Looking for antiques at El Rastro, the traditional flea market held every Sunday morning in Madrid, SpainCristina Arias / Getty Images
The answer most dealers will give you? Everywhere. So if you’re thinking you might want to start a part-time antiques business or develop a sideline selling collectibles to supplement your retirement income, be prepared to work hard finding quality merchandise to sell at prices reasonable enough to keep the business going. These are some of the venues where you’ll compete with others to find the goods required to turn a profit and replenish your inventory:
The estate sales holding the most potential are those run by family members as opposed to estate-liquidation companies. For one thing, these companies know a lot more about the merchandise they’re selling than the average family does. In fact, they tend to price the merchandise higher than most dealers would in a traditional shop. That said, prices do tend to fall as the sale drags on. Although making the effort to stand in line on the first day the sale will ensure that you get first look at that goods, you’ll tend to get better deals on the second and third days. Check your local newspaper’s estate sale list in the classified advertising section each Thursday and Friday to locate the sales in your town and consult online listings as well. Better yet, if the operators of the estate sales you attend offer notices of upcoming sales, whether through email or snail mail, sign up to receive them. That way, you’ll learn about local sales even before they’re announced in the newspaper or through online ads.
It’s gotten really hard to find older things at random garage sales anymore, but you may have more luck at neighborhood sales where several households stage garage sales on the same day. To that end, try to get a sense of which neighborhoods in your area are more upscale; that way, you increase your chances of finding nice things you might be able to resell even if they aren’t extremely old.
Many flea markets these days are actually outlets for new and imported goods, which means that finding antiques can be challenging—but it’s not impossible. One of the best ways to find out about flea markets (not to mention antiques shows, crafts fairs and the like) in your area that sell mainly antiques is to check online event calendars provided by sites like this one along with other antiques publications. Don’t forget to check the calendar when you travel, too, to find out which markets to hit while you’re away.
General auctions used to hold more potential for resellers than they do now, at least in many areas. But you can still hit a good one every now and then, especially when they’re estate auctions. The trick is to arrive early to inspect the goods you might be interested in bidding on to make sure the pieces are authentic (nothing stings like buying a reproduction at an auction) and in good condition. Take notes of lot numbers, and determine how much you can reasonably pay for a piece and still turn a decent profit. Use your list to make sure you don’t get caught up in the action and pay way more than an item’s worth. Also refrain from bidding on pieces you didn’t get to inspect if they are selling low. This rarely works in your favor since auctioneers tend to embellish items and don’t always describe flaws accurately. To locate auctions in your area, check your local newspaper or consult a service like liveauctioneers.com. You’ll not only learn where upcoming auctions are taking place, but you can sign up to bid online there as well.
Some people have great luck shopping at thrift stores for antiques and collectibles. Those who swear by them say to find out the day of the week they stock new merchandise and hit them then. It may also pay off to establish a rapport with the employees at your local thrift stores. Be extra friendly when you drop in, and make sure they have some idea of the types of pieces you’re looking to find. Then, leave your card with them so they can call you in the event items that might interest you are stocked.
Antiques Shops and Malls
These days brick and mortar antiques shops and malls can be hit or miss when it comes to finding old goods. Unfortunately, some are filled with garage sale junk and not much else. But when you do hit a nice one filled with genuine antiques and older collectibles, there’s a good chance you can find some resale items to work with if you shop wisely. Some people even swear there’s a sleeper hidden in every shop, you just have to know it when you see it. One tip seasoned buyers offer is to walk every aisle in an antiques mall in one direction, and then turn around and walk it in the opposite direction to get a different perspective. Not a bad idea if you have the time.
Many novice sellers avoid antiques shows because they assume everything’s going to be priced too high for resale. In some instances, this is true. But when sellers run across items outside their area of expertise, they sometimes put them up for sale at fairly reasonable prices. It never hurts to take a pass through even the high-end shows to see what you can find. The same goes for specialty shows featuring glass, dolls, ephemera, and other collectibles. Plus, antiques shows can be great places to learn from other dealers, do market research, and see things you won’t run across every day.
Online Antique Malls and Shops
Many people buy from online malls and shops for their own collections rather than for resale. Occasionally, though, you may run across sellers with good prices so it’s a good idea to browse them for resale pieces from time to time. That said, always take a look when some of the online antique networkers you know advertise a sale, especially going-out-of-business sales. The items will generally be 40-60 percent off and you may have a knack for marketing what they haven’t had success selling at full price. Try to get first pick, if you can, and always act quickly when you see liquidation announcements. You won’t be the only one anxious to see what’s up for sale at bargain prices.
In many instances now online auctions provide a wholesale marketplace for more average antiques, and the rarities are snapped up by eager collectors who will pay top dollar. But sometimes you’ll find a great sleeper if you shop diligently. In fact, in her book Killer Stuff and Tons of Money, author Maureen Stanton writes of one seller she knows who makes a living finding undervalued and misidentified wares on eBay.com and then turning around and selling them in the same venue. You can even search on eBay using misspelled words to find things other buyers won’t tend to notice. Be aware, however, that this is a time-consuming proposition and you really need to be well-versed in the genres of antiques you’re “working” to make any money. But if you have the background, time and inclination, you can indeed score some great finds this way.