20 PRO Flea Market / Estate Sale Buying Tips – Buy Like A Pro

Who doesn’t like to pick through other people’s stuff? 

Some ladies like to go shoe shopping, others for hand bags, and then there is that particular woman who loves to sift through junk.  I am one of those gals….  Are you? 

Rummaging through a estate sale can sometimes land you some of the best buys around.  Strolling through a flea market with a coffee in one hand, and eye out for that worn, rusty find is an ideal way to spend a weekend in my books. Decorators, home stagers, antique dealers, and furniture flippers all have their own secrets to shopping these sales.  Experience allows them to walk away with unique finds for the best prices…   

Before heading out to that next sale, take note of some of the best pro tips for buying at flea markets and estate sales:

– Know What You Want To Buy And Write It Down– Determine in advance the top 5 things to look for and try to stick to that list.  You are going to want EVERYTHING you see.  There will be a lot of attractive things to buy, and a list will keep you grounded and focused on what you really need or want.  Ask yourself if you would spend $100 dollars on that $65 dollar item.  Asking yourself that question should determine in your mind if the piece is really valuable or if it is another decorative piece you want.

– Shop For Bigs First, And Smalls Second– Scout around for the larger pieces right away.  I don’t know about you, but I have a ton of smalls around my house, and most people do…  however a quality furniture piece can always be switched out, and upgraded in my home.  Look for shape, not color.  Meaning, if you find a unique old chair that can be re-covered and painted, it may not look ideal, but with your tweeking can be remarkable once you have it home and re-create it.

– Make A Smart Purchase With Upholstery- If you like a couch, or settee, consider the costs of upholstery above and beyond the asking price. Add $400-$800 for the labor of the upholstery, plus an additional $200- 300 for the fabric.  Delivery also costs money, unless you plan on dropping off the piece, and picking it up.  In addition, sad to say, but bed bugs hide in upholstery, so know the signs to look for bug infestation before you buy.

-Subscribe To Local Websites That List Estate Sales In Your Area-  Know the sales in advance with websites that notify you by email.  Why waste your time if you don’t have to?  Estatesales.net – is one of those websites where you can type in your state and zip code and a list of sales will appear. Become a subscriber to receive free weekly updates about sales near you. Another great website to look up estate sales is yardsalesearch.com . Again, select your state and it will show sales in your area. Even if estate sales aren’t listed at a particular time, usually there are thorough descriptions of what’s available at the yard sales to determine if its worth the drive.   Fleamarketfinder.org/ is another website.  Research your local area to find Auctioneer businesses who hold weekly auctions.  Again, most of these businesses send out pictures by email in advance.

– Treat The Workers At The Sale With Respect– Acting like a big shot buyer is the last thing you want to do to people who might be able to give you a discount on that attractive sideboard you are eying up.  These workers also pay close attention to shoppers.  They notice buyers who dig through linens, leaving them messy, throw things around as they rummage through their things.     Can you imagine being in their place, seeing an area you just rummaged through?…..and then you ask them for a discount? They  are much more inclined to haggle deals with people who are upbeat, polite, and respectful, than those that are mean and grouchy.

“I’m very young and own a shop and you’d be appalled at how many people come into my shop and say extremely rude things thinking I’m just a college age, paid by the hour worker. I’ve ended up in tears at times because I work so incredibly hard, pour my heart into finding awesome things, cleaning, fixing, decorating etc. for someone just to come into my store and essentially my home (I live upstairs above it) and be so insulting and rude. I am so much more inclined to work with someone on a price if they are kind and sincere about how much they like the item”

-Leave your Coach Purse At Home. Wearing expensive clothes, jewelry and handbags is the first indication that you don’t need a discount.  Take your rings off before leaving home. Pulling up in a luxury car or truck also doesn’t pay off at estate sales. Common ladies, they do pay attention to these things, especially if it is a local estate sale.  If you are trying to negotiate, you will have more success dressed down, and blended in.

– The Secret Is A Smile- It may seem like a pretty petty tip, but it is a true key to success in many transactions.  A really inviting smile can be irresistible to be kind towards.  People cannot help but engage with and give a discount to someone who is smiling and having a great time.  Why is it that some girls at nightclubs catch the most attention from guys, even when there are so many more attractive ladies to choose from?  They walk through the crowds with a smile, and it is inviting.  Have you ever walked through a grocery store, seeing someone just happy?  It pulls you in…  Looking at them, you want to know WHY they are having such a good time.  Negotiating with a smile can really win you more points than being someone so serious and on a mission and out for business alone.

-Cash IS Always King – Most estate sales, and flea markets will not take credit cards, debits, and especially checks, so bring cash.  Have a lot of smaller bills on you before going.  It has happened to me where I bargain for a discount, and then pull out a larger bill, (not having any smaller bills in my purse) and it makes you feel like a fool. It tells them, that you DID have the money to spend in the first place.  If you are trying to form a relationship with a local auctioneer rep…  be considerate of this.  You would assume that they would think that everyone is working on a budget, but that isn’t the case.  They also make decisions based on impressions.  Pulling out large wads of cash, especially larger bills might ruin your chances the next time.  They might get the impression that you do have money, and lots of it to spend, and don’t need that discount.  In the end, don’t FLAUNT your money.  Assumptions, especially those who are sellers can be deadly to your future transactions, even if they are dead wrong.

