Savvy Tips From a Flea-Market Junkie
If you love a treasure hunt, then shopping at flea markets,
garage sales, thrift shops and antique shows may be the challenge you seek. Knowing how to manuever
your way through consignments, changing prices and haggling, however, may take a little practice even for the ready and willing shopper.
Remember that shopping at used furniture stores, county fairs and the like is quite different from browsing the sale rack
at Bloomingdales. The items offered may not come with money-back guarantees or easy exchanges, and many items
are not always as represented. You will not find several quantities of the same item to compare sizes, color or whatnot,
and it may take some investigation to learn the actual origins and condition of your purchase.
Thus, we offer a few practical tips for beginners, as you get started down the exciting trail of bargain hunting.
First, educate yourself on your items of interest. For example, if you want to begin collecting Depression glass, check out a few books from you local library and begin to familiarize
yourself with the patterns that are available and the market price for pieces. Know how to spot a reproduction. There are usually tell-tale signs of repros: things like color, slight variation of pattern, etc.
Wear comfortable shoes, dress in layers and carry a bottle of water with you. Didn't we mention
antiquing is a competitive sport? Seriously, if you are spending the day scouring
a large flea market or antique show, the weather may change from morning to afternoon and although you may be able to stave off your hunger, you should keep yourself well hydrated.
Consider bringing a set of "tools" with you. These may include an antique guidebook with prices (such as Kovel's Antiques and Collectibles Price List),
a small notebook, tape measure, magnifying glass, metal polish and camera.
Don't feel shy opening up a book and checking on the price of an item. It will show the dealer that you are an educated buyer that won't be taken
at an unfair price. Use the notebook to jot down items you may be interested in an any important specs so that you can come
back to them. If you are at a flea market, it is smart to put down the location of the stand or table where your item of interest is located. A tape measure can be handy especially if you find a piece of furniture that you
aren't sure will fit in that little space in your home. Use a magnifying glass on glassware and other object to look for chips, flea bites and other imperfection. Ask before taking out your
metal polish, but most sellers won't mind if you try and see what is underneath all that tarnish. And finally, bring a camera if you plan on returning and want to sleep on a decision or
ask for advice (or permission!) from your spouse or family. If you are planning on purchasing and moving furniture, make sure you also come prepared with rope, padding and anything else you
may need to protect your find from the show to your home.
Bring cash and show it when you are serious about buying. Many flea markets and antique shows take cash only or prefer to deal with cash-paying customers. If you decide
to go down on the marked price of an item, first make sure you are serious about it before you try and haggle the price down. It is a good idea to decide before starting how much you
want to pay for the item and that you are able to walk away if the price isn't met. Don't go so low on the price that you insult a dealer, so make sure you know a fair market price on your
find. Then, feel free to take out your cash as you suggest a price, saying something like, "I'm ready to give you $20 for the set." It shows the dealer that you are really serious about
purchasing and not just trying to play mind games.
Shop with an eye for what you love. Most people have a sense of their own style although they may not be able to put it into words. But when you see something you love, you
know it. Don't just buy something because it would "go" with the rest of your living room, but because you really like it and if the rest of your living room didn't match, you would still find a place for it.
This is a good rule of thumb for many purchases, because people often go through "style phases," sometimes quite drastic, throughout their lives, but if you find a piece that
you love, you will incorporate it in any decor.
Know your limitations. For example, you may love that little wing chair you found but don't have a clue about reupholstering furniture. Make sure you factor in the cost of
refinishing, re-upholstering, and altering any piece that you want to purchase if you don't know how to do it on your own. When you add up all the costs, the little wing chair that was a
bargain at $50 may be a little more than you can afford.