Where To Look And What To Buy When Antique Shopping

Hanna KielarDecember 21, 2019

Shopping for antiques is like going on a treasure hunt. Weaving up and down the halls of an old antique shop, you never know what hidden gem you might stumble upon.

For some, it’s a leisurely stroll through a local shop. For others, it’s a hardcore hobby.

If you’re looking to fill your home with pieces of the past, check out our insights from seasoned antique shoppers and their tips for finding timeless treasures.

Before You Begin

Before you begin your trip to the local antique hub in your town, make sure you understand the “jargon,” as Carly Fauth from Money Crashers suggested.

“To be considered a true antique, it must be at least 100 years old,” said Fauth. “Any other terminology, such as ‘collectible,’ probably means it’s not an antique.”

Ash No, founder of SFRugs, an online antique rug shop, suggests you must be educated on the value of an antique before shopping. No suggests to base the value off the item’s price, condition and reparability.

Therefore, consider the price of the item in reference to its current condition. Will it need to be fixed? Can it be fixed?

If the price isn’t right, you might want to pass on that particular piece of the past.

As far as where to start your search, find estate sales, auctions, antique malls, barn sales and even festivals for all your antique shopping. If you’re looking for a deal, stick to flea markets; antique fairs will have a more tailored retail selection and, therefore, higher prices.

Adventures In Antiquing

Should you search for a specific time period? Or for the perfect piece to pull together a room in your home? Or maybe you should just wing it?

Nicolas Martin, flea market expert and founder of Flea Market Insiders, suggested that it depends on what you’re looking for or expecting from a day of antique shopping.

“It is more advised to go in open if you plan to bring something home at the end of the day,” he explained. “The narrower your search fields, the lower probability you will find something interesting to bring back home.”

Try to broaden your search to functional pieces that can be used in a home:

  • Dining sets
  • Dressers
  • Coffee tables
  • Small furniture
  • Silverware/glassware
  • Luminaries
  • Décor (photos, paintings, mirrors)

However, if you’re still looking for a specific item, No warns to be patient and prepared to hunt for a much longer time. Additionally, Martin advised to search eBay or Etsy, for specific items. Be advised that if you search online as opposed to a flea market or antique shop, you’ll most likely pay a higher price.

Deal Or No Deal?

Finally! You’ve found that item you’ve been searching for. After hopping from one antique store to the next, you finally have your hands on your dream antique piece, only to turn over the item and (gasp!) catch a glimpse of the price.

How do you know if you’ve found a good (or bad) deal on an antique item?

Martin suggested that a good deal is when the item you purchased is worth more than you paid for. However, he also mentioned that, “In the end, a good deal is a deal that creates an emotional (pricing compared to actual use) or financial satisfaction (pricing compared to real monetary value).”

No classifies a deal based on a few factors:

  • You’ll truly use it
  • It’s in your budget
  • You know all the costs involved with purchasing the product

Speaking of all the costs involved with the purchase, what if your antique needs a little TLC?

Love It Or Leave It

If you pick an antique piece that needs a little love, No asserted to “leave the repairs to the professionals” and to “make sure you factor in the repair cost when you choose your antique piece.”

No suggested, “Those steal-of-a-deal fixer-uppers can cost you more than buying the item ready to use – particularly antique rugs. My customers are always shocked at the cost of a quality antique rug repair.”

No also notes that to keep the true value of the antique, avoid repairs unless absolutely necessary.

Martin suggested abiding by a few things before deciding to fix up an item:

  • How much you’ve already paid
  • If you’re planning to resell it or keep it for personal use
  • Its potential resale price

If you purchased the item at a higher price, you may want to reconsider fixing it. Like No says, there’s often more value in keeping the antique’s original, true state.

Tips From The Pros

If you’re ready to dive into the world of antique shopping, check out these insider tips from the professionals who make it look easy!

Get To Know Your Surroundings

Carole Marcotte, an interior designer with a retail shop that focuses on vintage and antique items, suggested taking a moment to get to know your antique dealers, and should they have a mailing list, get on it. You might get alerted about sales and special events before the crowd.

She also suggested to watch out for special warehouse sales, visit antique malls and keep your eyes peeled for items that may have been there for a while.

“A vendor may be open to wheeling and dealing if they have had the product for awhile,” she commented.

Martin added that by maintaining a good relationship with merchants, you’ll be able to get a sneak preview of their wares and might be able to secure a good price.

Act Fast (And Early)

“The early bird gets the worm,” suggested Martin, so strive to show up early to any antique stores or market to increase your probability of scoring a deal.

“Always try to show up at least 40 minutes ahead of the official opening time,” advised Martin. “Quite often, particularly with open-air flea markets, the market premises are ‘unofficially’ accessible before the general opening. This is the best time to find hidden gems.”

Additionally, Martin advises that once you find it, grab it, and don’t let it go. If you like an item, you must have it in your possession, to prevent other people from claiming it as theirs.

Lastly, Martin suggested scouring the flea market at least twice to view items at different perspectives.

Educate Yourself

At this point, you might be thinking, “Wow! There’s a lot that goes into antique shopping!” And you’re right: Shopping for antiques requires patience and some skill, especially if you have to refurbish, repaint or even reupholster.

One key thing that might help you during your search is knowledge – knowledge pertaining to antiques, vintage items or history. For example, Martin suggested that being knowledgeable about a topic in history could be profitable in the long run.

If you have experience or knowledge on items like furniture, militaria, crockery, industrial design, clothing, vintage accessories, painting and photography, you may be able to use that expertise to collect valuable antiques.

The Hunt Begins

If you’re ready to start the treasure hunt for pieces of the past, put these tips in place to help you find great antiques and purchase perfect deals.

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    Hanna Kielar

    Hanna Kielar is an Associate Section Editor for Quicken Loans focused on personal finance, recruiting and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.