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Tips for Buying Vintage!


Finally! I found a beautiful vintage sofa- exactly what I was looking for- just up the street at a local shop. The price started at $3,500, but after a few visits and inquiries with the shop owner, we settled on $1800! Of course, I calmly paid for my treasure and sauntered down the street singing to myself, "I'm bad, I know it, I'm bad, shamone!" If you're considering buying vintage here are a few tips that might help:

1. Buyer takes all- buying vintage usually means no returns. Some shops will let you take the piece out on approval with a credit card (this isn't usually an option at Flea Markets or online sales). Bring paint colors, photos, etc. from your room  to help you be more decisive. Bring a tape measure, notepad and camera. Some places will hold a piece while you run back home to mark out the piece and debate the purchase.

2. No stone unturned- When I purchased my sideboard at the Alameda Flea market, I checked out the drawers, the back, the underside. It looked great. As soon as I paid, I started putting it on my cart. I removed the serving bowl sitting on top only to discover a massive scar of muddled paint- a spot I hid with my VCR for years until I was finally ready to paint it myself. Now, most pieces are going to have wear and tear- they are vintage after all. Just do your best to know exactly what you're buying.

[caption id="attachment_1361" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Say you're interested in this mannequin, ask the price. If you think you can negotiate to your price, ask the vendor to remove the necklaces and turn the piece arounnd. Look underneath the mannequin too and move it around- respectfully- to check for sturdiness."][/caption]

3. Real time investment- It's easy to be overcome with nostalgia and excitement when the vintage shopping bug infects you. Beware as you venture in that if you're not careful you might purchase more than you bargained for. You might love that gilded chair with broken leg but will you ever actually fix it? Most pieces will require at least cleaning and may need more dramatic care like re-finishing or upholstery. If you're up for the challenge-great! Be sure to consider the price of those repairs as part of your investment.

[caption id="attachment_1362" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="This chair needed to have the braces fixed and new upholstery. Even with these additional expenses my investment was worthwhile. It looks terrific in my client's guest room."][/caption]

4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T Never insult or upset a vendor. You may not like their approach or attitude but you might really want something from them- now or later- and you'll benefit from the old vinegar vs. honey wisdom. That said, I saw a mirrored nightstand once with shiny phillips-head screws and press board backing. The piece was clearly from Z Gallery or some such place, but the vendor insisted it was vintage. I said, "Ah, that's not cool- this piece isn't solid wood, and the screws are new, bar code on the bottom is modern. Just say it's used not vintage and let people decide for themselves if it's worth that price." I never bought anything from that vendor because I knew I couldn't trust her. Be respectful, but don't be fooled. The burden really lies on you to determine the value of whatever you buy.

[caption id="attachment_1363" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="With experience you start to recognize quality quickly. This is a new piece made from salvaged elements. The crafstmanship AND vintage materials is a beautiful look."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1364" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="This piece is clearly vintage, in excellent shape... but I think I'll pass :-)"][/caption]

5. Best Buy- Everyone has an approach to negotiating. Here's mine. If the first price is excellent, I buy it, celebrate, and move on. I never waste my time or a vendor's patience over nickels and dollars- two or three exchanges is enough negotiating. I aim to be decisive at all times. If I' not sure, I walk away jotting down the contact, booth, or store info. If I can't get the piece out of my mind I'll come back and let fate decide. If it's gone- I let it go. If it's still available, I've had time to consider my top price and can negotiate with confidence. My favorite pieces are generally the ones where the exchange with the vendor was also friendly and flexible. And those are vendors who will see me again too! win win!

[caption id="attachment_1365" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="I bought this solid redwood murphy-bed door/mirror from a Victorian at a vintage shop on Valencia Street- it's my first negotiating coup. I paid $125 total down from $180 plus tax. My motivation- it's all the money I had at the time so I paid cash and called my friends to help me load it. Sixteen years later it's still on of my favorite finds!"][/caption]

6. Poker face- no matter how much you want a piece, don't give it away. You can be enthusiastic for sure, but don't ever offer a price first. Check everything out, listen for any hesitation from the vendor and let them talk until they reach their best price. Be level headed, decisive, and well, victorious when you claim your first treasure. It's the best feeling.

What's your approach to negotiating? What mistakes have you made? Any major scores?


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