The House Files: Five tricks I’ve learned to find the eBay bargains

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A Dutch chiffonier cabinet in the exact shade of green of my planned stair runner. I bought it for £200 off the same seller I bought the apothecary cabinet (see below). It wobbles, but that’s part of the charm, right!?

I blame my mum. For years, she dragged me shopping (OK, not dragged, I went willingly), but she only ever bought things if they were reduced or on offer. Now mum says it was because she was trying really hard to be prudent because there wasn’t loads of spare cash flying around – but it did me good, by showing me the beauty of finding a bargain.

Give me a junk shop or an antiques market and I am like the proverbial pig in muck. We even based part of our honeymoon around L’Isle Sur La Sorgue, one of France’s largest brocante fairs. (I say ‘we,’ I think we all know that’s not strictly true.)

eBay is, for me, unchartered brocante territory. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that. If I have a specific thing to track down, I could spend HOURS on the site. I am like a dog with a bone.

It depends on many factors – what your budget is, whether you’re aware of the current ‘best price’ for your searched for item and how you use the search function itself.

And after posting a picture of one of my recent eBay purchases for the house on Instagram, it was made very clear to me that a post like this would be helpful.

So here they are – five of my eBay search tips, guaranteed to find the bargains – whether it’s a fashion fix or something amazing for your house.

 

1: MAKE THE MOST OF SEARCHES SO YOU CAN FOLLOW THEM IN YOUR FEED

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Vintage desk and pair of chairs I won for £30

When we lived in our old house, Charlie’s bedroom was a classic Victorian shape, with two alcoves on either side of the chimney breast. I had his wardrobe in one and for the other – with a maximum width of 120cm – I was determined to find an old school desk.

I spotted a few, but had given myself a budget so knew I didn’t want to be wooed by the proper antique dealers out there – I wanted one being sold because their child was too big for it now! Anyway, getting sick of typing every kind of permutation of ‘old school desk’ in, I saved it in a ‘follow this search’ setting.

Regularly searched for items can be saved by entering the search phrase you’re interested in, pressing enter and then clicking on the ‘follow this search’ text that appears at the top. This means your homepage will show anything that relates to your item quest when it comes up.

And after a week or two, bingo, I found the desk (above, pictured in our new house).

 

2: SIMILARLY, SET UP AN ACTUAL ALERT FOR A SPECIFIC SEARCH

Vintage lampbase, bought for £80 - which was expensive but it was VINTAGE and also the EXACT green I want as an accent throughout the house.
Vintage lamp-base, bought for £80 – which was expensive but it was VINTAGE and also the EXACT green I want as an accent throughout the house.

This is great for those of you who have something specific in mind, but really can’t be bothered with the searching because you set up your specific item search and it emails you if something similar has just been added for sale.

It’s like TKMaxx – you either love the rummaging, or you don’t. I LOVE the rummage.

Follow the set-up as above, but check the ‘email me new items that match this interest.’

 

3: GET TO KNOW YOUR FAVOURITE SELLERS

A pair of Fifties armchairs I bought from the loveliest seller, who delivered them himself (and who sent me a message while his wife was in actual labour!). I paid £350 for them, plus £65 delivery
A pair of 30’s armchairs I bought from the loveliest seller, who delivered them himself (and who replied to my message while his wife was in actual labour!) I paid £450 for them, plus £65 delivery

I always make sure that I follow particular sellers who sell things I like the look of, or from whom I have bought before.

These armchairs were found by diligently trawling through a search for ‘mid-century armchairs’ and scrolling through hundreds to a backdrop of the BBC’s War & Peace (multi-device-multi-tasking at it’s finest).

I spotted some I liked the look of, so did what I always do and checked out ‘seller’s other items.’ The shop looked great – it specialised in East German lounge chairs, so I started to look through all the images of pairs, as I knew I wanted two to re-cover in a palm print fabric. I loved the shape of these art deco lounge chairs from the Thirties, which were in great condition and – more importantly – looked comfy!

A quick point, don’t be put off by a buy-it-now price. Always contact the seller and ask whether that’s the best price – you’d haggle in an antiques shop and that’s effectively what this is, just in an online format.

As I liked chair man’s stock, I wanted to follow his seller ID, so I know when he adds new items. You can do this by checking the box that says ‘follow this seller’ and then you can regularly see what’s been updated by clicking on their details. It will also alert you when they have added new items.

 

4: BE SPECIFIC

The Parker Knoll sofa I won for £21.99! (But recovering it cost hundreds!)
The Parker Knoll sofa I won for £21.99! (But recovering it cost hundreds!) Please excuse the Playmobil figure shoved down the side that I didn’t notice while taking the shot.

My mum and dad still own a Parker Knoll wing back chair that has been recovered – in my lifetime – around five times. I love it, it reminds me of my grandma sitting in it when she came around for Sunday lunch or at Christmas, it was her chair.

I was also inspired by my friend who had found one at an antiques fair and had it reupholstered in the coolest citrus felt. I wanted one for my living room, to give it a bit of granny chic.

So, again, I didn’t want to scroll through thousands of ‘vintage sofas’ as it was a specific style I was after.

Did you know that if you’re searching for more than one thing, you can use brackets and commas to separate?

