How a Teacher Makes Up to $3K a Month Flipping Furniture
If you’re looking for a side hustle that can bring in serious revenue, furniture flipping is worth considering. There’s a lot of satisfaction — and monetary reward — in scoring a sweet deal on an old piece of furniture and seeing where a little paint and elbow grease takes you.
Here’s how one furniture flipping teacher got started making $3,000 a month upcycling used furniture on Facebook marketplace. And tips for how to get a start flipping furniture yourself.
Finding Creativity With Furniture Flipping
After a long day of teaching Chinese to middle and high schoolers, cooking dinner for her daughter and husband and prepping her spare bedroom for Airbnb guests, Sara Chen likes to call out to her Echo Dot:
“Hey, play some soft music.”
This is when most people would plop on the coach and let out a deep sigh of exhaustion. Maybe pour a glass of wine and call it a night. But Chen isn’t most people. She’s just getting started.
Soft music humming in the background, she heads to her garage and starts sanding, priming and painting furniture — usually mid-century modern dressers — for her side gig, Sara Chen Design.
Until a few years ago, Chen hadn’t found the right outlet for her strong creative streak. It was by chance that she stumbled upon upcycling furniture, work she finds energizing and inspiring. The extra $2,500 to $3,000 a month is just an added benefit.
Getting Started Furniture Flipping With Sara Chen Design
When Chen left her HR job in China to move to the U.S. more than a decade ago, she felt like she was taking a step down professionally.
“All of the advantages I had deteriorated,” Chen said, noting the lack of parallels in hiring practices between Denver and Shanghai.
So she pivoted her career circa 2009 and took a job teaching Chinese. It allowed her and husband Justin Herbertson to raise their newborn daughter, Gemma. She’s been a Chinese teacher ever since, and she enjoys the work. It’s stable. It pays the bills. The health insurance is great. And now Gemma attends the same school.
But Chen yearned to be creative.
In 2015, she learned about Airbnb, and, by extension, the idea of starting her own gig when the family moved from Denver to Charlotte, North Carolina. Chen jokingly calls herself a “control freak,” and listing rooms on Airbnb allows her to flex both creativity and control. While she gets to curate well-manicured rooms for rent, Airbnb didn’t fully quell her desire to be creative.
Then she got her first taste of furniture upscaling. On Facebook Marketplace, Chen found “a steal:” a mid-century modern dresser for $200 that would go perfectly in her bedroom. She brought a friend to meet the seller.
“So, I went in and found out she actually had two dressers … both mid-century modern style” Chen said. “I told my friend, ‘You know what? You should buy the other one.’”
Her friend said no. “It looks so ugly,” she told Chen.
Chen bought both pieces for $400 anyway. The first piece she kept as is. For fun, she decided to paint the second one. She bought sandpaper, tack cloth and a can of white paint — in all, about a $30 investment. Then she set up shop in her garage and got to work. In two or three hours, the dresser was like new — but better.
“Then my friend came over and she was like, ‘Is that the dresser you [tried to] convince me to buy? It looks so good! Can I have it now?’” Chen recalled.
On the spot, she made a sale: $350. And that gave Chen the courage to start upcycling furniture as a side gig, working on two to three projects a week.
“But I don’t feel stressed out because I’m doing the things I like to do,” she said.
Finding the Right Furniture to Flip
Chen decided to play it safe with the first piece she made available to the public. To find the right piece to flip, she again turned to Facebook Marketplace, investing much less the second time around: $70 for a 1930s dresser from Singapore.
“My rationale is that I really like this piece,” Chen said. “And if it doesn’t sell, I’m going to use this for myself.”
She chose a dresser because it’s a versatile piece of furniture. It can double as a baby-changing station or an entertainment stand, if needed. And with a robust Hunter Club green coat and newly installed golden drawer pulls, Chen transformed the piece from rustic to chic.
Her first customer drove more than two hours to pick it up. When the woman arrived, she marveled — and shelled out $420. Including supplies, Chen earned about $300 in profit on her first sale.
On her way out, the customer encouraged Chen to create an Instagram account to showcase her work. The woman had a large social media following and said she would give Chen a shout-out.
Chen took that advice to heart. In less than a year, with the help of her happy first customer, she has amassed more than 1,700 followers on Instagram.
