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Emily Henderson

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by Jess Bunge
Emily Henderson Flea Market To Haggle Or Not Opener

I think it’s fair to say that most of us fell fast and hard, not only for Emily’s talent and humor, but her uncanny ability to find the SICKEST VINTAGE around. The question, “where were you when you first saw the blue sofa?” is probably something most old school fans could answer without blinking an eye. Now, while I am no stranger to a flea market, I am also not, shall we say, a seasoned pro (like I have dreams of being)? I mean how and when do I haggle?? Is it basically expected or ultimately disrespectful to the vendor? I am terrible at knowing when I need to come out of my shell and ask for a better price versus just paying the sticker price because it’s easier and I feel bad/it may just be the fair price. Sooooo why not then go straight to the source and ease my worrisome mind? Enter Vintage Ninja, Emily Henderson. We asked for her advice on how to go about getting the best price for your flea finds and she delivered with eight super user-friendly tips that even the newest of flea market goers can tackle with ease. See…dreams do come true and price haggling nerves can finally calm themselves. Without further ado (the anticipation is also killing me), let’s see what THE expert flea market maverick has to say…

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From Emily: You all wanted to know how I haggle and here are my rules:

1. BE RESPECTFUL. Realize that (almost) everyone selling at the flea market works hard and has a livelihood (and/or family) to support. They are not swindlers or peddlers looking to screw you. Approach them how you would want to be spoken to—with respect and admiration for a craft. They work hard to find, transport and bring you pretty things. Essentially, don’t be A D*CK.

2. CONSIDER THE EFFORT AND HOW THAT WOULD EFFECT THE COST. A large piece of furniture is cumbersome and took them likely time/effort to bring from the original source (estate sales, thrift stores from far distances) where they then put into a larger vehicle they might have rented, then likely stored in their storage unit, then transported multiple times and ultimately unloaded at 5am at a flea market. If it’s a large piece, it should cost more than it would at a thrift store. A lot more effort went into bringing it to a flea market, so please consider that. At the same time, a small piece is easier to deal with and should be less expensive to unload (figuratively and financially).

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3. LEVERAGE MULTIPLE PIECES FOR BETTER PRICING. If you buy multiple pieces (small or large), you have the leverage to ask for a discount and you should. If you buy one piece, ask for 10% off, 15% off for two pieces, 20% off for three or more. This behooves everyone if you do…you get a better deal, and the vendor sells more in one go.

4. CHOOSE YOUR WORDS. Use the phrases like, “Do you think you could you do $25 for this?” or “What could you do if I bought this and this and this…” Don’t just say you’ll give them $7 for something that is $10. Respect them enough to ask in a way that you would want to be asked. They care about these pieces, so don’t disrespect them by just saying “I’ll give you $7.” You’d be surprised how often someone is willing to bend if you just ask nicely (general life lesson, too).

5. SHOW APPRECIATION FOR THE PIECE. Vintage dealers love what they have taken the time and effort to bring to market, so they want someone who cares about the piece to get to own it. Yes, it’s a business and sure they care about profits but they might not sell it to someone who is a jerk because they secretly are worried that a prized possession might go unappreciated in an unloving home. However, don’t fawn. Don’t go overboard but show appreciation. Let them know you get it.

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6. FORECAST THE WORK. If something is big (say, a sofa), needs a lot of work (upholstery and restoration) and the dealer is charging a lot (say $1,200), do the math in your head before you get too excited. Getting it home will cost $200 in delivery, reupholstering will be $900, new fabric will be $300, refinishing will be $300…before you’ve even sat on it, your $1,200 sofa just cost you $2,500. Then think about what you could buy for that amount new in the market. It’s a lot. If it’s something SUPER unique then it still could be worth it, if not then you can talk them through your future expenses and they might come down realizing that what they have is actually a future investment for someone, not an immediate gift. That gives you leverage for a discount, FOR SURE. I don’t pay more than $400 for a sofa unless it’s super unique, important and irreplaceable.

