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You can sink a lot of money into furniture and, if you don’t buy carefully, spend too much, wind up with defective products or months-late delivery, have to live with items you hate, or get stuck with pieces that don’t hold up. Before you begin shopping, formulate a general plan of what will fit your space, set a budget, and decide how long you expect it to last.

In our Ratings Tables, you’ll see we found big service quality differences among area stores. Checkbook receives an inordinate number of complaints—and poor ratings—from customers of many stores. Fortunately, some furniture stores make shopping easy.

Comparing prices is difficult because many retailers sell items that aren’t available elsewhere; and it’s unusual to find the same national brands sold by more than one or two retailers. But there are steps you can take to get good prices. If you’re shopping at independent stores, we recommend you ask them to bid competitively for your business.

Don’t assume that a sale price—even a heavily discounted sale price—is a good price. The sale prices offered by many local stores and on most websites probably aren’t special at all. Unfortunately, we find that many furniture stores use deceptive practices where these sales never end. Even if the sign says “Save 60%,” it’s probably meaningless.

Avoid leaving a big deposit, and make all payments with a credit card; if the store breaks its promises, you’ll have the option of contesting the charge with your credit card company.