4 Serial Vintage Shoppers Share Their Best-Ever Bargain—and How They Negotiated
One seller’s trash is another shopper’s treasure.
Updated Oct 11, 2018 12:12 PM
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Scoring cool vintage finds might constitute as a weekend hobby for most, but for the more serious flea market hunters among us, weeding out the diamonds from the rough is a full-time job. Whether scouring for a Danish credenza at a nearby auction or hunting down antique candlesticks at a top-secret estate sale, the pros are prepared to put in the work when they see something they like.
While mainstream society would have us believe that money and scarcity are the only qualifiers that determine an object’s value, seasoned vintage collectors know that the real treasures are the pieces you fight the hardest for. Negotiation might seem like a foreign language to us, but for those that bargain for a living, snagging the right piece at the right price comes second nature. In the heat of the moment, the experts keep their cool—often opting for a good old-fashioned stare down or a walk-away bluff. Though, that’s not to say they wouldn’t hesitate to use their body as a human shield to prevent fellow shoppers from scooping up an item they have their eye on—because they might if it comes down to it.
In the hope of one day perfecting our own poker face, we asked a few of our favorite vintage sellers to share their best bargain to date and the moves they pulled to bring the hidden gem home.
The Craigslist find that was worth the extra penny…
Brigette Muller’s love of thrifting fittingly coincides with a personal desire to live sustainably and shop with intention. So when the born-and-bred New Yorker (known to most by her Instagram alias Hummusbird) discovered an old dresser on Craigslist, she knew she was the right buyer to bring it back to life.
“It was a classic bargaining move. They were asking $250, I offered $150, and we met in the middle at $200,” recalls Muller. While she ended up spending an additional $200 to have two TaskRabbits retrieve the piece and put it together, Muller says the extra money was decidedly worth it.
“This thing is the star of my bedroom,” she continues. “My personal rule for negotiating: Try your best, but if you truly love the piece and the seller won’t budge, just pay the full damn price.”
The table that took some convincing…
Jennifer Harrison—the interior designer and junk genius behind Flea Market Fab—never hits up a flea market without a list. At a local Ohio flea last year, one of the must-have items on her radar was a table for her open-air front porch. “I came across a man who had a 10-foot-long, incredible display table. It was handmade and had already acquired the patina that it would need to withstand the weather,” she shares.
Once she spotted the piece, Harrison knew she had to keep her emotions to herself. “You never want to seem overly excited when you find a piece you really love,” she explains. Her rule of thumb? Go straight into a negotiation, and if they don’t budge, start to walk away. “Trust me, they don’t want to put anything back in their trucks or trailers. They want to sell,” she adds.
After a few minutes of silence and turning down the seller’s counteroffers, he agreed to let the piece go. So what finally convinced him to sell? “Cash money,” says Harrison. “It was the score I needed to start the entire design of my porch. I can’t wait for all the lovely dinners around it this year.”
The surprise fixer-upper…
New York–based stylist and founder of Claude Home Maggie Foster doesn’t stray from pieces in need of a little TLC. In fact, she prefers it. After asking herself how much she’s willing to shell out for a set of seashell bookends or velvet swivel chairs, she begins to search for flaws. “The smallest chip can save you $100,” says Foster. “A tiny stain in the corner can save you even more.”
Despite all this, Foster’s favorite bargain to date is actually a piece that came in perfect condition—well, at least at first. “I would have to say my favorite find so far was this travertine table I found at an estate sale in LA,” she shares. “There were so many people interested in it, but I basically laid my body on it to claim it.”
Quickly after laying claim to the piece (literally), Foster realized that she wasn’t going to get the price down from its original asking price with so many potential buyers in line. But, then, a flea market miracle happened.
“As the table was being picked up, one of the legs fell off,” says Foster. “I was secretly so excited. Finally, there was a flaw in it that I could easily fix, and just like that, I negotiated and got the price down $175 lower than what was being asked.”
The tropical gem…
Courtney Wagner—one of six owners of Dobbin St. Vintage Co-Op in Brooklyn—snagged not one but two rare gems on a cross-country road trip. Her two-of-a-kind steal? A pair of Mario Torres Lopez palm tree lamps.
“These lamps are very rare and sell for about $2,800 a piece online,” shares Wagner, who spotted the lights at a nearby neighbor’s house while staying with her parents in Southern California.
“I didn’t offer her much less than her asking price,” she continues. “I’ve always felt that if someone is asking a decent price for something you know to be valuable, it’s good karma to pay them what it’s worth to you. Everyone wins in this scenario, and no one is left with buyer’s (or seller’s) remorse.”
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