How to Make Money Buying and Selling Antiques

Using Ebay, Visiting Flea Markets, and Finding Bargains

Man with beard standing in front of a shelf of old cameras
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Decades ago, buying and selling antiques was solely the tradecraft of serious antique dealers, high-end auction houses, and heavy rollers—now, anyone can do it. It can be a hobby for "pickers" or diligent perusers of yard sales, flea markets, and online auctions, or it can be turned into a business. In recent years, its popularity has taken off with the explosion of online auction sites and TV shows centered on the topic.

If you are just starting out, then antique buying and selling can seem daunting. However, great bargains can be found if you learn some tricks on how to find them. Take a look at some tips that savvy collectors use for deciding on whether to buy an item and how to sell it.

Buying Antiques on eBay

Looking for bargain buys online is a fun way to snag items for resale. In order to turn a profit, you have to be diligent about researching the item, examining the auction post, and asking the seller questions before you buy.

The photographs in an online listing will tell you a lot about the item being sold. Take the time to closely examine the photos. Check for any telltale signs that it’s a fake or reproduction. Fakes often look too new or show absolutely no wear or aging. Also, if the seller has many duplicates of an item, this can be a red flag indicating a mass-produced knock off.

Request more information from the seller if they have left anything out. Delve deeper if a seller lists an item in excellent condition. In that case, directly ask the seller if the item has any notable condition issues.

Look into the seller and verify that there is a return policy. If they misrepresent an item or overlook a flaw, chances are good that eBay will make the seller take the item back regardless of their policy. If the seller specifies no returns, and you're a bit uneasy about an item's condition or authenticity, then send them a note specifying that if the item is a reproduction, it will be returned and a refund is expected. Check the seller's reputation by looking at their feedback.

If the price on an item seems too good to be true, take into consideration what similar items have sold for in the past both on eBay and other venues and compare the condition. If an item has a signature or manufacturing marks on it, make sure you understand what those marks mean. It can guide you to finding a date on an object or even help you spot a fake. A useful guide for deciphering marks on pottery and stoneware is "Kovel's New Dictionary of Marks for Pottery and Porcelain."

Selling Your Antiques

If you plan to use eBay to sell your items, look online for similar items before listing your item. Compare how the item is priced and its condition. See how the other sellers word their listings. This gives you a good idea of how to develop your own listing. Make sure you write a title with the keywords that buyers would use to search for your item. Filling the title and listing with those keywords helps it get noticed. Provide great photos that help buyers make astute decisions (think of your own experiences and what you look for).

If you have an idea of the value of your antiques or have a price in mind that is the lowest you will go, you can set a reserve or a starting bid (this is an extra expense on eBay). An eBay reserve price is the amount that bidding must reach for the item to actually sell. Bids will show "Reserve Not Met" until the reserve is met. If the bidding does not reach the seller's reserve price at the end of the auction, it is at the discretion of the seller to sell to the top bidder or not.

It is a rookie mistake to end an auction early. Remember that the market sets the price for an item and many bidders will wait until the last minute to put in their bids, driving up the price.

eBay is not your only choice; offline sales are also an option. You can go the traditional route and try to sell your items to an antique dealer. If you choose this option, it is highly unlikely that you would get the asking price that you would request on an auction listing. However, with some negotiation, you can usually get at least 25 to 50 percent of your asking price. 

Selling online with eBay does require some work on your part including the time and cost of packing and shipping antiques. This serves as a deterrent for some and has paved the way for other online resources that allow you to swap, sell, or buy locally. Take a look at Facebook selling groups, the Letgo buying and selling app, and Craig's List as ways to reach potential buyers in your immediate area and do exchanges face-to-face. Using these resources, you can bypass shipping costs and see an item before making the purchase.

Finding Bargains at Flea Markets, Garage Sales, Antique Shows, or Estate Sales

Part of the real joy of scouring a flea market, garage sale, or antique show for a great find is that you never know what treasures await you. 

The most important thing to remember is that you can and you should haggle for the best price possible. Flea market vendors expect it and dealers at antique shows should not be offended by a reasonable offer. They might say no or counter offer, but that back and forth is all part of the fun of negotiation.

A garage or tag sale is a good place to make an offer; those sellers want to liquidate their stuff. Do not hesitate to ask for a discount or bundle items together for a few dollars off.

One of the best bargain-finder tips for all venues—flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and antique shows—is to shop early and shop late. At the very start of a sale, you usually have the opportunity to spot bargain items. In the last hour of a sale, some sellers may be itching to get rid of stuff and might be likely to let items go at a discount price.

Estate sales offer great opportunities for discounted wares. While those sellers may not accept your offer on day one, by the second day or the end of the sale, they are usually more eager to make the sale. Often professional estate liquidation companies will offer bargains toward the end of the sale, so circle back if prices were initially beyond your budget.

While on the hunt in flea markets and garage sales, keep an eye out for those small antiques that go for big money, called "smalls" in the business. It's not uncommon to find a piece of jewelry treasure in a seller's "trash" box, and you might be surprised how much you can make from reselling common items like fishing lures.