Flea Market & Antique Shop Haggling Tips to Get a Great Deal

Updated March 12, 2022
Two young women at flea market

The fine art of bargaining is still alive and well in flea markets and small shops around the globe. Haggling for a price that's fair for both the buyer and the seller can be a strangely thrilling experience. Negotiating for a good price lets you walk away with good furniture, appliances, elegant home accents, bathroom decorations, and many other household items you can use for your designing needs. Use the tactic at flea markets, antique shops, yard sales, and more. With some luck, practice, and bargaining skill, you can furnish your home for remarkably little money.

Ask Whether Antique Shop Haggling Is Allowed

Vendors at most flea markets and estate sales expect buyers to haggle on the price of antiques. However, haggling isn't always acceptable at antique shops. If you aren't sure whether the shop will deal on prices, you can ask politely. A simple, "Are you willing to negotiate on the price?" is a great way to find out whether haggling is allowed without offending the shop owner.

Know Your Stuff Before You Make an Offer

Before you even begin haggling with someone, know what you want and how much you're willing to pay for it. Identify the item as clearly as you can, noting any marks on it or special characteristics. If an item is truly a valuable antique, don't expect to get it for nothing. Sellers know their goods. Have a clear idea of your goals and whether they are reasonable.

Do Your Homework to Determine Value

It can be very difficult to bargain if you don't really know the value of an item. In fact, your bargaining power will go right out the window if you haven't educated yourself on what particular items are worth. This is especially true if you are dealing with antique items. While you might be able to price shop for everyday merchandise, antique shopping is quite different.

Some people prefer taking a picture of the item, getting the history from the seller, and then checking out its value. This can take some time, however, and you might miss out on the deal of a lifetime simply because you weren't ready to bargain with the seller.

Why not make use of your smart phone and try to determine the item's worth as soon as you come across it? The following sites may be able to help you determine a ballpark figure of just how valuable that piece of furniture, home accessory, or vintage jewelry really is.

  • eBay - Unless it is a one-of-a-kind item, chances are good that you might find the exact item or at least a similar object on eBay. Pay close attention to what is going on with the bids. Is anyone bidding? If so, what is the bid? What did the seller start the bidding price at? Look at more than one sale if more are available to give you a better idea of the possible value. Remember, an item is only as valuable as whatever someone will pay for it.
  • Antique Price Guides - This is another extensive website for pricing a variety of antiques and collectibles.
  • Kovels - Check out the comprehensive pricing guides for a large selection of antiques and collectibles on this website.

Be Aware of the Antique Dealer's Markup

antique shop talking with customer in his store

While the actual value of an item is a very important part of haggling, it's also essential to remember that the antique dealer makes money with markups. This is the amount the antique dealer increases the price of an item in order to cover operating costs of their business and make a profit. The markup can vary depending on the situation. Flea markets may have less markup than traditional brick-and-mortar antique shops.

Use Your Demeanor in the Art of Bargaining

The art and science of haggling is something that can take practice. When you begin to negotiate a price, two factors come into play: the maximum amount you're willing to pay and the minimum amount the seller is willing to accept. Your demeanor is often your biggest weapon in the price wars.

In flea markets and antique stores, the customer has a lot of power. Use it. Don't appear overly eager to buy an item. Show your best stoic face and seem apprehensive about the prices the seller offers. Hesitation is an enormously effective weapon. The shopkeeper wants to make a sale and is willing to go as low as possible.

Make an Offer for an Antique the Right Way

After you have a thorough idea of what shape the item is in and know a ballpark figure, speak to the seller. Your first offer should be low. Never start with your maximum number; always cut that by 40 or 50%, giving you plenty of room to work with.

The seller usually responds with a higher number. It's usually best to reject the first offer and continue to pitch lower numbers. Slowly build on your original number, giving the least amount of ground as you possibly can. Eventually, your numbers will meet, and you can reach a price somewhere in between the original offers.

Try Some More Advanced Bargaining Tactics

Even after an agreeable price is reached, or if it seems you can't agree on one, you may still have a few tricks up your sleeve. These include asking for extra goods or services to accompany your item, hesitating and trying to haggle further, or simply walking away. Use your own intuition to determine if any of these methods are worthwhile, as it depends on the seller's personality and how desperate he or she is to make the sale.

Be Willing to Walk Away When Haggling

If the seller's "final offer" is still too high, your first recourse is to bite your lip, shake your head and say you'll continue to shop around and might come back later. Often this spurs a final offer from the seller, one which will probably be as low as you can get.

Ask For Related Pieces as Part of the Negotiation

You can also ask the seller to include matching or related items with the sale and adjust the price as necessary. You can even have this tactic in mind from the beginning. Work a price for one item down as low as possible, then hesitate and say you'll accept that price only if they throw in something additional. From here, you'll either make the purchase or begin a new round of haggling.

Point Out the Imperfections During Haggling

Condition is a major factor when it comes to the value of antiques. If a piece is damaged or shows wear, it can work to your advantage when haggling at antique shops and flea markets. Use any imperfections as a point of leverage to drive down the price. Be sure to point out the damage when trying to secure your low price. You can also mention whether an item has been restored and is not in its original condition, since restoration can affect the value of many antique pieces.

When Should You Accept an Offer?

If you know your item's value well enough and the seller makes a reasonable offer, know when to accept the offer. Trying to push the price below reasonable levels is an insult. Whether you're practicing your flea market haggling or negotiating with the owner of an antique shop, deciding on the right price is an important part of antique shopping. Take a deal when you find it!

Flea Market & Antique Shop Haggling Tips to Get a Great Deal