Shopping at a flea market counts as a unique experience. Timing your visit right is essential, haggling is part of the process, and finding one-of-a-kind items is the underlying expectation. Here are nine tips to make your next trip fun and successful.
Make a list
Since flea markets and their multitude of goods can be overwhelming to some shoppers, having buying goals (patio chairs, throw pillows) will help you focus. While you’re at it, set a budget to avoid making impulsive purchases you later regret.
Get there early
“The best things will go first,” says Nicolas Martin, founder of Flea Market Insiders, an online reference to vintage and antiques shopping. “Merchants and professional dealers often show up before dawn when the flea-market vendors are still unpacking their trucks. This is one of the best times to find hidden gems.” If you do go super-early, bring a flashlight so you can see in the dark. “A headlamp flashlight is even better, as it will leave both hands empty for rummaging,” he says. If arriving before dawn is too drastic, show up at least 40 minutes before the official opening time.
Stroll the venue twice from opposite directions
“This may sound like a weird tip, but I guarantee that you won’t see the same things from two different perspectives,” Martin says. “You’ll be surprised how different a market looks like when browsed from a new angle.”
Cold hard cash rules at flea markets. Though most major flea markets have ATMs on the premises, try to avoid them – the lines will be long, you’ll pay a service fee and it’s a way to stay on budget.
When you find something you love, grab it
Just looking at something doesn’t give you first dibs. If you’re not firmly holding onto an item, another shopper could claim it.
Inspect the item for flaws
The worst thing besides paying too much for something is paying for something that’s broken, Martin says. “Should it be a chair, a vintage camera, a painting or a porcelain figure, always take the time to review the item in detail.” says Martin. If the vendor gets pushy, “be polite and tell him that before making him an offer, you need to know exactly what you’re buying.”
A flea market is one place where a “$25” tag may really mean “$18” – but you have to ask.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is not haggling enough on the price, Martin says. Here’s how to do it: Name a price that’s half of what you are actually willing to pay. The vendor will then give you a price that’s lower than the original. You two will go back and forth a few times until you can agree on a price.
“If the seller’s final offer is too high, hesitate and look worried,” Martin says. “Then tell them that you’re going to look around while you think about it.” At that point, the vendor will probably start bargaining again. But be reasonable: He still needs to make a profit.
Stay until closing
Great deals often happen if you show up just as the vendors are packing up for the day. If they don’t want to lug their wares back to their truck, they may knock some considerable dollars off the original asking price.