Rental furniture is a subject of contention among apartment-dwellers and others, perhaps because renters already spend a significant portion of their monthly incomes on property that ultimately won’t be theirs. The concept of renting one’s furniture, too, makes some people feel a little unsettled — and frivolous with their budgets.
For some, however, it’s a worthwhile consideration, particularly for those who live a nomadic lifestyle (consultants, for example, or other executives who spend a portion of their lives city-hopping on a series of short-term assignments). If you’re constantly packing up and heading to your next temporary hometown, how cost-effective is it to keep moving your furniture to the tune of a $1,000 or $2,000 per move? Or if you’ve mustered enough nerve to take the plunge and move where you’ve always wanted to live, with the philosophy that you’ll spend two years there and see if it works for you, then again, rental furniture could be a good bet. If your plans suddenly change, you’ll be able to return rented furniture, and won’t be faced with the double financial whammy of both an impending move the hefty cost of new furniture that you now have to ship.
One noteworthy advantage of renting versus buying furniture is that many rental companies, such as CORT Furniture Rental, for example, offer high-quality, brand-name items — tables, lamps, beds, sofas — that you’d be likely to find in your nearest department store. If waltzing into Macy’s and buying that bed you’ve always wanted has always been a financial impossibility for you, it could be yours — though not technically — if you rent instead.
Rent-to-own furniture companies have been the subject of considerable scrutiny recently. Although not every rent-to-own company merits suspicion, consumers are well-advised to be wary; in some cases, consumers could end up paying as much as 50 percent more than the retail price for an item purchased through lease or rent-to-buy plans. Many furniture rental companies require that an item be leased for a minimum of one or two years before it may be purchased.
The rent-versus-buy issue all comes down to whether you’re the type of home owner who places a premium on your surroundings — meaning that your home and your environment are high on your priority list — or whether you’re happy enough living on a futon with a TV tray and a few crates for end tables. But of course, if you ever plan to entertain or have guests — particularly if there’s a possibility of your associates dropping by for any length of time — you’ll need to graduate beyond the student dorm/cinder block look.
But the furniture rental market reaches beyond just the nomadic executive. The newly separated or divorced, home disaster victims, relocation service providers, and developers in need of model home furniture all rely on furniture rental companies. In addition, these companies often are able to make deliveries within 48 hours, in contrast to the often lengthy waits required when home owners buy furniture.
“If you’re going to be in a place for under two years, it’s an absolute: Renting will be more cost-effective than buying furniture,” says Edward Rosenfeld, president of International Furniture Rentals (IFR), based in Hawthorne, N.Y.
If you plan on remaining in your digs beyond two years, however, you may want to consider buying your furniture, or at least a portion of your furnishings, because renting becomes a less economically wise decision once your stay lengthens to three years and more. Although the prospect of moving all of that furniture later on down the road doesn’t excite you, month-to-month payments may not, either. And after all, moving one’s furniture is essentially a one-time expense.
If you’re unsure whether to rent or buy, it helps to do a little cost comparison of your own, either by visiting furniture rental outlets (bring along your floor plan and a few notes on color of carpet, desired styles, etc.) or by researching their respective Web sites. If you’re relocating on a frequent basis, and your lifestyle demands flexibility, compare the cost of renting to the cost of shipping furniture from one destination to another and then back again. Should you be called away on yet another assignment, you’re probably going to have to store your furniture if you own it. Note that some companies reimburse their employees for furniture rental expenses.
Consumers should also ask for the furniture’s country of origin. Do a little investigative work, and find out who the maker is and what kinds of materials were used (imitation leather, after all, is a far cry from bona fide leather). And be sure to ask about guarantees and return policies, should an item either arrive damaged or break down later due to low-grade quality or construction. When it comes to furniture rental, the timeless caveat applies: Let the buyer — or in this case, renter — beware.