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Secrets of Flea-Market Pros

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Though you can find them all year round, flea markets seem especially plentiful during the warm summer months. Many homeowners featured in Country Sampler have obtained their favorite finds at flea markets. Here are five tips gleaned from experienced flea-market shoppers:

1. If you're besotted, buy it. With large crowds roaming the market, he or she who hesitates might lose out. The worst feeling is to see a one-of-a-kind item you love and decide to think it over, only to find it gone when you return to make the purchase. "Don't think about it -- it won't be there when you get back," cautions Rosemary Olson, whose California home will be featured in the September 2018 issue of Country Sampler.

2. Be prepared. Bring along a cart or wagon to tote your finds and plenty of water to stay hydrated. Dress for variations in weather and wear comfortable shoes. "I recently bought some vintage denim overalls and love wearing them to fleas," says Kelly McMaster, whose California backyard is in our current issue. "They have plenty of pockets for my cash, card, phone, car keys, lip gloss and my measuring tape. Dragging a purse around is a pain." Whether you bring a pocketbook or pack your pockets, set a budget and withdraw cash before the trip. Though many vendors now accept credit cards, cash is still king when it comes to negotiating.

3. Have a plan of attack. If it's your first time at a particular market, check to see whether there is a map of vendors so you can chart your path. If no map is available, take a quick tour around the market to get the lay of the land before starting to shop seriously. Make note of the location of booths you want to revisit. Sometimes you can pay an extra fee for "early bird" admission, which allows you a head start, something Rosemary says is well worth it.

4. Do a little homework. If you have certain items in mind, research any marks of authenticity and get familiar with the fair market value by checking online price guides or auction sites. It's fine to ask for a better price, but be respectful to dealers. If you visit the same market often, you may cultivate relationships with them. "If they learn your style, they will contact you if they get something they think you will like," says Susan Taggart, whose Ohio home was featured in the May 2017 issue of Country Sampler.

5. Consider the possibilities. Don't limit yourself to looking only for certain items; the best finds are often those that are unexpected. "Sometimes I go with a specific find in mind, but I mostly go with an open mind," Kelly says. "I love being inspired with new ideas and pieces that 'call my name.' "

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