The Best Antique, Flea and Estate Sale Tips

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antique and flea market tips and tricks

Tried and True Antique, Flea, and Estate Sale Tips

As you may, or may not know, I’m sort of a junkin’ junkie.  There I’ve said it.  I love junk.  I guess it’s not all junk.  I like antique markets, flea markets and estate sales mostly, but I don’t dismiss a good yard or rummage sale either.  Long story short, I’m pretty good at scooping up a good deal and finding some diamonds in the rough.  Well, let’s be real, the diamonds aren’t usually real.

antique market, flea market and estate sale tips and tricks

Anyway, I’m going to share some of my best tips with you and show you some cool stuff along the way…

Antique Fairs and/or Flea Markets.

Tip #1.

Pack your bag.

That’s right.  Your going to need a nice purse that is just right for junkin’.  It will include the following items.

  • tape measure
  • list of measurements important from your home (window sizes, doorways, nooks needing to be filled with sweet furniture or doodads, etc.)
  • roll of masking tape
  • sharpie
  • notepad/a couple pencils (I always lose at least 2, so have a spare)
  • gum
  • wagon (mostly for large markets/fairs.)
  • cash

Tip #2.

Price is always negotiable.

antique market, flea market and estate sale tips and tricks

Now when I say that, I don’t mean you should do that garage sale dance that drives me nuts.  You know, the one where something is a buck and someone offers you fifty cents.  That makes me want to poke someone in the eye.  No, I mean, vendors will usually price their stuff with a little wiggle room.  This works even better if you’re interested in multiple items.  Example skit to follow…

You: After spying a insert cool item here priced for $40, you seek out the vendor in the funny hat. “Hello young man, beautiful day isn’t it?”-inner monologue stating that this man clearly is not young….

Vendor: “Why yes, it is.  I see you’re eyeing up that insert cool item here.  You know, that came from England around the turn of the century.  It was carried over on a ship that nearly sunk when it hit whale.  That insert cool item here was rescued by a sailor where he made into a raft until it made it’s way into an attic in Philly for a few decades until I was lucky enough to find it.”

You:  “Wow, that is sooooooo interesting!….That insert cool item here would fit perfectly in my insert random place here.  Will you take $30 for it?”

Vendor: (oooo’s, and eeeeee’s here along with crinkled up nose and squinchy eyes.)  “I don’t know… It’s authentic insert exotic substance here.”

You: “Well, would you take $50 for the insert cool item here and for this slightly less cool, but would still look better on the mantle than that ceramic goose your Great Aunt Lula gave you for your sweet sixteen item here.?”

Vendor:  (long deep breath accompanied by duck lips and thinking “11’s” between the eyes) “$55 and you have a deal.”

You: (holding back insane giddiness and keeping cool)  “Sold!”  Insert handshake.

Because, let’s face it.  Anytime you “feel” like you got a deal.  You did.  Don’t try to low-ball these folks either.  They are trying to make a living the same as you and me, but a few kind words and a nice chat can get you pretty far.  Lucky for me, I like to chat.

antique market, flea market and estate sale tips and tricks

Tip #3.

Mark it sold.

Okay, so now that you have bought this amazing “thing”, you don’t want to carry it around the entire place with you until you find the next awesome “thing”  right?  Here is where you pull out your masking tape, write “sold-name” and stick it on your item.  Any vendor will be happy to put it in the back of the booth until you are finished for the day.

Tip #4.

Don’t forget what you bought and where.

Here is where that tablet comes in handy.  Write down what you bought, the booth number, identifying landmarks of the booth, and what you paid.  This list will be invaluable when you are trucking your wagon around and the end of the day picking up all of your goodies.  Then  you know you haven’t forgotten anything.

Tip #5.

Cash is king… Or queen.  Whatever your thing is.

I always take cash no matter what.  In fact, I never even bring my bank card in the gate.  This is just a good way to know exactly how much you are willing to spend and this makes it impossible to go over.  It’s really easy to get excited and overbuy.  Been there, done that.  You don’t want to end up with buyers remorse over something you probably will never be able to get rid of just because you were pumped up.

antique market, flea market and estate sale tips and tricks

Estate Sales.

Some of the same rules apply for estate sales, but they are a horse of different color.

Tip #1.

Sign up on an Estate Sale tracker website for easy local updates.  I like, but there are a ton of them you can Google yourself.  This particular one allows me to put specific items for it to watch for and it will notify me of sales that have that kind of item.  Then it will also email me with upcoming local sales along with some teaser pictures.

Tip #2.

Look at the pictures closely.

antique market, flea market and estate sale tips and tricks

When you see a sale online that has pictures, look at each item closely.  If you see something you are really interested in, take note of if it’s somewhere near a window, if it looks like it’s in the basement or garage, etc.  This will make it easier for you to find right away when you get there before someone else scoops it up.


For each item you liked in the pictures, have a mental monetary cap.  This just makes it easier so you don’t overpay in the heat of the moment.  Most estate sales will not negotiate on the first day, but will have a “bid box” out.  This is where you can put your bid for certain items.  If it doesn’t sell by the last day of the sale, they will call the highest bid from the “bid box.”  I’ve won a number of cool items this way and I only spent exactly what I thought was fitting for them.

Tip #4.

Pack your bag.  Again.

  • tape measure
  • list of measurements important from your home (window sizes, doorways, nooks needing to be filled with sweet furniture or doodads, etc.)
  • masking tape
  • sharpie
  • cash or card- most estate sales will allow the use of a card for purchases over $50 and usually with a fee.
  • some muscle if you buy big.  Estate sale workers do not usually help load large pieces into a vehicle.  So it’s BYOM-Bring Your Own Muscle. They usually do not mind if you have to come back later to pick up an item.

Tip #5.

The early bird gets the sweet items.

IMG_4427Get there early.  Note whether or not the sale says it will have a sign up sheet or not.  If it does, it will usually say something like, “Sign up starts at 8:00 a.m, sale promptly at 9:00a.m.”  This just means that you can get there at 7:45 a.m, wait until 8:00a.m, put your name on the sheet, then go have coffee until 8:55 a.m, then get back and be the first in the door.  Sweet deal huh?  I love sign up sheets.

Tip #6.

Location, location, location.

Remember when I said  before, note where the items you really want are.  These are the places you will try to hit up first.  If you decide you want the item.  Stick a “sold” sticker on it and move on.  It’s best to make a quick lap of the house, scooping up the small things you are interested in before digging into stacks of books, records, or dishes, etc.  People are ruthless at these things, watch out flying for elbows.

antique market, flea market and estate sale tips and tricks

So, all in all, I hope these tips make you a more efficient junker.  I know from experience that they have helped me get some great deals and have an awesome time doing it.  This is just my style though.  I like reusing and repurposing as much as I can.  New is boring and just not as much fun as digging in looking for that “one of a kind” thing.

Do you have any junkin’ tips?  What’s your favorite place to scoop up some great deals?


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