“Don’t put your whole “wad” of cash in one place in your wallet, so the seller doesn’t see that you have lots more $ than you offered. Make sure you have small bills. Sellers enjoy hearing if you are buying the object for sentimental reasons and/or how you will use it.”

– Shop The First Couple Hours And The Last Day Of A Sale- The very best selection is going to be during the first couple of hours. Get there an hour to two hours early.  Be sure to eat before you come, so you don’t find yourself side tracked with vendors selling food.  Keeping a couple breakfast bars in my truck has saved me so many times before sales.  Know that the first day, most sellers won’t be open to negotiating big discounts.  If you find a piece that is irresistible, really consider buying it.  Chances are it won’t be there within the hour or day.  Prices are usually slashed after the first day with amazing bargains during the last couple of hours of a sale.

– As Soon As You Arrive, Do A Quick Scan Of The Entire Sale – Where ever you are shopping, being it at a local thrift store, flea market, estate sale, garage sale, do a quick walk around the entire venue to scan for items that are quality buys.  This allows you to then go back and really take your time to go through the boxes, the corners and bins for a more thorough search.

– Don’t Be A Criticizing Buyer- I once had a lady come over to my home and buy a French painted floral chest from me, that took me a week to paint.  The first thing she says, after knowing I hand painted it, was the furniture itself was low quality, and that I shouldn’t have spent my time painting this particular piece.  My heart sank.  She stormed out the door, saying “take my price or leave it”, and then came back asking for me to please sell it to her.  In the end, I sold her the piece, but it left me with such a sour taste in my mouth.  I regretted selling her the piece that looking back I shouldn’t have.  Who wants to deal with people like that?  It’s always important to watch what you say, even in casual conversation to your buying partner while you are looking through booths.  Sellers DO hear what you say, even when you are talking in a low voice.  If you are criticizing that hideous art piece at an estate sale, you may not realize that you are among family members who see it as a sentimental piece that their mother made.  It may result, in you having very little success at the sale, especially when you find a piece you DO like.  Worse, if you plan on being in this business, you will surely not make friends.

“I was also a antique dealer and the one thing I always do when I am haggling now is compliment them on the piece I want to buy. I generally start with “This is lovely” or “This is a very nice piece” but I can only afford to pay xxxx. I do offer up to 25% off and | just see what happens. Many times people have rejected my offer, I have repeated again that the piece is lovely and started to walk away and they have called out to me accepting my offer”

– Look UP– When walking through flea markets, antiques are often piled high because of limited space.  When you go, look under benches, and look UP at what is stacked on tables.  Often times, we tend to see what’s at eye level, larger furniture items, and completely pass by the more expensive, smaller, high quality items that are slightly out of eye view. Flea markets and antique malls are often packed with stuff that it is hard to focus on any one thing because of so much clutter.  It becomes overload, and you cannot take the whole thing in.  Keep that in mind.

Don’t Reveal Your True Intentions In Small Talk With Dealers– Making small talk with a dealer is wonderful, up until you tell them you have been looking for a year for the piece they have for sale.   If the seller knows how valuable a piece is in your eyes, you can forget about asking for a lower price, because they know they can get full price.

– Ask For More Information About A Piece-  People who sell antiques for a living often have a good deal of knowledge about their products.   There are some things that you simply don’t want to do or say if you are interested in a piece.  Don’t insult the seller by giving them a low ball offer for a valuable item. What you want to do is ask …..  ” Is this price is firm or is there is room for negotiation?”  You also don’t want to come across dumb, or insult the dealer by questioning their judgement on the date or origin of the piece.  “Is this chest really from Germany?” When you have doubts or more questions, a better way of presenting your question is ……. “What can you tell me about this chest?” Don’t let the dealer rush you. Inspect the item thoroughly.  Allow yourself to pick it up, flip it over and sit in it to determine if it is a good buy for YOU.  Don’t get distracted or intimidated by the dealer if they are watching you while you are making up your mind.

– Expect A Full Day, So Layer Your Clothing –  When you are traveling several hours in your vehicle to get to a sale, and then plan on spending several hours on your feet, consider layering your clothing, because you will get hot.  Layers allows you to remove clothing when the sun gets hot in the middle of the afternoon, and when temperatures change towards the end of the day.  In a recent trip, I left early in the morning, faced a chilly, long drive down to the city at 5am, and when I arrived the mid afternoon heat in the valley was unbearable, and forced me to look for a clothing shop to buy a cooler shirt.  It was such a waste of my time, when I could have packed something to begin with.  Bring an extra pair of shoes, as often times just exchanging out one pair for another allows your feet new padding, and may allow you to go a few extra hours.