7. BE FAIR. If the price feels fair, don’t haggle. Could you haggle and get them down? Sure, but I actually hate this culture of haggling especially in this day and age when the economic disparity is so huge. If it’s a fair price, just give them the cash. You don’t have to haggle just because you are at the flea market. When I overhear a conversation where the buyer offers $9 for a $10 item,  I cringe knowing that they are haggling for haggling sake. It’s like they watched it in the movies and they are performing “haggling.” It’s strangely demoralizing for the seller. They will likely say yes, but at what cost? It doesn’t make them feel proud of the sale and what does it do for you? It’s the difference between tipping 15% and 18%—often it’s minimal but it means the WORLD to the waiter/waitress. (P.S. this is only for American flea market culture…I realize that in other cultures, haggling is a sport).

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8. SPOT A SALESPERSON AND BE READY TO PLAY. Most people who specialize in something will declare high prices because they might have an inflated sense of “vintage dealer.” This happens most with specialized rugs, mid-century or European antique dealers. If they want $1,200 for a chair, know that they are ready to play/negotiate. Picture the prices at a retail store and if they are on par, then know you should negotiate because retail stores have a MUCH higher overhead and therefore charge more. If they are charging what a store would charge, then negotiate because they might be hoping you will just write that check.

Listen. It’s nuanced. You have to feel them out but my biggest tips align perfectly with my general ethos: be nice, be brief, be gone. It’s business, with a huge dose of human element. Don’t be a d*ck.

Thanks Em!

Well, there you have it. It’s actually insanely simple. Be a good human, use your gut and love your vintage as much as baby Charlie loves this toy pony. I think we can all handle that, no? And guys, it’s FRIDAY which means we are only hours away from finding a flea market where you can put these tips to good use. Hope you all have a great weekend!

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Let us know in the comments if there are any other flea market or general vintage shopping topics you want us to cover. We want all of your suggestions. 🙂

Love you, mean it.

  1. Further respect for Em! As a dealer at shows and a vintage brick n mortar — I appreciate her approach and advice!

  2. Thanks for this guide. I agree that being kind and respectful gets you much further in haggling. My other tip is when I see an item I love, I name a price in my head that I will gladly pay for it. Then I find out how much it is. If the stated number is ever under my mental price, I smile and hand over my money without negotiating. It’s worth more to me obviously! Otherwise, I try to get close to that number by kindly negotiating. Be okay walking away too.

    1. Totally agree! Always have a sense of what you want to pay before you ask how much something is—if the vendor says a lower number, pay it with out haggling—if it’s higher, try to get it to what it’s worth to you—if it’s way higher, accept that either you don’t understand the item (or the vendor doesn’t) and that sometimes that just happens. I also think naming a price in your head is a good approach for shopping in general—with clothes and furniture and food even—and happily skipping what does jive with your number. Having spent lots of time at flea markets and yard sales as a kid, my sense of how much I like an item and how much I’m willing to pay for it are pretty well entwined. My take on money when I’m shopping is very personal—not what it costs, but what it is worth to me.
      I’d also add to these tips: have the exact cash. If you’re asking a vendor if he’ll take $15 after he told you the price is $20, don’t hand him a 20 or a 50. You had better have $15. And unless something is over $300, don’t use a card—and you can mention that in your negation. Saying something like I have $X or this is my last $X can sometimes get it for that price. Or saying “I’ll have to run to the ATM” to let them know that you are planning to pay in cash can help get a better price on something big since they know it’s coming in cash.

  3. Besides the good tips, thanks for sharing the photo of heartbreakingly all heart Charlie, too.

  4. Love these tips, and I love that you started with respect. I buy/sell a fair amount on CL and FB marketplace. It’s so annoying when people haggle over a couple dollars, or when they offer 75% of asking when I’ve already priced something low so it will sell quickly. In my opinion, when you’re deciding whether to haggle, you have to be ready to walk away from the item if they don’t come down. If you would probably maybe pay the asking price for it, then you should probably just do that. But as you said, absolutely haggle if you really feel something is over priced, needs work, or you are buying several things!

  5. Great advice but most importantly…. that last photo of Charlie!!! <3

  6. Emily! I really hope you’re tipping ALL SERVERS 20% at least.

    1. Yep, I was just going to say the same thing!

    2. haha she probably won’t say this, but I know for a fact she’s very generous.

