How to avoid getting ripped-off when shopping at antique stores & fairs

Guest post by Sara aka iLiveinmyLab
Lyndsay and Mike - Day After

I went to Texas Antique Weekend with a friend of mine recently. As it was the last day of the fair we were hoping to get some good deals. I, of course, was in my never ending search for random glass objects as decorations for the wedding. We arrived at the first set of antique shops around 10am and did not finish till around 5-ish (it was a long intense day) and I was able to find a few good things.

Here are some tips for those of you who are planning on going to an antique fair to hunt for wedding items any time soon (most of this list will work for shops too).

1. Plan ahead. Have a general idea of where you plan on going before you get there. The night before I printed off the map of where the antique booths/pavilions were supposed to be set up. If you don't know the layout of the area, it could get a bit more confusing and when you're trying to cover a LOT of ground in one day. It's best to go in with a general idea of where you plan to go before you get there.

2. Don't Go Alone. This might sound like an odd one, or a “be safe don't go alone” message but it's not. It's nice to have someone there to motivate you to keep going and keep you on track. Plus if you end up getting a bunch of stuff they're there to help carry! Also, you'll get tired during the day and having that extra person there to talk to and joke about the random stuff you see is wonderful. Plus, an extra set of eyes is always good for spotting something.

3. Know What You're Looking For. Have a general idea of what you are wiling to buy before you go. For instance, my list was glass related items. By having a list and a “mission” so to speak you won't get drawn in as easily to look at other pretty things (like vintage wedding dresses — yeah, there were a bunch there, absolutely gorgeous and dirt cheap, so keep your eyes open for them if that's something you're interested in ladies!) It's really easy to distract yourself at these types of things, so try and stay on track as possible because you've got a LOT of ground to cover and if you're only going for one day you need to hit as many shops as possible.

4. Set a Spending Limit – And Stick To It. While yes some places will take credit cards, don't be tempted! Pull out all of the cash that you are willing/can afford to spend the day before. Most places will deal only in cash, but you will find a few that take credit cards (and usually these are the people that will rip you off and charge you extra fees). If you do find that one thing you ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE that will tip you over that spending limit, look for an ATM, write a check, or bum cash off said friend you brought along. If it's really that cool of an item, the vendor will probably hold it for you till you can get back with the cash.

5. Do Your Research on What You Want to Buy BEFORE You Go. This is probably the MOST important rule you need to follow. When you decide what you want to look for on your shopping expedition, cruise around on Ebay to see what you like, what the prices are, what the shipping costs are, and what the product looks like. The craziest thing I saw at the fair were the PRICES. I've gotten pretty good at pricing glass and know a lot of the general patterns and I can pick out the crap from the good stuff, but most of what I saw was HEAVILY over priced.

Ebayvase For instance, observe this glass vase I bought on Ebay for $20 shipping included [pictured right].

It is a fairly nice glass vase, it's not the nice heavy leaded glass (this means it's a super thin glass which makes it cheaper), and it's not signed from a big company, but it's pretty. I saw a VERY similar piece at the fair (I suspect they were made by the same manufacturer they were nearly an identical pattern). The vendor I saw was trying to sell it for $175 because it was “hand blown glass.” I also came across SEVERAL of the vases that were from the same vendor I bought from on Amazon that were roaming around with price tags of $150.IMG_4959.JPG

Another example of a glass piece [pictured right] that I bought for around $12 from a local antique shop and saw for sale at the fair for $60 – $80!

Moral of the story, know what you're looking at and what it should approximately cost (based on current Ebay/Amazon value) when you walk in. This will REALLY help you out and be the main prevention of getting royally screwed over.

6. Bring Your Own Bags/Rolling Carts.

Not all stores will have bags for you to carry your goods away, so it's a good idea for you to bring some type of bag or little rolling cart to tote your stuff around. Yesterday, I brought my Reisenthel shopping bags with me and they worked great! I also had my rolling grocery bag in the car as back up in case I thought we'd need to tote larger things around.

Another good idea would be to bring newspaper/bubble wrap with you and leave it in your car in case you want to re-wrap stuff to keep it from breaking.

7. Bring Your Own Ice Chest. Bring your own drinks, snacks, and even lunch if you want to. It's really easy to get dehydrated in the heat and it's super important to be able to have a cold drink with you at all times. Not all places will have refreshments, but if they do you'll have to pay their inflated prices. We ended up eating at my SUV — we just popped up the back and ate the food we brought with us on the bumper in the shade.

8. Go Early and Be Prepared for Traffic. Get there as early as you can to try and get started with the day. You might end up getting stuck in traffic (we did and it took us an hour to go one mile).

9. If It's Not What You Want, Then Leave. We stopped at a few places yesterday that were tents filled with “posh” (read: barf-tastic and over priced) furniture that had nothing like what we were looking for. We quickly walked through the few tents to double check this and then left. Don't waste time by searching through every vendor when there appears to be a theme at certain places.

