Outdoor markets are in full swing right now! If you love them for their big bargains, great news: Our flea market insider shares his hacks for saving a whole lot more. Read these tips before you buy so you know what to expect, how much money to offer, and how and where to find the best deals.
Snag deals from hobbyists.
There are two types of vendors at flea markets: professionals who sell as their full-time job and hobbyists who sell as a part-time side gig. “Operating costs for pro sellers are greater than those of hobbyists because they often have a brick-and-mortar or online store they need to pay for, so they tend to sell their items at a higher price,” notes Nicolas Martin, founder of FleaMarketInsiders.com. This means you’ll get bigger deals from the part-time non-pro. Plus, you can often scoop up collectibles, antiques, and other goods from them for less, since they may not be aware of their value like pros are.
So, how can you spot a hobbyist? One giveaway is that their booth may be cluttered and include a mix of odds and ends, unlike a pro’s booth. Another clue: “Ask if the vendor can issue an invoice for items sold,” says Martin. Unlike most part-timers, pros are required to pay taxes, so they’ll have invoices available, while non-pros may not.
Nab p.m. bargains on these.
This is one of the best flea market hacks: If you’re looking for furniture, visit the market at the end of the day, when it’s time for vendors to pack up. “The nearer you get to closing time, the higher the probability that you’ll get large, heavy items, such as armoires and couches, at a discounted price,” Martin reveals. Why? Not only is it exhausting to pack up bulky furniture after a long day, but there’s also a risk that the pieces will get damaged each time they’re moved. Once, at the end of the day, Martin spotted a pair of vintage side chairs worth $1,200 each selling for only $190 each, then bargained the seller down to just $150 each as he was putting the items back on his truck. The seller agreed so he wouldn’t have to bring them back home.
The rain is your friend.
If the forecast calls for rain, grab your umbrella and head to your favorite flea market. “You’ll have less competition from other customers for the best items,” says Nicolas Martin. “Plus, sellers are likely to offer lower prices to entice the few customers that do show up to buy!”
Haggle this way.
Shy about negotiating down a price? Don’t be! “Most merchants like to bargain!” insists Martin. They may even get insulted if you don’t haggle. “As crazy as it may sound, some vendors can’t stand the cockiness of a customer willing to pay the asking price.” Being polite and showing appreciation of their merchandise is key. “Congratulating a dealer on the quality of their goods and good taste, engaging in a passionate conversation about an item (without showing too much interest) and sharing anecdotes almost guarantees you’ll get a better price,” he says.
Extra tip: When requesting a discount, Martin advises suggesting up to 30 percent less than the asking price, which most vendors consider reasonable. Don’t get the price you want? “Be ready to walk away,” he says. “Giving the impression that you are leaving may motivate the seller to agree on a more favorable price.”
Ask about bundled offers.
Before inquiring about the price of one item, ask sellers if they offer discounts for multiple purchases. “It’s common for vendors to offer a two-for-one or three-for-one special, especially for items that belong to the same group. For example, old photos, LPs, tableware, glassware, cutlery, linens, and so on,” explains Martin. “A good customer who buys several items is the dream of every seller, so few will refuse you a good price.”
Know your prices.
Think you’ve stumbled upon a valuable antique or collectible for a steal? Martin recommends double-checking by using the free app Google Lens (Android) or CamFind (Apple). Simply take a picture of the item and the app will instantly scour the internet for the same or similar items, giving you an idea of how much it’s worth if you decide to resell it. One of the easiest flea market hacks, indeed.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.