But Chen’s luck with her godsent customer didn’t end there.
“After she got the green dresser, I noticed she was pregnant,” Chen said. “I got another dresser, also from Facebook Marketplace … and then I painted it pink. I added black handles”
“You’re looking for a dresser for your girl?” Chen texted her. “Well, I might have a piece you want.”
Chen photographed the new pink dresser and sent over the pictures. Fingers crossed.
“This is exactly what I want!” the woman replied.
The second piece, which Chen purchased for about $60, sold for $400.
And those price points weren’t one-offs from an enthusiastic buyer. Chen’s instincts were dead on. After researching her competitors on marketplace, she typically shoots for those profit margins with each project.
For tallboys, like the pink dresser, Chen spends $40 to $70 and flips them for $325 to $425 on average. The margins for long dressers are even better — a $60 to $120 purchase price and a $475 to $525 sales price. Depending on the project, that means she regularly sees profit margins between 70% and 90%.
“You need to find a sweet spot,” Chen said. “I try to keep it in the median-high level. I feel like that’s the right spot [for me].”
Flipping Furniture Is All About the Photos
After tallying about 70 pieces of vintage furniture hunted, cleaned, patched, sanded, repatched, primed and painted since early 2019, Chen has her upcycling process down to a science. But when the paint dries, her work is only a little past the halfway mark.
Next, she stages the piece for high-quality photos to include in her listings on Marketplace or Instagram. It’s now her favorite part of the process.
“It’s also probably the most important part,” Chen said. “It’s gone from a regular piece to a stunning piece, and I want people to see that.”
The added love really goes a long way.
When Chen listed the first green dresser, she added potted Monstera leaves, a ceramic bird tchotchke and a wicker lounge chair adorned with a loose-knit blanket to give the photo extra pizzazz. Those details are what convinced a pregnant lady to drive more than two hours to pick it up.
The well-produced product shots double as an effective way to showcase her previous projects on her portfolio website, which brings in more customers.
Chen even uses her photo-editing chops to profit off of her competition. Lots of people sell furniture on Marketplace, but dark and grainy photos abound. In an experiment, she edited one local seller’s pictures using Photoshop and sent them over. Their furniture started selling faster.
“She loved my photos,” Chen said.
She told the seller, “I can help you post photos, I’m just going to charge you $20 every time you ask me to do a listing.”
It was a deal that sparked a new revenue stream for Chen and yet another money-making idea: photography-staging courses on Udemy or Teachable, a perfect mesh of her skills.
How to Make Money Furniture Flipping
Finding a side hustle that you enjoy is the sweet spot. Here’s what you need to know to make a profit flipping furniture.
Do Your Research Before You Start Furniture Flipping
Investigate what kinds of inexpensive furniture sells well. Seriously, few people buy traditional china cabinets anymore. Look for mid-century end tables or coffee tables, a classic dining table, or even patio furniture.
Check out local classified ads or flea markets with a careful eye for what sold immediately with cushy markups. To make money flipping furniture, keep your initial cost to buy furniture low and focus on heavy wood furniture that only requires basic tools to refinish.
Find Furniture at the Right Price
Setting up alerts for Facebook marketplace is key to scouting out prospects for furniture flipping. You could even find furniture for free with the Freebie Alerts app. Avoid fake wood and particle board and look for solid wood furniture that is sturdy and timeless.
Avoid antique furniture and the higher price tags at estate sales. And don’t forget to drop by thrift stores or shop yard sales. Professionals will tell you that’s where the real money flipping furniture happens.
Polish Up Your Photography Skills
The key to making money furniture flipping is to be able to resell it easily. Attract potential buyers by brushing up on your photo skills so you can create compelling images that ensure your flipped furniture sells itself.
Don’t forget that before and after photos or videos of a furniture flip can help you solidify your reputation as a professional furniture flipper. Showing off the time and effort it took to turn thrift store finds into quality furniture makes
If you’ve got the space and the skills, a furniture flipping business is a side hustle that pays. So when you stumble on that perfect furniture find, don’t hesitate to dive into what could become a profitable resale business. Roll up your sleeves and get started with a furniture flipping side hustle that can bring both cash and creative satisfaction.
Adam Hardy is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Senior writer Kaz Weida contributed.