  7. This may be a silly comment, but I really hope everyone’s tipping at least 20% and not 18% 🙂

    1. Agreed!!!

      1. Lol I came here to say the same thing! I’m sure those numbers were just for reference, but I’d consider updating to, “It’s the difference between tipping 20% and 25%—often it’s minimal but it means the WORLD to the waiter/waitress.”

        I’m sure Emily is very generous with servers (as she is with her readers!), but it might be good for others to see. If you have a $20 lunch and you’re planning on tipping $4, but you decide to round up to $5, I promise you that’s gonna make a server feel good—even though it’s just a measly dollar. It’s the spirit of it that counts! 🙂 I’m probably preaching to the choir, but just felt compelled to write this as a former hardworking waitress in case anyone here doesn’t quite get it. 🙂

    2. When did this become the standard? I thought it was 15-20% tip, depending on level of service. Genuinely curious and now feeling like a jerk for being a habitual under tipper.

      1. I think 20-25% has been standard in cities for a while now. If the cost of living is high where you live, then those servers need the extra money or you wouldn’t have any of those great restaurants we all enjoy.

    3. This is something I’ll never get about american culture, I think. Where I live there’s a standard 10-12% for service and it already comes included in the check. (It’s optional, but opting out means the service was bad or that you’re a dick.)

      But a quarter of the price of a meal in tips? Maybe it’s because food here is so expensive that it would be an astronomical cost to tip everyone 20-25%, and in the US it isn’t? It just sounds so strange to me.

      My main problem with it is not tipping, mind you: it’s that servers shouldn’t be subjected to people’s goodwill. Their employers should be held accountable to paying a decent wage for their work so they don’t /have to/ rely on tips. An extra for good service is great and I’ll gladly pay it, but it really saddens me that restaurant owners pay very little and leave their employees to their own luck on tips…

      1. Sadly most servers in the USA don’t even get minimum wage so their tips are supposed to make up the difference. I’m in Paris right now and love that the tip is included so I don’t have to figure it out.

  8. And that last photo…the one of the precious ‘lil boy (folds in wrists and all) and the pony…no haggling. Priceless.

  9. Great advice! Best advice here is “don’t be a dick!”. So true! I also love to use the polite phrase: “is there any wiggle-room in the price?” if yes-they are willing to negotiate, if no-buy it if you love it and think the price is fair or move on….they might come running after you if they realize they are losing a sale 😉

  10. I don’t know if this is good advice, but occasionally I’ve been 100% forthright on Craigslist: “This is a beautiful lamp and you’re probably asking a fair price. I can’t swing that, but in the unlikely event that you don’t get any bites, I’d love to own it. I can do $____.” It has occasionally worked out for me, and in any event makes me feel good. 😊

    1. Oh I like this. I’ve never tried that but if I got that as someone who was selling something, I’d kind of want them to have it.

    2. I’m a furniture flipper and I buy most of my stuff from FB Marketplace. I practice your comment ALL THE TIME. Sometimes people will come back to me weeks later asking if I’d still like to buy it for the lower price. Its great for those pieces that I’m not emotionally attached to and am happy to pass up if it doesn’t fit my budget.

    3. I regularly use this same language when buying art. Sometimes it has led to an immediate reduction and purchase and other times it gets me this reply: “Thanks for your interest. While we are not presently able to offer that much of a price reduction, we will keep your info on file in case it becomes a possibility in the future.” Win/win.

  11. I was at a flea market once and (politely) offered $8 for a $10 item because I thought that haggling was expected. The woman said yes and smiled — I saw then that she only had a few teeth and was dressed in such worn clothes. At the end of the day, $2 would have meant so much more to her than it ever will to me. It was an important lesson.

    1. Leanna, you are a great human 🙂

  12. Great tips! Would be nice to see a guide for good flea markets across the U.S. Knowing we all won’t make it out to Rose Bowl or Round Top doesn’t mean that we still haven’t got the itch to find a good market locally. Thanks team for considering!

    1. It’s coming up next month. On our calendar, but if anyone wants to jump into this thread and start some recommendations, we’d gladly accept them!

  13. I love this so much! I find myself wondering if I’m overpaying but not wanting to insult the seller. These tips are gold.

