haggling at a fair
haggling at a fair

8 Reasons You Simply Must Haggle at Antiques Fairs

Being actually myself at an Antiques Fair at this very moment, I realized there wouldn’t be a better time than now to share with you, some tips that may help you feel more comfortable next time you’ll show up at an antiques fair or at a flea market. Antiques fairs may, at first,  seem impressive to most of us who are not yet familiar with this peculiar world. I’ve myself mistakenly believed for years that flea markets were the only place to make good deals. Antique fairs are some nice places too, just as much as auction houses when you know how they work!

So if you ever wondered if you should negotiate when buying antiques, La Roxy of the Daily Asker gives you 8 reasons why you can’t afford not to.

Here’s an addendum to the previous post, with practical tips for getting good prices at antique fairs and similar settings.

Opening Scenario: An antique dealer buys a pendant from an estate sale for $40. That can translate into several possible resale outcomes: $120 for dude with the Rolex who’s eager to seal the deal, $80 for the average passerby who never asks, $75 for the weak negotiator, $65 for the hard core asker, and $55 for the friend or dealer.

Where do you want to fall on this spectrum?

Luck, time of day, the type of venue and the merchant’s attitude all play a part. But there are things you can do to bring the price down. After chatting with a few dealers and thinking about my own experiences, here are the tips I’ve put together for landing a super deal at an antique market.

1. Always ask.

Shocker, I know. But here’s why: You’re supposed to.

As I passed through the booths, I eavesdropped on all the negotiations that were going on. Music to my ears! Dealers buying from dealers, experienced shoppers driving prices down, friends selling to friends, and newbies paying full price. Bottom line: dealers expect people to negotiate. Sample snippets I heard:

Dealer, to friend: Tell me what you think is reasonable and I’ll tell you if it works for me.
Friend to dealer: I don’t know, what’s your bottom line, or what were you hoping to make?
Dealer: Well, give me a number you can live with and we’ll see if it matches mine.
Friend: What kind of number would you be comfortable with?
Dealer: Well, I paid $200. Normally I’d go $450, but for you I can do $250. Even $200 if you really want it.

Buyer: How much for this?
Seller: $40, but how ’bout I just give you the lowest I can go. It’s the end of the day and I want to wrap up. I can do $30.
Buyer: What about this?
Seller: Ideally $125… but I could do $80, ’cause I like you.

[quote_center]”Sellers can tell the difference between being frugal and being a cheapskate. We hate cheapskates.” [/quote_center]These kinds of discussions happened at every end of the price spectrum, which is a reminder that negotiating isn’t just acceptable — it’s expected. Dealers price things with room to budge. So paying the asking price is, in my opinion, a premium paid only by the uninitiated.

(A few merchants didn’t offer discounts, however, and they appeared to be as busy as their neighbors. I wonder what the best strategy is for maximizing revenues: raise prices and make people feel like they’re getting a discount, pricing things so they’re already rock bottom and hope buyers understand the value they’re getting, or charge more than others don’t negotiate, and sell fewer but more expensive things. This is probably an Econ 101 essay question. Too bad I don’t remember a thing from when I took it in college, expect the supply and demand x graph. Any pricing experts out there care to shed some light on this?)

2. Don’t feel guilty about negotiating.

No one is on a charity mission. If a seller won’t make a profit she’s comfortable with, she won’t sell. Unless she’s awful at her job, in which case she has bigger problems than giving you $40 off a $50 vase.

3. Be fair. This is just a general rule I have when it comes to asking: not just in markets, but anywhere. It’s rare I have to remind myself, because people normally stick up for themselves and ask for more than they paid, but you never know.

4. The more you know, the more powerful you are.

This is kind of obvious — I mean, if you know how much a certain pattern of china goes for on the market, you can decide to buy or not, based on the price. But remember the opposite: when you know little about an object, why trust a random merchant? I would never buy a vase claiming to be from the 19th century unless its age wasn’t a factor in the pricing. Unless, of course, I could tell it really was. (Appraising antiques is a whole different topic.) On a related note:

5. If you know a little about what you’re buying, try asking for the “dealer’s price.”

If you have a general idea how much something is worth, doesn’t hurt to propose what you think the merchant paid for it. Worst case she says no, or you meet half way. (This is what a seller told me. Can’t personally vet for this.)

6. Always keep Goodwill at the back of your mind as you shop.

This is good psychologically (since you look and act like you have options, and are hence an empowered negotiator), but also practically. With regular trips to thrift shops I’ve bought paintings, beautiful tea sets and Imari plates for the price of a tall latte — objects identical to those that sell at such fairs for dollars on the penny. So if it’s an antique or vintage fix you want, might as well wait until something priced right turns up a the corner thrift shop. Only splurge if it’s a special, buyer’s remorse opportunity. (I’m talking about splurges here — that crazy cool couch, or whatever. If it’s within my day to day budget and would cost the same new, then it’s not such a tough call.)

7. Appear frugal, not cheap.

“Sellers can tell the difference between being frugal and being a cheapskate. We hate cheapskates.” This is what a merchant at the fair told me, word for word, when I probed her about her negotiation methods. Buying and selling in such settings is a very personal transaction, meaning that sellers will respond better to certain types of buyers. So if you seem like a cheapskate, some might be turned off. If you seem like you’re on a budget, they might respect your limits.

8. Same thing goes for enthusiasm.

It’s common knowledge that you shouldn’t be too perky and excited, or the price will float higher. But if you’re too cool, too blase, maybe the seller won’t be inclined to want to “win you over.” Cause you’re just a jerk. Sometimes sellers have sentimental attachments to their merchandise. If they think it’s landing in good hands, they might be more willing to strike a bargain.