Top Tips for Flea Market Success

Nothing makes me happier than finding just what I’ve been looking for at a bargain price. Falling for something I never even knew I needed is pretty great too which is why I adore flea markets. The combination of affordable prices and never knowing quite what you’ll come home with makes exploring a market my favourite pastime. 

I’ve heard friends say that they would be put off going to a flea market as they don’t feel comfortable haggling over prices. I think this fear has been fueled by endless daytime television series where they show a hard nosed dealer wrestling over prices with a fleece-wearing contestant. In my experience this is largely for them cameras and most stall holders are mild-mannered and friendly.

Whether you’re a regular to markets or are looking to explore some in the near future, I hope you’ll find my top tips helpful.

1. Go early

This seems obvious but trust me, if you’re looking for gems that won’t cost you the earth (or the RRP) you need to be there early. Hauling yourself out of bed early on a weekend can feel like utter madness but your bleary eyes will be cleared when you get pick of the bunch. Remember that flea markets are prime hunting ground for dealers as well as the general public and trust me, they don’t rock up at 11am, coffee in hand. If you want to be in with a chance at getting the good stuff you’re going to have to sacrifice that lie-in.

2. Don’t buy damaged 

My dad drilled this mantra in to me when I was about 14 and its stood me in good stead so far.

Let me be clear though that if you’re looking for a restoration project or feel you can easily repair the damage, that is a different matter. I’m talking about the chipped tea cup or ripped vintage eiderdown. Trust me, I’ve steamed ahead and bought these in the past thinking I was getting a bargain. In reality they’ve sat in the ‘projects’ cupboard for years only to be guiltily disposed of later.

Hang out for one that’s complete or pristine. You’ll love it so much more when you find it.

3. Be friendly

I don’t want to insult anybody here but yes it’s early and you’re freezing but saying hello, smiling and making eye contact before you ask the price of something will build an instant rapport with the stall-holder. Chances are that they were up earlier than you so taking the time to be friendly will get negotiations off to a great start. I’ve witnessed people pick something up and gruffly say ‘how much?’ Countless times and the reply from the vendor is usually very short {and expensive!}. Just because you’re stood in a muddy field doesn’t mean that simple courtesies should be ignored, they’ll go a really long way.

Always thank somebody for giving you a price before you walk off, even if it is more than you would ever think of paying. I’ve been called back before and been able to bid them with what I’d be willing to pay just because I was polite and friendly.

4. Don’t give too much away

You may know that you’re looking at an Anglepoise lamp or an Ercol chair but don’t presume the stallholder knows as much as you do. Never give the game away before they do. ‘How much is this chair please?’ Is far more casual than ‘How much of your Ercol chair please?’. By letting on to the seller you know exactly what you’re looking at instantly shows just how interested you might be and obviously that it’s something you’re after. Keep it casual and let them do the talking.

5. The haggle limit

Having grown up with a dad who is an antiques dealer I might be a bit of a softie on this one but if a seller gives me a price and it feels fair, I’ll just pay it and move on. Being a dealer is really hard and I personally don’t want to beat somebody down too much on prices. Generally if a small item is under £10 I won’t haggle. These people have to make a living and if you are happy with their first price then go for it.

For larger items I will always negotiate if I need to. There’s more wiggle room in higher priced items and dealers will expect you to.

6. Go with your gut

If something feels to expensive or if it’s just not quite right, just walk away. I’m terrible for ‘guilt-buying’ things when the seller has taken ages to explain it or is a sweet old man, they get me every time! There’s nothing worse than getting something home and realising it was a mistake…

Other than that there’s all the practical tips like take a bottle of water and wear a rucksack and suncream if it’s warm but in reality I normally forget most of these in the excitement. Happy hunting you guys!


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