How a Trainer Makes As much as $3K a Month Flipping Furnishings


After an extended day of instructing Chinese language to center and excessive schoolers, cooking dinner for her daughter and husband and prepping her spare bed room for Airbnb company, Sara Chen likes to name out to her Echo Dot:

“Hey, play some gentle music.”

That is when most individuals would plop on the coach and set free a deep sigh of exhaustion. Perhaps pour a glass of wine and name it an evening. However Chen isn’t most individuals. She’s simply getting began.

Comfortable music buzzing within the background, she heads to her storage and begins sanding, priming and portray furnishings – often mid-century fashionable dressers – for her aspect gig, Sara Chen Design.

Till earlier this 12 months, Chen, 40, hadn’t discovered the fitting outlet for her sturdy inventive streak. It was by likelihood that she stumbled upon upcycling furnishings, work she finds energizing and galvanizing. The additional $2,500 to $3,000 a month is simply an additional advantage.

Discovering Furnishings, Success With Sara Chen Design

When Chen left her HR job in China to maneuver to the U.S. 10 years in the past, she felt like she was taking a step down professionally.

“The entire benefits I had deteriorated,” Chen mentioned, noting the shortage of parallels in hiring practices between Denver and Shanghai.

So she pivoted her profession circa 2009 and took a job instructing Chinese language. It allowed her and husband Justin Herbertson to lift their new child daughter, Gemma. She’s been a Chinese language trainer ever since, and she or he enjoys the work. It’s secure. It pays the payments. The medical health insurance is nice. And now Gemma attends the identical faculty.

However Chen yearns to be inventive.

In 2015, she realized about Airbnb, and, by extension, the thought of beginning her personal gig when the household moved from Denver to Charlotte, North Carolina. Chen jokingly calls herself a “management freak,” and itemizing rooms on Airbnb permits her to flex each creativity and management. Whereas she will get to curate well-manicured rooms for hire, Airbnb doesn’t absolutely quell her need to be inventive.

Then she obtained her first style of furnishings flipping. On Fb Market, Chen discovered “a steal”: a mid-century fashionable dresser for $200 that may go completely in her bed room. She introduced a good friend to satisfy the vendor. “So, I went in and came upon she really had two dressers… each mid-century fashionable model,” Chen mentioned. “I instructed my good friend, ‘You already know what? You should purchase the opposite one.’”

Her good friend mentioned no. “It seems to be so ugly,” she instructed Chen.

Chen purchased each items for $400 anyway. The primary piece she saved as is. For enjoyable, she determined to color the second. She purchased sandpaper, tack fabric and a can of white paint – in all, a couple of $30 funding. Then she arrange store in her storage and started working. In two or three hours, the dresser was like new — however higher.

“Then my good friend came to visit and she or he was like, ‘Is that the dresser you [tried to] persuade me to purchase? It seems to be so good! Can I’ve it now?’” Chen recalled.

On the spot, she made a sale: $350. And that gave Chen the braveness to begin upcycled furnishings flipping as a aspect gig.

“That’s what I like about America,” Chen mentioned. “This can be a nation that basically promotes onerous work and creativity.”

A Excellent First Buyer

Photo courtesy of Sara Chen

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 for flipping. It can double as a baby-changing station or an entertainment stand, if needed. And with a robust teal coat, newly installed cup-pull handles and a simple black-and-white liner for the drawers, 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.

Pro Tip

Social media sites are free and often underutilized tools for budding businesses to attract customers. Use these social media best practices to get your footing, the earlier the better. 

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. 

  Sale 1: Teal Dresser Sale 2: Pink Dresser
Purchase price: $70 $60
Cost of materials (sandpaper, paint, cloth, etc.): $30 $30
Sales price: $420 $400
Profit: $320 $310

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 teal dresser, she added potted cherry blossoms, a wooden vanity tray and a stool adorned with books 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, which sparked a new revenue stream for Chen and yet another moneymaking idea: photography-staging courses on Udemy or Teachable, a perfect mesh of her skills.

She has already started planning the courses, but with the school year in full swing, Chen admits that she’s maxed out. Two or three furniture projects per week is her limit. And the self-described control freak isn’t ready to hire someone else to help find or flip furniture anytime soon.

“But I don’t feel stressed out because I’m doing the things I like to do,” she said.

So for now, as many teachers do, Chen counts down the days until school’s out – not in anticipation of a lavish vacation. 

She just wants more free time to paint furniture and extra daylight to snap quality photos.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He specializes in ways to make money that don’t involve stuffy corporate offices. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

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