I often find myself taking clients shopping for furniture. Nevertheless you should keep in mind while reading this that I am not an expert in furniture or furniture shopping. There are many nice furniture stores that I have not mentioned here and many more that I’ve not yet had time to visit. This article is being written for the person who wants to get good furniture at good prices within a 1-2 day time frame. It is not a substitute for having a bilingual guide who is familiar with furniture prices and purchasing.
Unless you have purchased a property through http://www.cuencasbestproperties.com then I will not be able to help you with your furniture purchase and you’ll need to find a competent and trustworthy bilingual person, probably Ecuadorian, to help you take advantage of the advice below. Such a person will absolutely save you between several hundred and a few thousand dollars if you are furnishing an entire house so don’t be afraid to pay them for their time.
A common mistake is to look at someone’s language skills rather than their knowledge of local furniture prices. In my first furniture buying experience I relied too much on my language skills. It’s hard to know whether or not you are paying Gringo prices when everything you see is cheaper than what you are used to in your home country.
Here’s a few general tips before we get into the nitty gritty:
1. In Cuenca, rooms, especially bedrooms, are generally small and often very small.
You need to measure, at the bare minimum the Living room, Dining room, and Master bedroom. You can get by with a piece of scratch paper with a sketch of the room and its measurements scribbled on it.
2. Everything here in Ecuador uses the metric system. If you try to measure everything in centimeters and think in centimeters as the locals do then everything will go much smoother for both you and them.
3. Avoid the common mistake of over furnishing. When in doubt buy smaller sofas or less of them, a smaller dining room table ect. The open spaced look of an under-furnished place is almost always going to be better than the In Cuenca, rooms, especially Living rooms and bedrooms, are generally small and often very small. I would recommend that you consider buying the minimum number of pieces that you need for any given room. You could write down the prices of the additional pieces that you would like and go back to get them another day after seeing how much space is left over.
4. Prices are not standardized so you may find the exact same item at two different stores offering dramatically different prices.
5. Ecuador has many skilled craftsmen who do a great job of using real wood veneer over MDF to get a solid wood furniture look and feel. Some stores sell this type of furniture at solid wood furniture prices. For those of us who love real wood furniture drilling through one of these things to make a hole for a wire can be a horrifying experience.
6. Secret kickback deals are acceptable in the Cuencano culture. I’ve turned down my share of back room referral deals and offers of discounts on my personal purchases in exchange for bringing clients. Although you may not know the language or the culture or market prices, you do know the sickening feeling you get when dealing with a slimy person. You’ll have to learn to rely more on your instincts than you would normally have to.
7. The dreaded Gringo price. There is really no such thing as a Gringo price when it comes to either real estate purchases or furniture. A minority of Ecuadorians, about a fifth of the population by my estimation, are opportunistic f#@ks who will take advantage of anybody if given half the chance, whether they are Gringo, Ecuadorian, or even a member of their own family. That being said, one of the biggest mistakes that new arrivals make is putting to much trust in other people just because they are native English speakers. Such people are often stuffed full of Gringo rumors and you could fall victim to an incompetent or unethical ex-pat.
8. Be there during the loading and delivery drop off. Deliverymen should be monitored to make sure that they are handling the furniture with care. Do not leave any small pocketable items such as cell phones, flash drives, cash, or Jewelry anywhere in sight at anytime during the delivery or installation process. Petty theft is extremely prevalent even in the otherwise low crime Azuay county.
9. Delivery within the Cuenca city limits is usually included or can be included with the price. Assume that delivery is included and act surprised if they ask for more money for delivery.
10. IVA. Cuenca has a VAT or value added tax of 12%. This tax is paid by the seller but can raise the price that you have to pay. Be sure to ask the person helping you buy furniture more about IVA (pronounced “eeva”). It’s important that you understand how things are done down here
The cheap furniture shops generally…
Are good for:
1. Beds, mattresses, and night stands for guest bedrooms.
2. Dining room table and chair sets.
3. People on super tight budgets.
4. Furnishing a property that you want to rent out.
5. Low prices ($40 night stands, $100 Queen beds, $400 Dining room table / chair sets)
Are bad for:
1. Soft comfortable sofas
2. King size beds
3. High-quality mattresses
4. Living room
5. Dressers, nightstands or other cabinetry that will be used frequently.
(Cheaply painted metal handles & lacquered particle board don’t stay pretty for long)
The mid-priced furniture shops…
Are good for:
1. Sofas, Chairs, Dressers, Hutches, Master bedroom furniture, quality mattresses
2. Solid wood
3. Custom upholstery & custom wood finishing
4. Rustic styles
Can be bad for:
1. Custom built or modified furniture
2. Dining room tables (Chair seats can be uncomfortable)
The most expensive furniture stores…
Are good for:
1. King Louis the 16 style hand-crafted furniture.
2. Custom made-to-fit furniture.
3. Superior sheen and durability of lacquer.
4. Felt lined drawers, quality latches & hinges, magnets on cabinet doors, ect.
5. Contemporary style furniture
Can be bad because of:
1. They sometimes give you a false perception of quality due to the higher prices.
2. Having the pride that goes with shopping at an exclusive outlet is can be costly.
3. Paying for the open space in the showroom rather than better furniture.
One word of wisdom based on many painful, costly, and sanity-draining experiences would be, DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING. Forget what would be logical or what you would do if you were in another person’s place. VERIFY EVERYTHING, twice.
Most furniture stores are open Monday to Friday from 9am – 1pm and 3pm – 6pm. Your best strategy is probably to peruse 3-4 stores to get a rough idea of what’s available and at what prices before you get the measuring tape out or seriously consider anything. Besides leaving the store once or twice before you do the final negotiation helps you to get the lowest price possible.