How (and when!) to Haggle at Flea Markets and Garage Sales

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Daytona Flea Market

How to haggle at places like auctions, flea markets and garage sales can be difficult to navigate – how to haggle, when it is appropriate, when it’s not, etc.; are questions I get All the time!!

Usually, we are at a flea market or garage sale when the whispered question comes up, “What should I pay for this?” And I usually answer, “I don’t know!”

Honestly, I really DON’T know!!!

But I base my idea on what to pay or how to haggle for a treasure on what I WANT to pay for the treasure.

So I have come up with AMY’S Tips and Tricks for How (and when!) to Haggle for a Treasure:

  1. Ask yourself, “Self, what am I looking for?” (Let’s use dishes for our example)  Keep your focus on dishes. If you go to a flea market with no direction in mind, you can (and will!) get lost among the various other items.

  1. Know your Market.  Are you going to garage sales or flea market in a small town out in the country or are you in NYC?  BIG difference in prices, people and treasures.

  1. How much money do you have?  Figure out your budget and stick to it. Most storage unit auctions, garage sales and flea markets are cash-only sales. If you only bring a certain amount of cash, it is AMAZING to discover that you can find exactly what you are looking for IN your budget!!

  1. Set a time frame for shopping. The longer you give yourself to find that “perfect” treasure, the longer it’s going to take you to find it!!!  Two to four hours is usually plenty of time to make it to a ton of garage sales or to traverse through a large part of most flea markets.

Now Let’s shop!!

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Remember, we are looking for dishes…

Ask yourself “Self, how am I going to use these dishes?” (Let’s say we want a mix and match set of funky dishes for a bridal luncheon that we are in charge of organizing.)

This is where instinct kicks into gear. You are putting on a luncheon for 10. You need Plates, Small Bowls for fruit and a Teacup and Saucer.  Did I say for 10…?

Review: 1) dishes, 2) flea market, 3) $25, 4) two hours (you’ll be famished by then and need to get out of those walking shoes and into flip-flops! It is Saturday after all!)

We start at the entrance of the flea market and travel rather quickly through the main aisle.  This aisle is usually for the vendors who are there every single week and have earned their Prime Location.

More than likely, they will have items that are a bit pricier than those in the farther reaches of the market. So it is best to just keep moving but still keep a searching eye on what your are passing.

Now, you come to the part of the flea market that is fairly far from the parking lot.

There may be empty booths and just “Hobby” vendors. These people are the BEST!!! They come to sell wares but to also chat, tell stories and ask about you and your stories!!! I always promise myself that next time, I am going to START at the back of the flea market!!!

It is in this area that you start noticing piles of dishes: plates, cups, mugs, silverware, crystal, wine glasses.  So Slow Down!!  Instead of just making a mental note, start really looking at the items. When you have found a couple of pieces that interest you, set them aside.

If you really like the pieces, DON’T get too openly excited! You don’t want the vendor to know that you have just discovered hidden Treasure! Stay calm!!!!

Also, DON’T say anything negative about the item (dissing it will NOT make the price go lower – it will just offend the vendor).

Ask the seller how much they are asking for the items.

They tell you.

Look the items over again.  Read the bottom of the dish or look for any information that will indicate more about the condition or quality of the item. Note the brand, country it was made, and perhaps even the lot number. Does it seem legitimate, valuable – is it an antique?

Set the item back down.

Look over other items on the table.

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Go back to original items and pick them up again.

Ask the seller, “Is that your best price?”

Now, this is where things can get controversial!

Some people believe that ALL prices are up for negotiations. I believe that the vendor knows how much he wants for the treasure and usually, it is at this point that he tells me that price. You have to use your gut feeling on whether or not there is room for negotiation.

If you feel that there is room for negotiation, then walk away from the treasures! Yup! Just walk away!!! The treasures will still be there in another 5 minutes.

Walk over to another vendor and start this strange dance again. Perhaps you will do this a couple more times before you wander back to the first seller.

This time, DON’T even touch the treasure. Just state how much you will offer him for what you want.  The vendor will either agree, laugh out loud as if he is embarrassed by your offer or restate the original amount that he said.

Laughing out loud means he wants YOU to be embarrassed and come back with a higher price on your own. Restating the original amount means he’s NOT budging on the price and that is what you’re going to have to pay.

If he agrees…You’ve hit PAY DIRT!!!!! Lucky!!!!!!

Make sure you let the vendor know just how happy you are with his treasure and even divulge how you are going to use the items!  He may have more under the table, in the back of the truck or tucked away in a hidden spot!

The adrenalin really kicks into gear at this point and you are now officially on a ROLL!!!!

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So, Get Going!!!! Use these tricks and just remember…

  1. Dishes

  2. Flea Market

  3. $25

  4. 2 hours

One more tip! If you go to a flea market or garage sale near the end of the sale – you’re more likely to get lower prices because vendors don’t want to take the item back home but that also means that you may miss out on more quality-driven items because they were sold early-on in the day.

And remember…STAY FOCUSED!!

I’m going to drop in a video here of a favorite Junker of mine: Bob Richter and a Flea Market Minute

Until Next Time

Keep on Junkin’

Amy

Amy's Heart

4 thoughts on “How (and when!) to Haggle at Flea Markets and Garage Sales”

  1. That may work for most buyers, but put yourself on the other side. I’ve been doing antique shows for 33 years. Most of what you have posted above is what the vendors talk about. The dealer in most cases has to find, purchase, clean, sometimes repair, pack drive and spend hours trying to sell an item. In most cases their is not a lot of room in the middle to high end. When I started in coins, the coin dealers told me 15-20% is a common percentage of profit. Now add in that you have expenses for gas, lodging and of course the cost of renting the spot……the profit margin is very little. The spots of a 10 x 20 booth run $135-345, and tables are extra at $10 a piece. You must make sure that your offer is in line with the venue. I usually do 20% on everything, and try to mark 10-15 book or common cost. I have seen and done this practice to people who offer low ball offers, say the item is $100, the dealer offers it at $80, the customer comes back at $50, the dealer replies $120. Yes, it is an insult to the buyer, but they have already insulted the seller and his knowledge of the item. Just beware that their are several ins and outs in the market place.

  2. So true Jay – thanks for clarifying this, I should have incorporated more of the vendors’ perspective! But that gives me an idea for a future blog post perhaps – something that details the time, effort, and money that vendor’s have to put into a sale. And wow – 33 years doing antique shows?? That’s quite impressive!

    And since my last blog post didn’t quite convey my appreciation :/ thank you!! Because without the vendors, none of us would be able to attend these great shows in the first place!

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