– Know How Much Money You Are Willing To Pay– Have in your mind what you are willing to pay before you start negotiating, as this will help you frame up what you are asking for.  Many antique vendors will discount 10 percent off of an item just for asking, and most price their pieces expecting to haggle.  Dealers and sellers will offer a bigger discount on items bought in larger quantities.  Don’t expect any discounts for items under $30 dollars.  There simply isn’t any profit for most dealers with small objects.

“You shouldn’t offer half the asking price; if you are insulting the dealer, you’re not going to get very far,” cautions Sanders. Instead, make an offer of two-thirds or three-quarters of the full price, and nicely say, “This is really what I can afford.” Designer Scott Sanders

– Don’t Boast About Buying An Identical Item For Less– Realize that dealers make their money from the goods they are selling.  It’s rude to look at an item and say things like, “I just got one of these for $5.00!” When it is priced for $40….it’s just inconsiderate.

-Bring Post-its Marked “Sold” To Large Estate Sales – This is a very tricky tip, because it can get you kicked out of a sale if you abuse it.  If you find something fabulous that is too large to carry, use a “sold” tag while you’re searching for a salesperson.   This tip also can also offend sales reps working at an estate sale, where they have asked people to leave the sale and not come back.  Another way around this, is to simply take the price tag off the item and carry it to one of the workers.   Either way, I would use a “sold” tag in rare circumstances.

– Pack Your Vehicle Expecting To Buy More Than You Can Hold – Pack like you are a professional dealer.  Keep a tarp and moving blankets in the truck for filthy finds.  When I first started out antiquing, I would move stuff in our Sebring convertible.  Over time, the leather got damaged, and it simply wasn’t worth it.  Moving blankets also protect your piece, and your car while you are in transit. Keep wet baby wipes in your vehicle, which will come in handy when you want to wash your dirty hands for the trip home.  Keep 1 or 2 foldable cardboard boxes in the trunk for delicate finds, so they don’t roll around and get broken.

– Shop With A Buddy– New shoppers often don’t come prepared to buy larger pieces.  Bring a truck, and if you are serious about buying large pieces, invest in a utility trailer which can be hauled behind.  In addition to transportation, you’re going to need someone to help with the heavy- lifting.  Consider also investing in a forearm forklift moving strap to move out a large armoire, dresser, chest or anything over-sized.

– Pack A Jug Of Water On Any Trip– Countless times I have been in my truck, for a long drive and forget water.  Then I find all I can think about is finding the next gas station to buy bottled water.  Keep a water jug in your truck, and bring with you a small bottle of water that has a cap which you can refill and tuck away in your bag.

Flea Market Must HavesRemovable shoulder strap adjusts to 48 1/2 inches.  Comes with a secure pocket for ID and cash.  Has a large pocket for a camera and phone.  Holds your water up to 1.5 liters.  Also holds keys.  Buy it from $17 dollars Amazon

– Carry A Small Bag– Most sales do not allow bags, so use a fanny pack while at estate sales and flea markets.  A smaller bag allows you to have your hands free.   Pack a tape measure and mini LED flashlight.  BRING  your smart phone, so you can look up information online before buying it.  Keep a text file on your phone with all your room, window, and furniture measurements.  Keep a folder with scans of color swatches, and you will thank yourself later when you find a piece that has the right measurements.

– If You Are After Something Specific, Tell Dealers About It- Some of the best shoppers know that dealers look for goods on a daily basis and use that to their advantage.  Have a paper that you can hand out,  with a printed inventory list of what you are looking for, along with your email and phone number.  Be prepared to have the money to spend for these items when they do call, or don’t ask dealers to waste their time.  If they find what you are looking for, and you don’t buy it, chances are, they won’t look any further for you.

– College Towns Are Jackpots For Furniture-  If you live near a college town, often times you find FREE furniture on the last day of the school session. If you live in an area with colleges, major universities, they almost all have property dispersal warehouses where they sell off anything and everything found in a school.  Investigate it.

– Map Out Your Route, And The Other Stores In The Area When Investigating Somewhere New – Often times if you are heading out to an estate, or yard sale in a new town or city, look the night before what exists in the area.  You might stumble across a great store that is worth a two hour drive every two weeks for a load of furniture.  If you are spending money to drive, plan a better route that allows you to hit more potential stores on the way there, and the way home.

– Don’t Be Afraid Of Leaving Your Info–  After negotiating with a dealer, and not being able to reach an agreement, some estate companies will take “bids” on items over $100.  Look at the piece carefully, and don’t insult the seller with your bid.   Write down your bid, and give it to them.  At the end of the sale, they might take you up on your offer.  Tell them you are willing to make a trip back to purchase the item, and let you know if you won.  Often times dealers will sell for less if a piece has been sitting in their inventory for a long time, or an estate sale has ended, and the piece you liked is still for sale. Dealers don’t like to pack up furniture on the final day of a large sale. Your contact info is better than nothing.

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