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Buying Cheap Furniture from IKEA? 10 Unexpected Costs to Look Out for

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Most people are alternately horrified / impressed that I can rattle off the dimensions of various IKEA products, or wax enthusiastic about the subtle differences between the Algot and Antonius storage systems. 

Yet I — a self-professed moderate-to-hardcore IKEA fan, whose internet browser always has at least 1 IKEA Hackers tab open — am about to tell you that IKEA furniture actually isn’t as cheap as their marketing department would like you to believe.

Gasp!

Here are 10 scenarios where buying furniture from IKEA Singapore can actually cost way more than expected:

 

1. When you don’t have the appropriate mode of transport

You know those signs plastered all over IKEA praising themselves for selling conveniently flat-packed furniture — making you believe that all you need to do is breeze through the checkout counter and *snaps fingers* the very next moment, you’re back home, relaxing in your plush new sofa?

Lies, all of it.

What IKEA conveniently left out from the photos of relaxed and carefree Scandinavians is the very real headache of transporting your furniture home. 

Yes, it may be “flat-packed”, but when the package is 2m x 1m in size and weighs 50 kg, that’s not going to ingratiate you with the Grab driver you booked for your ride home. (I saw someone at IKEA loading up her Grab with 10 floor-length mirrors. Please don’t be that person.)

So if you’re buying major purchases, always factor an extra $35 to $65 for IKEA delivery, just in case. It’s calculated based on the number of furniture you need transported:

Number of articles IKEA delivery fee
Up to 5 $35
Up to 10 $55
More than 10 $65

If you’re buying small items that can be easily transported, don’t forget to bring your own bag because IKEA doesn’t give away free carriers. You’ll have to pay an extra $0.90 per carrier.

 

2. When your furniture is sold “a la carte”

Love the idea of personalising your own kitchen or constructing the wardrobe of your dreams? Hey, so do I. 

It’s one of the nice things about IKEA — there are several furniture systems that are available in modular form, so you can buy the individual parts separately and customise to your heart’s content. Which is great in theory, right?

But once you start adding up the parts you want, the final cost of your furniture can be staggering.

Take IKEA’s popular Pax wardrobe system as an example. The basic component costs $425, but then you have to add on the interior organisers (baskets, drawers, clothes rails) as well as the doors, mirrors, etc… right down to even the door hinges and handles! 

By the time you’re done, it’ll cost over $1,000 — which is enough to get you a customised built-in wardrobe with a contractor.

 

3. When you realise you don’t have any screwing skills

Get your mind out of the gutter — I’m referring to the act of assembling IKEA furniture. Although assembling your own furniture from flat-packed parts is widely considered to be better than sex, it does require a fair bit of finesse with an Allen key or screwdriver.

This is particularly if the item has heavy parts or planks, which are a huge pain in the ass to keep stable while you tighten the hex screws. 

If you don’t keep them perfectly level, you’ll end up with a slanted joint, meaning you can’t join the other side properly, meaning your brand new vanity table is completely screwed, and not in the good way.

Assembling IKEA furniture yourself requires both physical strength (usually, at least 2 people’s physical strength) and an intellectual interest in carpentry and engineering. Otherwise, dismantling the messed-up furniture and starting over gets old from about the 3rd or 4th time you do it.

… Which is how you might find yourself shelling out 15% of the furniture price for someone from IKEA to assemble it for you.

 

4. When you don’t have any power tools or screws at home

If you bought IKEA wall shelves, cabinets, mirrors, or blinds (basically anything requiring mounting) during a renovation, consider yourself lucky because your contractor can easily punch a few holes into the wall or ceiling, easy as pie.

Otherwise, you’ll have to splash out $100 or so for your own power drill, unless you already have one or you don’t mind begging your neighbour to lend you his.

Alternatively, you can pay IKEA to drill the holes for you at $5 per hole.

You also need to pay for your own wall fixings, because surprise, surprise! They’re not included. In Singapore where we have concrete walls, this means screws and plugs, which you can buy separately from IKEA at $14.90 for a big set or at your local hardware shop.

 

5. When you’re buying a huge heap of furniture

You might consider yourself a proper handyman and scoff at the weak losers who need to pay IKEA to assemble their furniture or drill holes for them.

But if you’ve just bought a home, and you’re buying 80% of your new furniture from IKEA… 

Well, it’s gonna be pretty tough even for you to DIY everything yourself, unless you happen to be unemployed or your boss is kind enough to let you take a few days off to figure out IKEA instruction manuals.

If possible, it’s best to stagger the purchases as much as possible to keep the assembly work manageable. Assembling a bed frame and a nightstand in a weekend is fine, but probably not, like, your entire house.

If you didn’t plan for this and need your home ready on short notice because you’ve already sent out the housewarming invites, be prepared to cough up the 15% for assembly.