  14. This is excellent advice and a lot of it translates to eBay as well. I’m an eBay seller and people often make offers on my stuff. When buyers follow the advice above, I’m way more likely to accept lower prices. Nothing will make me press the “no” button harder than a customer who points out flaws in an item or low-balls me. Conversely, if a customer is polite and expresses genuine interest, I’m way more inclined to work with them.

    1. Well, I’ll sometimes ask about flaws because the photographs are unclear. Occasionally, I’ll want to pass on a item because it looks like it’s maybe chipped. But if I can ask the seller if it’s just flash reflections (or something like that), I’ll probably buy it.

      But to bad mouth a piece then offer a low ball offer? A BID nuh uh.

  15. Charlie and the pony is worth the entire post!

    I don’t haggle a lot, but when I do, I try my utmost to be respectful. I’m a sometimes seller, so I know how it feels.

  16. I’m just here for the picture of Charlie in bliss with that pony. 😍🤩

  17. THAT part, starting with kindness & admiration/respect. I love the reader who says “its beautiful, you’re probably asking a fair price but I can’t swing it…..” Also, Charlie <

  18. I feel the same way about Facebook marketplace or the like. If it’s already a fair price, I’m not going to haggle just because. To me it’s worth it. What are your feelings about walking away and coming back to something? I’m sure you’ve missed out on somethings bc of it, but is it better at times? I’d love to see another flea market shop/regrets post.
    Also, I’m hoping you’re doing Craigslist DC NEXT!

  19. My mom taught me to carry a lot of small bills. Nothing like talking someone down from $20 to $15 and then pulling out a $20 bill and asking for change.

  20. May I add my 2 cents? I have sold vintage at fleas in PA, and my boyfriend has sold at Brimfield and the Elephant’s Trunk in Milford, CT, both places where Flea Market Flip shoots (yes, he’s seen Lara, who filmed in his row. They shut the entire area down – no customers allowed for hours. Vendors don’t like to see her coming.)

    Emily’s haggling tips are right on: being nice goes a LONG way to someone who’s been sitting in the sun, bugs, rain and mud without a shower for three days, and sleeping in their car. We sold vintage because we loved meeting people, other vendors – especially at smaller, local markets – do it to make a living and are barely getting by. This isn’t a hobby for them, and I’ve winced watching a well-dressed, well-coiffed customer with a metal water bottle and designer handbag quibble over price with someone who can’t afford dental care.

    Many vendors factor a 10% discount into the price, but often not for the cheaper stuff. My feeling is if it’s under $10, or $20 if the piece is clean and in good shape, don’t haggle. Pay the price. One reason I stopped selling was that everyone wanted my stuff for a nickel.

    The last day is when you’ll get the best deals. Vendors are tired, and they don’t want to pack and haul the stuff home. Credit cards cost the vendor money; cash will always get you the best deal.

    1. I agree with Therese about the last day. After you’ve sat through these events for long hours or days, you start calculating costs and labor to pack up. I’ve happily given bigger discounts, esp on large pieces, near the end of the show. I’ve also picked up a bargain or two for myself in the same situation (glorious enormous garden urns, enough said). The caveat is make sure you can get these large pieces home quickly because there’s not much time to organize transport at the last minute.

      1. I always like to go on the last day for best prices!

        I feel like this standard applies to Craigslist and FB Marketplace, too. If I just listed my item 15 minutes ago, please don’t offer me half of my asking price. This happens to me all the time and I just ignore those offers, especially because I usually have other buyers willing to pay full price. And quite frankly, it’s just rude. If you see an item hasn’t sold at its original price (like by the last day of the flea market or several days into an online listing), then it’s fair game to offer less.

  21. Hi Emily! Loved loved loved this story and found it very helpful – I have a question, last weekend, I was at a small, local flea where I was admiring a basket of seashells – the seller told me she would sell them individually, but they were NOT marked…when I picked one up, she said “$1.00 – no! that one is really nice! $2.00 – no! maybe $3.00!” What do you recommend when the seller prices things higher? This has happened to me before at flea markets, when I admire something, the seller will ask for more! Usually I walk away from this…help!

  22. Thanks for these tips! I am a vendor doing my first Vintage Fair. I will watch for these techniques.

    Cathy

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