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Expert advice on restoring/refurbishing items for resale at auction.
5 Mins

Refurbishing products for resale

Jess Gibson
Jess Gibson

Whether you employ your love of vintage and antique items to refurbish and upcycle them for the purpose of reselling via auctions as a business model, or you simply have a number of slightly worn but much-loved items that need a bit of TLC before you auction them off to a new home, the process of preparing the item for such changes should take into account both the past and the prospective future of the item.

Perhaps you’re a whizz with electronics? If so, there’s money to be made from buying potentially damaged retail items from auctions and fixing any defects to sell on for profit.

As has been seen in recent years – particularly with treasured, one-of-a-kind paintings that require some very careful touch-ups to enhance the original features – refurbishing or restoring older pieces can be fraught with errors that impact the integrity of the piece. Remember the fresco painting of Jesus that kind-hearted Cecilia Jimenez volunteered to restore for a local cathedral in Spain? Whilst the restoration was undertaken with the best of intentions, the final result ended up being far-removed from the original artistic intention (although it did, for all intents and purposes, garner a lot of attention for the cathedral and ‘put it on the map’, so to speak!) and many considered the piece ruined.

So, when refurbishing or restoring products for the purpose of resale, there’s a number of things you need to bear in mind to avoid various pitfalls that may negatively impact the integrity of the piece – and you would also do well to realistically evaluate your own skills and talents in this area before taking it on…

Time to hit the history books

If the item you have for refurbishment is considered either vintage or antique the very first thing you need to do is to look into its history. Is it a generic piece with period-specific features, or is it an item produced by a very specific designer with their own style? Either way, the key to successfully reselling such items is to ensure that you pour your love and attention into the restoration process and stay true to the item’s roots.

If you’ve ever read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, then you’ll be aware of how closely collectors look at restored and refurbished items to see how true they have remained to the original style and influences. The character of James ‘Hobie’ Hobart applies painstakingly authentic methods when restoring pieces, with the results being almost an exact replica of the original piece prior to damage or general wear-and-tear, and the narrative dwells upon ‘the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire’. The point here is that in order to inspire others to purchase a refurbished antique or vintage piece, you need to invest time in loving it and honouring its history, otherwise you are doing the piece a disservice.

The ‘Whys’ and ‘Wherefores’

Another thing you need to seriously consider before refurbishing the piece is exactly why it is that you’re doing it. Is it simply down to personal taste, to fix an item so that it can be properly used again (which is more relevant for electronic pieces), or are you undertaking such a process in order to update the item to match modern tastes and fashions?

If it’s the latter, then you need to consider ways of tastefully completing this task, as well as ensure that any changes you make are not a fleeting fashion that will, in a year’s time, be obsolete and ultimately out of fashion once more. Remember, potential bidders will be considering this element in great detail when they think about bidding, weighing up the cost alongside the item’s potential longevity.

Have you got the skills?

Whether you’re fixing an item so that it regains its original use or restoring an item in order to appeal to discerning collectors, you need to seriously ask yourself whether you have the skills required. If you don’t and yet proceed anyway, you could end up ruining the piece or, in the case of electrical items, harm yourself or others. For this reason, it’s important for you to identify someone with the skills necessary to properly fix it or restore the piece to its original glory.

For example, if you are hoping to auction an armchair whose soft furnishing requires complete restoration but you have no upholstering skills or knowledge of the correct materials to use, then you would do well to research and identify someone who can. Just consider The Repair Shop on BBC1 – only those with the necessary historical understanding and skills of antique/vintage restoration are tasked with refurbishment, and they utilise all of their skills in order to do the piece justice.

Careful marketing

When searching for items during an online auction, potential bidders spend a large period of time carefully analysing the description of the item and assessing every detail of the included photographs. For this reason, you should be very clear about what changes or alterations have been made and why, assuring bidders that the utmost care has been focused on the refurbishment of the item to return it to its original state.

You also need to ensure that the images alongside this description not only show the item as a whole, but also close in on the specific changes or fixes that have been made – discerning customers will spot an error or difference a mile away, so be up front!

Refurbishing and restoring items can be an immensely satisfying process, which should make you a decent return when done properly. If you take our advice above, you can be sure to find success when putting it up for auction!  

If you’re interested in trying your hand at restoring and reselling, take a look at what we currently have on offer in our regular auctions of retail returns, as these could give you some inspiration.