How to save cash when you’re renovating by buying on eBay


eBay can be a totally overwhelming place. There are literally billions of items on there, and wading through pages and pages of results takes far too much time to be worthwhile. But if you know what you’re doing, it can be an absolute goldmine of bargains and one-off pieces.

Never is this more true than when you’re renovating a house. You can find leftover tiles from someone’s accidental over-order, a unique piece of antique furniture that no-one else wants, or designer upholstery that’s being sold cheap to raise a bit of cash. The key is to know the right way to hunt these things down, and then the right way to bid so you’ll win at the best price.


1. Look for things others don’t want

eBay is the place people go to get a bit of cash for the things they don’t want anymore, so the best searches are for things that people are trying to get rid of. Thankfully, home renovation is a category where there are rich pickings, because it’s common for people to over-order. Tiles, wallpaper, fabric, fixtures and fittings are all abundant.

You may find you struggle to find a particularly large quantity of some things, but keep your eyes peeled as larger listings do come along once in a while. The smaller batches can also be useful for a smaller room like a downstairs toilet, a feature wall, or small area like a fireplace.

Don’t forget that antiques aren’t just limited to furniture too. Bathroom fittings, such as taps, sinks and even baths tend to be common, as do vintage light fittings. The search term ‘reclaimed’ is particularly useful here. You may need to do a bit of work to clean things up once you’ve bought them, but you’ll have something affordable and unique.

2. Nail your keywords

When you’re searching on eBay, the keywords you use really matter. Start off with a very broad search and then narrow it down by type of item, material or colour. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, try to use unusual words where you can, rather than words that are associated with a trend. For example, instead of searching for ‘mid century modern’, you could try descriptive words (like ‘simple’), materials (like ‘teak’) or an era (like ‘1960s’).

eBay also has a setting that allows you to search item descriptions, so if you’re not managing to find what you’re looking for, switching that on might help uncover secret gems.


people always over-order tiles, so you can pick them up on eBay so cheaply!


3. Set your search area

When you’re buying for your home, you’re likely to be spending a lot of money so may want to view things in person to check the condition is as advertised, particularly if the seller doesn’t allow returns. If you plan to do this, make sure you’ve set your location settings in the sidebar to a maximum distance from home. You might also want to view an item before you place a bid, for example if the seller has listed poor quality pictures or a very short description.

4. Save your searches

eBay searching takes a certain amount of patience. Often your search will throw up things that are sort of right, but not perfect. In this case, once you’ve nailed your keywords, your search area and other settings, hit the button ‘Save this search’ at the top of the list of items. eBay will automatically send you an email when a new item is listed that fits your criteria (or, if you choose to turn emails off, you can login to check instead). This is particularly useful if you like a particular designer, artist or brand, but items don’t come up very often.

A word of warning though, you want your keywords to be specific enough that you’re not going to capture more than a few new items a day, otherwise you’re very likely to get overwhelmed and not look at any of them!

Oh, and I always select auctions only at the top of the page, more on that in the next point!


5. Know how to bid

Call me old fashioned, but I still think the best way to eBay is by bidding on auctions. These days there are often many more listings for ‘Buy it now’ items, but items tend to be new and listed at close to full price. However, if you don’t know how to bid effectively, you can end up shooting yourself in the foot by pushing the price even higher.

The key is to resist bidding until the very last minute, and then bid the absolute maximum you’d be willing to pay for the item. If you bid any sooner than the last minute, you signal to other buyers that the item is in demand, thus encouraging them to bid too and to push up the price. And I know it sounds crazy to bid the maximum you’d be willing to pay, but eBay will automatically only bid as little as is needed to beat the previous bid. So if the current bid is £10 and your maximum bid is £15, eBay will only list a bid of £10.50.

Occasionally, you’ll find that even your maximum bid isn’t enough to win the item, because another buyer has placed a higher maximum bid. In these cases, you can walk away with your head held high, knowing that the other person has paid too much! More often though, others won’t have set their maximum anywhere near high enough, and you’ll outbid them easily. And because you’ve done it at the last minute, they won’t have a chance to one-up you!

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