Our Secrets to Shopping Garage Sales, Flea Markets & Trade Days

We’ve talked about what to take with you when you go ‘shopping’, but today we’d like to share some of our secrets. These are the ones we’ve used for the past 25+ years for getting the best prices and finding the best stuff at garage sales, estate sales, flea markets and trade days.

You all know the old saying, ‘ you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ – this is also true when shopping any of the aforementioned venues. We’ve found over the years that being friendly and courteous to the seller accomplishes a lot more than trying to intimidate.

Vendors –

At garage sales you’re most likely to find individuals running the show who either are simply cleaning out the garage, attic or house; maybe getting ready for a move; or just wanting to make a little extra money. They are usually pretty easy going, more open to conversation and willing to bargain.

Flea markets will have regular weekly vendors, but also you’re likely to find one-time sellers – some from out of town – looking to unload a local estate they’ve inherited . . . always a good find.

At trade days you’ll find the seasoned vendors who have made a ‘job’ of setting up each month and selling. We’ve found these folks to be the most ‘business-like’ sellers to deal with. However, at the end of the day, they’re like everyone else. They’d rather not have to re-pack their stuff and are sometimes willing to make you a good deal.

In our opinion, the possibility of finding a good end-of-the-day deal at a flea market  is even more likely.   On more than one occasion, we’ve seen vendors dump their leftovers in the trash barrel rather than take it back home.   This is really great if you don’t mind ‘dumpster diving’.

Opening Time –

When you get there depends on:

  • The type of sale
  • How badly you want what they have
  • How far you have to travel to get there

Most garage sale people don’t like ‘early birds’, but if they have something you really want, get there a little early and wait for them to open.   If there are other people also waiting, keep a vigilant eye for the garage door to open and be ready to move.  They will most times open a little before the advertised time so they can set up. We’ve found a majority of  people aren’t opposed to letting potential shoppers look around if they don’t get in the way. We’ve never liked knocking on doors, but have seen it done more than once resulting in getting in early to be the first lucky shopper.

Most flea markets and trade days have set hours. However, if they are not enclosed by a fence or in a large building, you can go early and shop the booths as the vendors set-up. Most of these vendors are more than willing to sell while setting up – but at their asking price. Don’t look for any discounts early in the morning.

What to look for & how to look for it –

If you’ve seen something advertised in the ad, you’ll know exactly what you’re going after and where to go. However, if you’re out there just trolling for treasures, it’s hard to decide where to go first – this is especially true for garage sales. Basically just give it your best shot.

Looking for collectibles? Antiques? Go to estate sales first. They may be more expensive but you’ll have a better opportunity to find collectible items. Moving sales are good because people don’t want to pay to have stuff moved they don’t want or need at the new house. This is also an excellent opportunity to buy household and yard products for pennies on the dollar.

Once at the sale or venue, quickly scan the items on display. Don’t forget to look under tables, in boxes, inside cupboards (if you’re at an estate sale). Older items or items the seller doesn’t like are often found under a table or hidden in a corner and these can be real jewels.

If you’re looking for expensive items like sterling, coins, jewelry, etc. go to the check out table first. This is where you’ll find these items as they want to keep an eye on them. If you don’t see them there… ask. If you’re at a flea market or trade day, ask the vendor about these items. If they have any, they’ll be in a secure place or in a locked case. It’s not often you’ll get them to come down on these prices, but if you buy enough, they may be willing to give you a ‘bulk’ discount.

If you’re looking for something specific like jewelry, china, old toys, etc., don’t be bashful about  asking if they have anything like that.  Some of our best buys over the years have been when we asked because the people didn’t want to put that item out for fear it would either get broken or stolen.

Ask if everything is out. Will they be putting out new stuff the next day? Is anyone else coming with different items? Once you’ve checked out the sale, move on, don’t linger unless you’re waiting on something worthwhile.

Money –

Always have enough money with you – in small bills and change.  (Most garage sales won’t take check, fleam markets and trade days may.)  If you are going to make a discounted offer, it has always been our policy to be able to give the people the exact amount.   And if making an offer, we’ve found it helpful to ask beforehand if the person is open to negotiations. This is even more true when shopping flea markets and trade days. We’ve found over the years that the people running garage sales more open to haggling.

On a rare occasion we’ve left an offer if the item was over our budget but we wanted it and were willing to pay what we thought was a fair price. This works well for furniture because while people obviously hope to get the most they can during the sale, most of them do want to get rid of it and will consider reasonable offers.

Happy Treasure Hunting!


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