It hasn't been a good year for the home-furnishings business. Weak sales have caused shares of Ethan Allen(NYSE: ETH), La-Z-Boy(NYSE: LZB), Restoration Hardware(Nasdaq: RSTO), Stanley Furniture(Nasdaq: STLY), and Furniture Brands(NYSE: FBN) to fall anywhere from 30% to 80% over the past 12 months.

Most companies and analysts don't expect conditions to improve in the near future, and neither does the March index of consumer sentiment. Released last week, the survey found that the number of people planning to make a furniture purchase over the next six months is at its lowest point in a decade.

This is bad news for furniture retailers, but could be good news for furniture consumers. In order to lure customers into the showrooms, merchants have begun marking down prices. So if you've been thinking of updating your house's innards, now might be a good time to look around.

Keep in mind, however, that furniture markups at the local big-name retailer are steep. If you're in the market for a household makeover, here are some ways to do it on the cheap:

  • Ask a retailer if the price on that sofa is the best he can do. Stores might be willing to wheel and deal.

  • Check out a store's "scratch and dent" room, which is usually way in the back. The imperfections on these items can be minor, yet the savings major.

  • Consider shopping online, though buying furniture over the Internet is difficult since most people aren't comfortable with making such big purchases without test-driving the product. Some websites to peruse are,,, and even sites such as and (iVillage has a helpful article on buying furniture over the Internet.)

  • Consider the "pre-owned" furniture marketplace. Some of the best stuff can be found at auctions, estate sales, and consignment shops. You can also try yard sales and flea markets, or eBay(Nasdaq: EBAY), though shipping costs can add significantly to the price tag.

  • Consider whether the furniture you already have might be just fine with a little sprucing up. Catch a few episodes of Trading Spaces or While You Were Out, get inspired, and find comfort in the realization that your couch isn't the ugliest in America.