So for example if you wanted a Parker Knoll style wingback sofa too, you could search for (wing back, Parker Knoll, sofa).

Also, adding a minus sign immediately before a word (with no space) acts as a ‘not operator,’ so searching for (wingback sofa -chair) will ignore any listings that specify ‘chair’ in the title.

PS: You can also use this formula if you think a seller may have misspelt something, so for example,  (west elm, westelm) or (anthropologie, anthropology)

 

4: TALKING OF TYPOS

The vintage apothecary cabinet I paid £500 for. My husband chose the TV, I have to give him something!
The vintage apothecary cabinet I paid £500 for. My husband chose the humungous  TV, I have to give him something!

Hundreds of items are eBay are misspelled, which means that you miss out on them within your search parameters. Despite the fact eBay do, for the most part, take this into account, it isn’t 100% foolproof. This is where FatFingers can help you be ahead of the game.

It is, quite simply, GENIUS. Check in your eBay country, type in your search, press find – and then ‘click to view on eBay’. It will take you to all those wrongly spelt versions of your search. Brilliant, yes. Depressing if you’re a spelling pedant? Kinda.

Showing how FatFingers works, by searching for items from the store Anthropologie
Showing how FatFingers works, by searching for items from the store Anthropologie

 

5: NEVER WORRY ABOUT WHERE YOU HAVE TO COLLECT IT FROM. BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE TO COLLECT IT.

The glazed cabinet I bought for £300
The glazed cabinet I bought for £300

This is one of my major rules – there is ALWAYS a way if you want something badly enough. And for large pieces of furniture, I am a big fan of Shiply.

It’s a courier site, which effectively works like a Dutch auction. So, you win your item, you liase with the seller about collection, you log onto Shiply and add in all the address details (at this point you need the postcode from the seller). Then you add in the item number of the eBay win (this is amazing as it brings up the item picture, so couriers know exactly what they’re collecting), so courier companies try to bid each other down by offering the best price.

You have to hold your nerve not to accept the first price – and obviously you’ll get a better price on something that will need collecting from a large town or city because the courier may already have multiple drops there to reduce the cost. You also need to consider that using a courier lessens the stress, but it will add to the price of your bargain item.

I spotted the glazed cabinet above (also painted grey already, win) which the seller had to get rid of due to a house move. I LOVED it at first sight. The starting price was £300, but I knew this was clearly a piece that had cost well over £1000 originally.

I added it to my watch list and then, well, watched. The item didn’t have any bids on it which gave me the nerve not to start bidding franctically – and it ended without any offers. The next day I contacted the seller to see whether he would be prepared to re-offer it for sale at the starting price of £300. He agreed – but the downside, it was in Wiltshire!

Using Shiply, I eventually found a courier company prepared to collect and bring it to me in London, but it cost me £120.

Side note: It was purchased when I knew we were moving to a larger house – although I didn’t know if the measurements would work, so I took a huge risk – something you have to do with eBay if you don’t want to miss out. It’s brilliant now we’re IN our new house, but when it arrived at our home in London, it was too big to manoeuvre into the living room so it stood, dismantled, in front of our kitchen doors for our final two months, blocking every bit of light in there!

Now though, it is my lovely cupboard – and when we finally get around to doing the kitchen I’m going to paint the outside a lovely dark grey and the inside, blush pink.

Also, I really hope my epitaph will read: She just knew the furniture would fit, even though she could never be bothered to measure the space.

LOVE sign and brass planter found in local junk shops, blue table lam found on eBay
‘LOVE’ sign and brass planter found in local junk shops, blue table lamp found on eBay

I really hope this post has been helpful. Let me know if you have any brilliant eBay tricks – and what your best ever bargain was. I’d love to hear or see a photo!

 

  • Comments ( 8 )

  • avatar
    sian gwilliam

    Great post Erica, thanks xx

    • avatar
      Erica

      Thanks Sian! x

  • avatar
    Julia

    Great tips! I will follow your advice. Thank you!

  • avatar
    Cliodhna

    Love this too! All the detail is great.

    We are at a disadvantage because we live in Ireland and a lot of the cool stuff is in the UK or people won’t courier this far. However, we have managed to pick up some beautiful pieces.

    My favourite is a mid century Eames-like recliner chair and ottoman that my husband surprised me with when I was going through a really sad time. I had been coveting it but the seller was in Hungary and the asking price seemed too much. Well, like you advise, it’s well worth messaging the seller and enquiring. My husband did just that and the seller agreed on a better price and to arrange delivery. It is such a beauty and I love the sentiment behind it.

  • avatar
    Cliodhna

    Love this too! All the detail is great.

    We are at a disadvantage because we live in Ireland and a lot of the cool stuff is in the UK or people won’t courier this far. However, we have managed to pick up some beautiful pieces.

    My favourite is a mid century Eames-like recliner chair and ottoman that my husband surprised me with when I was going through a really sad time. I had been coveting it but the seller was in Hungary and the asking price seemed too much. Well, like you advise, it’s well worth messaging the seller and enquiring. My husband did just that and the seller agreed on a better price and to arrange delivery. It is such a beauty and I love the sentiment behind it.

  • avatar
    claire

    I totally followed your advice too and now have a fantastic armchair – thank you!

    • avatar
      Erica

      I’m so thrilled!! Send me a pic! x

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