If you’re looking for the perfect antique piece to complete your home, brush up on your attack plan before heading out.

1. SCOUT OUT THE BEST FLEA MARKETS AHEAD OF TIME. 

Sure, sometimes you can stumble onto a great one accidentally, but if you’re serious about your antiquing, you have to be prepared. Use the Internet, brochures, and word of mouth to compile a list of options. Mark them on your calendar and give priority to the ones that you think have the most potential. Generally, markets that are only open for a short amount of time yield the best results.

2. DON'T FORGET ABOUT YARD SALES.

While some yard or garage sales seem like collections of junk, there can be some real gems. Often when people move or renovate their homes, they want to get rid of their old furniture in a hurry. Always stop by yard sales in your neighborhood to check out the selection; you just might find some incredible pieces of furniture.

3. KNOW THE LINGO.

When shopping, you want to be able to describe what you’re looking for and what you’re seeing. Brush up on words pertaining to the furniture. For example, is that glass fire-polished or hobnail? It’s also helpful to know the names for all the time periods and styles you’re looking at; you wouldn’t want to get there without knowing the difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau.

4. CHECK FOR DEFECTS.

Without insulting the seller, examine the furniture for any irregularities or breaks. Check sockets, drawers, joints, and shelves to make sure everything is still holding up and in good condition. Watch out for wobbly legs, scratches, and missing pieces.  Some blemishes can be repaired, but you don’t want to bring home anything that’s completely unusable.

5. ASK THE SELLER QUESTIONS.

Always try to get the history of a piece before you buy. Ask the seller where they found it and who owned it previously. Although not always possible, it’s a good habit to see if there is a provenance, or record of ownership. If the piece can be backed up with documentation, you know you really have something. Generally only really expensive pieces will have a provenance, but they come in handy when getting insurance or trying to resell.

6. TRUST YOUR GUT.

If something calls out to you, don’t ignore it. Often if you decide to wait on purchasing an item, someone will beat you to it. Don’t risk the chance of letting something you really love slip away from you. If you’re not entirely sure, write down the booth number and come back to it later.

7. VALUE THE STRUCTURE OVER THE COLOR.

When looking at things like chairs or tables, remember that they can be reupholstered or repainted. The shape, engravings, and style are more important than the color. Try to imagine the chair you’re looking at with a fresh coat of paint and new fabric. Sometimes an ugly chair just needs a little work to be perfect.

8. MAKE SURE THE PURCHASE IS WORTH IT.

If the piece of furniture you’re looking at seems like it will need a lot of work, make sure it’s worth buying. Often, reupholstering and renovating can cost more than the piece itself. Before making your purchase, make sure the piece has enough character or other important qualities (like quality, solid wood) to make the extra expenses worth it. Of course, if you’re fixing the antique up yourself, it can be a fun DIY project that won’t cost as much as getting it professionally done.

9. PICTURE THE PIECE IN YOUR HOME.

Sometimes it’s hard to visualize what a furniture item will look like when it’s not surrounded by an odd assortment of flea market goods. When looking at your potential new chair or armoire, try to imagine it sitting in your living room. The piece of furniture’s potential might be hidden when it’s surrounded by rusty buttons and old baseball cards.

10. WATCH OUT FOR TRICKY WORDING.

If the seller dances around the exact history or age of the antique, be wary. Using phrasing like “around the same time” or “in the style of” is a misleading way of saying that the piece is not genuine. Make sure they are straightforward with you, or just walk away.

11. PRACTICE YOUR HAGGLING SKILLS.

Once you’ve decided on your purchase, you need to settle on a price. Know what you’re talking about and understand the value of the items you want to buy. Be polite, but firm, and know when to walk away. Sometimes showing a little hesitation or ambivalence will help convince the seller to go lower. 

For extra leverage, come at the end of the day, when vendors are more ready to give things up rather than lug them home. Dress modestly so the seller doesn’t assume you have money to spare.