). This will help you get familiar with the items that you will be looking to buy and sell.
Do Your Market Research
Go to the Craiglist site for your area so you can shop for the products in your market. Every market is different, so it's important that if you are in Florida, you are not researching products and prices in Wyoming.
Go to the "Furniture" section under the "For Sale" category
Filter out the "Furniture by Dealer" listings by clicking on the "By Owner" button
Search the word "couch" and read through some of the listings to familiarize yourself with what's in your area. Look at the prices, pictures, and descriptions.
You are going to be looking for a number of things that will indicate a possible good flip.
- The right price (you will be doing some negotiating, but it's hard to pay $40 when they are asking for $400)
- Desperation or a rush to sell
- Bad pictures or ugly pictures (not ugly products; just think pictures with a dog on the couch or pictures of the couch stuffed in a storage unit)
- Anything else that might indicate a possible good deal
Buying Your First Couch
Once you have done some market research, the next step is to buy a couch for the right price. I recommend paying no more than $20 for your first couch. This is the part where you start texting (recommended if their phone number is listed), calling, or emailing out your offers.
Understand that you will upset some people with your offers; just remember that you are merely making an offer of what you are willing to pay for their item, and if they choose to take that personally, then it's on them.
You are going to look for couches that are worth making an offer on and that have a good chance of getting your offer accepted. This is where the money is actually made. Yes, you still have more steps to go, but if you make the right buying decisions, then everything else is just going through the motions.
Buying Continued: What to Avoid
First, you want to have an idea of what to look for and what not to look for. If you did your market research, you should have at least a general idea of what is out there and what people are asking for their items.
- Avoid floral print couches and most other print couches. You will always be able to find a "great" deal on a floral print couch or sectional because almost nobody buys them. I have spent months trying to sell a floral print couch for as low as $20 and almost always have to cut my losses on these pieces. "But they paid $3,000 for the couch, and they are going to give it to me for free"—I don't care how much they paid for it! I only care what I can sell it for, and that free couch will cost you $40 because you will be driving it to the dump.
- Avoid couches with problems that cannot be restored. Obvious or large stains, peeling "leather" (usually not real leather anyways), ripped or cracked leather, urine smell, smoke smell, ANY bugs, major structural breaks, large rips or missing fabric, missing cushions, broken mechanics (beds and recliners), mismatched cushions, major color fading, missing pieces (aka partial sectionals), etc...
- Avoid sellers that overvalue their items. If they are asking $800 for a couch because they paid $900 for it, and it's like new, don't even bother making an offer. In order to flip a couch, you will need to be asking less than 1/3 the price of a comparable retail product. See my price guideline below for a better idea of what you might expect to get out of each item.
Buying Continued: What to Look For
Now that you know what not to look for, I want to speak a little further on what you should be looking for. Two things: a resellable product and a motivated seller. Once you find the product, you are going to offer people a low value for their item, so they will need a good reason for them to sell at an undervalued price. Finding those reasons and opportunities will allow you to get products for a low enough price which allows you to flip the couch for a quick profit.
One seller motivation is that the seller is in a rush to move the product. You will want to capitalize on someone being in a rush to sell. When someone needs an item gone ASAP, you can provide that service for them, which means you are bringing value to their table even though the value is not monetary. I have purchased a number of couches at the right price because the seller got to the point where they just needed it gone by a certain date and had exhausted all other options. This will come in handy with your negotiations because, many times, you will make an offer that they may not take right away but that (as you will make clear) remains on the table if they can't sell it for more elsewhere.
Another motivating factor is that the seller is just "over it." This can happen for a few different reasons that you will be looking for when making offers and buying items. If they posted poorly taken pictures of their item, they usually will not get the buying response that they had hoped for, and they will then start to mentally de-value their product, assuming that they are asking too much or nobody is really interested in the item.
If their product has blemishes that could be easily fixed/cleaned, but they are selling as is, many times buyers will actually show up to purchase the product and see the stain or rip and just walk on the deal, so when the sellers have a couple of people they thought were going to buy, and they didn't, they naturally start to de-value their product, thinking people aren't interested. If you can repair that rip or clean that stain, you now have a potential product to easily re-sell.
Although the most important thing is getting it for the right price, there are also a few guidelines for the types of product you will be looking for. You will want to look for neutral colors and generally modern styles. Also, you will want to look for added features like recliners, pull-out beds, and matching ottomans.
Buying Continued: Making Offers
When you see couches you are interested in purchasing, you will want to start texting or emailing your offers. You will want to contact multiple buyers with offers, not just one. If you are following the guidelines above, there should still be lots of options out there for you to make offers on. When you find one that you would like to make an offer on, just contact the buyer (text is always the best method if it's available).
