Second Hand Bargain Shopping

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By Georgia Kemp Caraway | Mar 1, 2018

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Display and mark all of your items for sale.
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Shop flea markets late in the day to find items that have been marked down.
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“Tips, Tools and Techniques” by Georgia Kemp Caraway, shares new ways for readers to take care of their antiques and collectibles.

Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Care for Antiques, Collectibles, and Other Treasures (Practical Guide Series) (University of North Texas Press, 2012), by Georgia Kemp Caraway, encourages readers to take care of their antiques and collectibles. Georgia Kemp Caraway shares ways to clean antiques that will not damage the surfaces. She also shares helpful tips about where and how to find and acquire antiques and collectibles. This excerpt can be found in “Appendix A-D.”

Auction Tips

Try to attend the preview before bidding starts. Some auctioneers will point out flaws or imperfections, but don’t depend on it. The preview is your opportunity to look for chips, cracks, and other problems before you bid.

Check out box lots for hidden treasures. Before bidding, check to make sure the treasure you want is still in the box.

Listen for the auctioneer’s announcements before the bid-ding begins. You will learn the terms of the auction: method of payment; refund policy; if a buyer’s premium will be added to the price; reserves applicable; “as is” terms; and return policies.

Keep track of who is bidding so as not to bid against yourself. If the auctioneer notices, he should point this out to you; however, some unscrupulous auctioneers may take advantage of your mistake. Also, if you have a bidding partner, be sure you are not bidding against each other.

At an estate sale, try to avoid bidding against relatives of the owner if it is evident that the item has sentimental value. Use your own judgment here.

Keep your bid card ready so as not to delay the action. Hold your card high once you successfully win the bid so that your number can be recorded.

Keep track of the items you win and the amounts you bid.

When you leave the auction, take your number back to the check-out area, to avoid having your number used by some-one else.

Keep your wits about you. It is easy to be caught up in the excitement of the action.

Conducting a Successful Garage Sale

Inventory your items. Be sure you have enough items and variety to be interesting. If not, invite some friends or neighbors to join in with you.

Pick the right weekend. Give yourself enough time to prepare. If you plan a one-day sale, check whether Friday, Saturday, or Sunday is better in your town. (Oddly enough in our town, Friday is the better-selling day.) It is felt that two-day sales are more profitable, because they maximize customer availability.

Advertise. Newspaper classifieds are important for success. Ask your local paper if they offer specials. It may be less expensive to run an ad more days than you need.

Preparation and Display

Clean items, hang clothes, fold items neatly, line up shoes, put clothes in one area, place books so that titles can be easily read.

Borrow as many folding tables as you think you will need. Don’t stack up items in boxes — they won’t sell.

If you have lots of similar small items that can sell for the same price, you may want to have 25¢, 50¢, 75¢, or $1.00 boxes.

Have enough supplies. Gather bags and boxes, newspaper or plain newsprint paper to wrap items, masking tape, a measuring tape, pens and paper to keep track of sale items (especially if more than one of you is involved in the sale), a calculator, small change, and small denomination paper money.


Mark all your items. Nothing frustrates shoppers more than to have to ask how much something costs.

Use stickers found at local discount stores. Don’t use masking tape or other tape, as it is difficult to remove and may ruin paper or delicate items.

Be sensible about pricing. Remember: unless you are selling only antiques and collectibles, you should not expect to make a profit. You are selling items you no longer need or want, and garage sale shoppers are expecting a bargain.

Choose a mark-down time and let your customers know. Remove any items you don’t want to mark down to rock bot-tom, and drop the prices on the rest. The idea is to get rid of the stuff, not to store it.


Don’t leave your cashbox unattended. A good “money box” is a fanny pack that you can wear on your body.

Don’t be the only one manning the sale. The first hour or so is always hectic for you and your customers.

Don’t leave any doors in your house open. Try to avoid letting anyone into your home unless you know them well.

Don’t place breakable items on high shelves. If a glass, pottery, or china item has a lid, tape it shut. Shoppers tend to turn things over to see who made them.


Select a local charity to whom you wish to donate leftover items. Only keep the items you removed before your mark-down time. Inventory and box the rest and donate to a worthy cause. You will have a cleaned-out garage and a chance to write off your donation. A double bonus!

Smart Shopping at Garage Sales

Scan the local papers and plot your route the night before. Along the way watch for signs posted at intersections for those sales not advertised. Separate Friday, Saturday, and Sunday sales.

Prioritize sales by merchandise that most interests you. Of course, keep in mind that if more than one sale is in a neighborhood, it makes sense to visit them together rather than backtrack.

If you are interested in only one collectible, mention your interest to the people holding the sale. They may not have it out and would be willing to call you later. Don’t dawdle.

Wear a T-shirt depicting your collecting interest.

Carry dollar bills and loose change. Carry bags, wrapping paper, batteries, and a measuring tape. Assume responsibility for wrapping your own items.

Don’t be afraid to bargain, but be polite: “Would you be willing to take less for this?” is a good way to ask. Ask if the price could be reduced if you buy several.

Do not expect the homeowner to provide bathrooms and water. Use public facilities before you arrive.

Be cheerful. You’ll be surprised at how grateful the person holding the sale will be to encounter someone pleasant.

Haggling at a Flea Market

There are hundreds of flea markets in the United States today, each with its own personality. There are several unwritten rules of conduct that are followed at most flea markets.

Try to be calm and examine items carefully for flaws, cracks, or repairs. This is easier said than done in the heat of the hunt.

Courteously ask “Could you take any less for this?” Negotiating price is an expected part of the game when shopping at flea markets. This practice is spilling over to antique shops also, much to the chagrin of shop owners and dealers.

To get better prices, shop late in the day (although most of the good items will have been picked over by then).

Pay in cash rather than by check. You may be able to negotiate an even better price.

Group items together and ask for a price for all of it. Do not focus too much interest on any one item.

If you are very interested in an item, put your hand on it or pick it up. An unwritten rule is that the person touching an item has first claim.

By the same token, respect the person who is negotiating for an item, even if you desperately want it. Do not make a higher offer while the other person is negotiating.

Try not to shop alone, but don’t shop with someone who has the same collecting interests as you. Let your shopping partner look over the item you are interested in to check for flaws, crack, or repairs that you may not have noticed in the excitement of the find.

Determine your price range before negotiating with a dealer.

Receipts at flea markets are not the norm. If you are buying an inexpensive collectible, most often the rule is Buyer Beware.

However, if you are buying an expensive item, ask for a receipt detailing what the object is, where it came from, when it was made, how it was made, and what materials were used to make it. Also write the dealer’s name, address, and telephone number on the receipt. Any flaws, restoration, alterations, or repairs should be noted. (Repaired means using original parts; restored means using new parts.) “Money back guarantee, no questions asked” may allow you some recourse if you have a problem with your purchase.

More from Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Care for Antiques, Collectibles, and Other Treasures (Practical Guide Series):

How to Season and Clean a Cast iron Skillet

Reprinted with permission from Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Care for Antiques, Collectibles, and Other Treasures (Practical Guide Series) by Georgia Kemp Caraway and published by University of North Texas Press, 2012.

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