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What you need to know about consignment

Consignment shops are not thrift stores. They're highly selective. Most are looking for pieces that are newer, traditional or have a timeless look. Items must be in good condition with no stains, damage or obvious signs of wear. In addition to furniture, many consignment shops also feature accessories like lamps, rugs and drapes.

* Most consignment shops suggest new consignors send in or email photos first, particularly large items, so they can vet quality and discuss prices. Some potential consignors may want more for an item than a consignee knows it will realistically sell for. And getting a reputation for high prices will turn off their customers. But many don't mind people bringing in small items. It's best to call ahead or email a shop first to check out its preferences.

* If you're consigning, providing a sales receipt or documentation of the retail price or what you paid, helps the consignee set the price. Consignees usually price items at 1 to 1/4 of the retail price. Policies vary but they may keep an item for 45 to 60 days, dropping the price the longer it stays in the shop. "If I have not sold something within the first three weeks, it's not the right price," said Sherri Mila, owner of The Furniture Consignment Gallery in Santa Rosa. Consignors will typically receive 50 percent of what an item sells for.

* If you're a shopper, check out multiple stores. Consignment shops aren't like traditional furniture stores with large stocks of familiar items that can be re-ordered. Good stuff tends to go quickly in consignment shops. The Early Bird Catches the Worm rule usually applies. And different shops feature different types of merchandise. Some may have a lot of designer pieces. Others may just feature better or moderate quality, mid-range furnishings. Some, like The Red Umbrella in Petaluma, specialize in hand-painted, Shabby Chic pieces and Mid-Century retro looks.

* Consignment shops typically don't go for antiques although some cool vintage stuff can make the cut. They may have a few vintage or antique pieces in the mix but they're usually going for items that have a certain sophisticated look. As Dana Pritchard of the Red Umbrella in Petaluma says, "We have a discriminating eye. We're looking for things in really good condition that fit with current trends."

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