Me: "I saw your couch on Craigslist. Is it still available?"
Me: "I noticed you were asking $100. Would you be willing to take $20 if I can come pick it up tonight? I have a truck and will bring cash if that works for you."
You can see from the above conversation that I am trying to explain to the seller that I can provide a no-hassle pickup if they are willing to come down to my asking price. This is the general tactic that will work for most buying communications.
Another example: "I see you needed the couch gone by tomorrow. I can actually come tonight and pick it up if you are willing to take $20 for it."
Also, don't close the door on negotiations. If the seller says no, just simply reply with something along these lines: "No problem, if you do end up changing your mind, just let me know."
Once you have come to terms, just schedule a time to pick the item up, bring cash, and go pick it up.
Resale Pricing Guide
|Couch Size/Style||Condition||Price Range|
Excellent (like new)
$150 - $200
Good (maybe a little dirty)
$125 - $175
Fair (has some issues)
$100 - $150
$125 - $175
$100 - $150
Matching Sofa Set
Fair to Excellent
Use Individual prices
Fair to Excellent
Adds $50 to most items
Adds $50 to $75 to value
Adds $25 to $50 to value
10' Sectional w/ Chaise
Fair to Excellent
$375 - $475
7-8' Sectional w/ Chaise
Fair to Excellent
$275 - $375
Fair to Excellent
$275 - $425
3 piece U-Shape Sectional
Fair to Excellent
$425 - $575
Selling Your Product
Now that you have a couch, the goal will be to sell it quickly for a nice profit. This process has a number of critical steps where you do not want to cut corners. The reason you will be able to sell the same couch on Craigslist that you just bought for 1/4th the price on Craigslist is that you will be able to offer much more than the original seller could offer.
First, you will want to fix or clean the couch if you had intentions of doing so based on the product you purchased. You don't want to focus a lot on this at first; it is better to just get used to buying and quickly reselling.
Next, you want to stage and photograph. Having good pictures is extremely important in selling your product. I included a couple example photographs of when I first started selling out of my garage (my roommate and I would carry the couch into the kitchen and stage them on the hardwood floor). Hardwood floors are great for staging. Carpet would be a second option, and if neither of those options is available, then I would recommend getting an area rug. DO NOT take pictures that indicate the couch is sitting in your garage or a storage unit. The idea here is to make it look like the couch is sitting in your nice living room, waiting for the right buyer. Make sure to take 5 to 10 good pictures of the item while it is staged (try different angles and configurations).
Tip: I purchased a cheap digital camera from a thrift store for this part so I could take lower-resolution photos (easier to upload and manage).
After you have your photographs, you will now want to get the item online to advertise to your potential buyers. Go to Craigslist and post the ad with pictures. You will want to include your phone number, and I would encourage you to even type "Text or Call me at 555..." into the body of the ad. 95% of my first sales were made from an initial text contact. Another thing you will want to include in the ad is a three-to-four-sentence description of the item. Pay attention to the words you use, as most buyers use the search function on Craigslist, and you want your ads to come up when they search certain words. Some examples: microfiber, leather, brown, mocha, blue, red, tan, chenille, sectional, couch, sofa, chaise, ottoman, modern, and contemporary.
An example advertisement paragraph:
This is a 2-piece L-shape microfiber sectional with a modern chaise lounge and matching ottoman. This sectional has a mocha brown microfiber upholstery. This couch comes with a matching ottoman. Overall this couch is in good condition with no major rips or stains.
Make sure to include that you are willing to deliver (if you have the means to do so) for a small fee. This was another factor in my initial success with reselling items.
You will want to make sure you price the item correctly for a quick sale: see my price chart for a better idea of how to price your item.
Once your ad has been posted, just wait for the phone to blow up with interested buyers. O.K., "blow up" might be a stretch, but you should get a few initial responses if you followed all the steps. It is very important that you respond as quickly as possible to all inquiries. Most Craigslist shoppers have no patience, and if you don't respond, they will just move on to the next item and buy from someone else. Also, be readily available for them to come look at the item; again, most buyers have no patience.
If you photographed and priced the item correctly, then you should get a few buyers interested in the first day of posting. If you don't have interested buyers after a couple days, make sure you renew your Craigslist ad, and you might want to consider lowering the price.
Now all you have to do is collect the cash, deliver the product, and repeat!
It Gets Easier
There is a lot of information here, but that doesn't mean this process is all that difficult. Once you have done this once or twice, this gets really easy. If you have any questions about any steps in the process, please just comment below. I am happy to help a fellow couch flipper.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2016 Miles Swaim
Christian on August 16, 2020:
What type of upholstery cleaner have you found to be best?
Whitley Brown on March 28, 2018:
Hello I like this way of making money.