What? You didn't buy anything from the castle gift shop in your wedding dress?10. If They Make You Pay Then There's a Problem. We went by a few antique shows aka. “barns,” that tried to make us pay a $10 cover charge (PER PERSON) to get in. This seemed kind of wrong to us, mainly because we did not know what was inside AND this was only for two of the twenty or so barns/pavilions that were there that day. Don't give them your 10 bucks because there MIGHT be a chance the perfect item is in there, because if it's not you're going to be mad at yourself for wasting that money (seriously, an antique show is not a bar).

11. Don't Pay Full Price (Unless you KNOW it's a Good Deal). Don't be afraid to bargain, just know that if a vase that's only worth $20 is priced at $60 you probably won't get him to come down to $20. Usually on items greater than $60 you can get them to come down $10-$15 and on items less than $20, $2-$5 less is usually where you'll meet.

Don't start off your bidding too high, pick what you're hoping for and make that the middle. Like when I told the lady I'd pay $60 for an $80 dollar vase, she met me at $70.

Sometimes at the end of the show you will get a REALLY good bargain. I saw this when I bought two glass ornaments. Usually those sell for $20-$30 a piece — I got them for $10 a piece which was her initial offer. I tried to go a little lower but she refused and I admitted defeat and happily took home my good deal.

12. Have fun! And remember sunblock/umbrellas/good shoes. This is supposed to be a fun day, so while you should remember to stay on task, if there's a vintage bird cage veil hat that you absolutely have to try on do it (just don't take the whole day to do it). Also remember to bring sunblock, an umbrella (to provide shade and just in case there's rain), and comfy shoes.

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Comments on How to avoid getting ripped-off when shopping at antique stores & fairs

  1. Whoah! I have the brownish purple version of the green vase pictured! I found mine amongst a bunch of junk on a curb. It was filthy and had an impressive population of deceased spiders, but now it is cleaned up and working again. Glad I got such a great freebie!

    Loved this advice article and plan to commit it very much to memory. Thank you!

    • I actually have the exact same green pitcher/vase. And the matching drinking glasses, that came with a wire brass holder but we got rid of because it just takes up space :P. Pretty sure it's inherited from some family member…Must have been a popular design back in the day!

  2. great advice!
    I started going to the Mennonite flea market with my mother when I was 7. I've been a haunter of flea markets and thrift shops ever since. if I were to add any advice – remember, there's always another deal around the corner.
    if an object isn't just what you want or you can't get an agreeable price, keep walking. sometimes the vendor will concede and call you back with another offer and sometimes you'll find something better at a better price elsewhere. and a bit of Martha Stewart advice – if you lose out on a find, don't buy something else just to buy something.

  3. Good advice for anyone, not just brides to be! I love antiquing & hunting!

    I must disagree about the glass however. My husband is a glass blower & thick glass is a sign of an inexperienced glass blower. Master glass artists produce thin even pieces. A cheap piece of glass by a new and inexperienced artist starts around $80-$150. Basically, you get what you pay for. I think you got a bargain however if you found a piece for $20 on ebay & the exact same for $175.

    I like #12, remember sunblock. My first sunburn each spring happens at the flea market.

    • You are correct, master glass artists do produce the thin wonderful pieces, but they cost LOTS of $$$$$ to buy them and they usually don't make it to antiques stores/shows at least in the area where I live in. If you're from an area that has a rich glassblowing history or a school nearby you might have a better chance of finding something that nice. However – I did see one episode of Antiques Roadshow where a woman had a nice Tiffany flower vase and had no idea what it was because she purchased it at a store for 100 bucks, so maybe sometimes you do get lucky…

  4. I have the green jug, my mother in law bought it for me for a few bucks at a Value Village! If you know what you are looking for you can get major deals at regular thrift stores. I often see owners of antique shops in there, then they resell the stuff at triple the cost!

    • this is very VERY true, i work at a popular thrift store chain, and at least half of our regulars are amature or professional antiques dealers.if you just pop into your local thrift store say, once a week until the wedding, i can almost guarantee if glass is what you're looking for you'll find a few really good finds!

  5. Researching ahead (I'll say it again) is an absolute must. Antique fairs are going to charge you a premium; they're not flea markets.

    I buy a lot of stuff at antique malls, but I have price limits and I've learned what fair prices are for certain things. Keep your wits about you.

  6. I love this! Mostly because I am from the town this “antique fair” happens twice a year which doesn’t sound that miraculous until you hear the population is 71…I hated this fair growing up but now love walking miles upon miles through thousands upon thousands of tents. I work the fair once a year as my father is an avid dealer…and you are correct the traffic on the one lane road is excruciating and don’t bother with the barns they just house more extreme valued/ often overpriced goods. And if any of ya’ll come down to the fair in Round Top don’t walk in front of traffic, don’t be rude, don’t leave trash EVERYWHERE…keep in mind that to 71 of us this is not a fair this is our home. Thanks! -Erinn

  7. Great advice! One I have to add (and I’ve only experienced this in the UK vintage fashion and antique fairs)-don’t wear vintage to go vintage clothes shopping if you can help it. some of the vendors will magically jack up the price because they feel you know what you’re looking at and are willing to pay more for it.

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