Secrets to shopping flea markets and yard sales

Story highlights

  • U.S. flea markets are chock full of deals, but bargaining is a skill
  • Merchants have a code of ethics: If you're touching an item, you have the first shot at it
  • Don't be rude or insulting when haggling for an item
  • Know when to walk away from a bad deal or dealer

In general, the earlier you arrive to a flea market or yard sale, the greater the selection. The later you go, the better the bargain.

For many markets, the day could start as early as 5 a.m. Merchants expect dedicated collectors early in the morning and are less inclined to negotiate.

Furniture sells early, so go early if that's what you're seeking.

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The bargaining begins at about 9 a.m., and toward the end of the day, usually noon to 3 p.m., things slow down and vendors begin to pack up. This is the best time to get a good deal, since dealers won't want to bring everything home with them.

Don't be too cautious though, it's best to buy what you like when you see it; it may not be there at the end of the day.

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Good manners make for good negotiating. When you walk up to a table, say hello and be friendly. Never ask, "What's your best price?" Instead, ask, "Would you consider less?" In general, expect 5 to 10 percent to be taken off, but don't push it.

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Dealers are there to make a profit and may get insulted if you try to haggle too much. A good tactic is to play hard to get, even if you are smitten with something. It might even work in your favor to walk away; the dealer might call you back to make a deal.

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Another method is to ask the price for a group of items: How much for the three mirrors in the corner, for example, or for those necklaces in that box? That way, you're not focusing too much on one object, and the dealer can unload several items in one deal.

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If you see an item you absolutely must have at any price, don't act coy. Place your hand on the item and keep it there while you're negotiating. According to an unwritten rule, whoever is touching an object has first claim on it. Even if another buyer comes up and offers more money, the dealer can't sell it to him without first allowing you to meet the higher price.

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Any dealer who doesn't respect this code of ethics risks tarnishing their reputation.