 

6. When you realise the “wooden” shelf is actually compressed sawdust

If you’ve ever bought a Billy bookcase or overloaded your IKEA table top with an ornamental fish aquarium, you’ll realise that certain IKEA things do not stand up well to heavy loads. After a year or so, you’ll start to see a very noticeable bend in the “wood”.

The reason for this is that… It’s not really wood.

Most of IKEA’s products — the affordable ones anyway — are made of “particleboard” or “fibreboard”, which is basically sawdust glued together. In some cases, the content can actually be “honeycomb structure paper filling”. PAPER!

cross section of ikea shelf

If you’re looking for something that will last or want to put something heavy on it, it’s best to pay close attention to the material of the item (which is always listed on the IKEA tag or website).

Having viewed and bought my fair share of second hand furniture, I can certify that products made of sawdust derivatives show their age even after a short period of use. You can expect chips, dents, peeling, etc. especially if the item is placed in a not-so-forgiving environment (e.g. balcony, kid’s room, bathroom).

For me, the biggest hidden cost of IKEA is that solid wood furniture here cost a LOT more than the particleboard one. For instance, the particleboard version of the Trofast toy storage cabinet costs $86 while the same item in solid pine costs 35% more at $116. However, I’m willing to bet that the solid wood one will last at least 35% longer.

 

7. When you realise Singapore is really too damn humid

I think we’re all intimately aware of Singapore’s insane humidity levels, but while most of our bodies have adapted to it (somewhat), the same cannot be said about IKEA’s furniture.

You know those IKEA catalogue bathrooms, which invariably feature pretty wooden shelves? Yeah, just forget you ever saw that. It’s strictly for cooler and drier climates.

Unless your whole house has air con on 24/7, wood in the bathroom in Singapore is just a really bad idea. That $80 ladder shelf may look gorgeous holding your wet towels on Day 1, but you will probably want to kill it with fire when it starts rotting and going moldy after 3 weeks.

Same goes for stainless steel — you may be thinking that since it’s “stainless”, it should be good to use in the laundry room or your balcony, but the fact is that there are many types and grades of stainless steel, and it can still get rusty over time with exposure to moisture and humidity.

Generally, it’s better to err on the side of caution with IKEA stuff that you plan to use in high humidity areas. 

I personally keep furniture to a minimum in such places, and try to go for more water-resistant materials like plastic or ceramic if needed. 

 

8. When you’re buying things from the “AS-IS” section

Everyone I know loves IKEA’s AS-IS section, where they have their perpetual lelong sales on display pieces. Who doesn’t love a discount!?

But, while you can save quite a bit on your furniture if you buy them “AS-IS”, note a couple of things:

First, there’s a big hidden cost — you have to pay IKEA 10% of the original price as a dismantling fee if you want to break the AS-IS item down to a manageable size. This is unavoidable if it’s something big, like a dining table.

From there, you’re on your own, unless you want to pay another 10% (also of the original price) for IKEA to re-assemble it for you.

Second, your AS-IS item cannot be returned to the store under IKEA’s 365-day return policy, so consider that before you make an impulse sofa purchase that you can’t return.

 

9. When you accidentally ruin a perfectly good part

So you rolled up your sleeves one weekend and decided to get down to business with those IKEA shelves that have been sitting unassembled in your bomb shelter for a year.

You accidentally put a hex-screw in the wrong place and over-tighten it, and SNAP! Suddenly the plank breaks into 2. What now?

Well, your attempt to save money on assembly may now incur extra costs (apart from your rage). IKEA Singapore stocks all kinds of spare parts, and you can usually get the small ones such as screws for free at the customer service counter.

However, when I was there recently, I noticed another option in the self-service menu: “Purchase of spare parts”. So you may have to cough up some cash for a replacement part, all because IKEA refuses to include assembly in their furniture prices (and you were too cheap to pay a 15% surcharge for it).

FYI: Once the item is assembled, IKEA will not accept any returns/exchanges, no matter how much you hate that @#*(&@ thing. So if you want to replace that troublesome piece of furniture entirely, your costs will be doubled or more than doubled.

 

10. When you eventually need to dismantle your furniture

At some point, you’ll move house and want to take your treasured Billy bookcase along to your new home.

Now, putting together a bookcase from the original parts is hard enough, but dismantling it after a decade of use is a whole different matter. Parts may have warped or sagged, and screws might have rusted or gotten brittle. 

This might be why some house movers are known to charge more for moving “delicate” IKEA furniture. It stands to reason that if the bookcase was originally assembled by you, a regular Joe, then it’s probably not as well-made and sturdy as “real” furniture.

While dismantling old IKEA furniture is not easy (or even possible in some cases), it’s just as risky to try moving it without disassembly first. The stress of moving can cause parts (especially fibreboard parts) to snap, break, or otherwise give way. Needless to say, this may result in you having to spend more on replacement furniture.

Have an IKEA horror story to share? Let us know! 

 

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