Shopping for antiques can be overwhelming, online or off. It takes a certain kind of stamina to find that diamond in the rough, and yes, there’s a whole lot of rough. But if you choose the internet option, you can bypass the mothball aroma, the sore feet, and most importantly, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for—and you can still get the thrill of the hunt.
“Shopping for antiques in person can be hard,” says Jacquie Denny, the co-founder of the estate sale market place, Everything But The House (EBTH). “But if you can’t find something in the real world, take comfort that you'll find it on the internet.”
With the right plan of action, online antique shopping can be super rewarding—finding a beautiful and unique history-rich piece of furniture or artwork will make your day and can make a room. So, we asked Denny to lay out some helpful tips that’ll ensure our interweb expeditions lead us to just what we’re looking for, or to something surprisingly unexpected that we’ll treasure for years.
Know Your Online Options
When shopping for antiques or vintage the first question Denny suggests you should ask yourself is, when do you want it? If you’re not in a rush and can wait a few weeks, try a bidding platform such EBTH or Live Auctioneer, an aggregate site for a bunch of different auction companies. If you’re looking for a gift or you just need the item right away, peer-to-peer processing sites, like eBay, Etsy and Ruby Lane, where you have the buy-it-now option, are the way to go. The latter sites are also better for smaller, more kitschy items, says Denny, while sites such as Invaluable and 1stdibs (both offer buy-it-now) are great if you’re going for more high-end pieces.
Do Your Research
Before you buy or bid, it’s important to get some background info on what you’re searching for— especially if it’s a big-ticket item. Denny suggests looking at Live Auctioneer and seeing what your piece has been going for, so you know in what range you should spend. “Does that mean I'll never pay more than market value? No,” she says. “If it’s the one thing I want that I haven't been able to find, I’ll splurge. But the more information we have going in makes us better consumers.” EBTH has 10 years of bidding results on the site on everything from coins to cars, but you only really need to look back about six months or so, since the market can go from hot to cold very quickly.
Use the Search Function
The best vintage and antique sites to shop are the ones that have great search functions. “You want to go to a site that helps you customize the experience, so you can look at what you want and not just go through pages and pages of items,” says Denny. If you’re into bargain hunting, search lowest to highest price; if you curious about what’s popular, search for the most followed; if you want to guarantee you’ll get your item or find something no one else is noticing, search by least number of bids—it really all depends on your mood.
Denny suggests starting by casting a very wide net with you search, then narrowing it down after you see what’s out there. If you’re looking for a Heywood-Wakefield mid-century coffee table, but you get that specific in your search, you may miss it. Someone could not know what they have and just list “cool retro coffee table,” and a bargain could slip past you. So, broader is better if you have the time and patience to go down a bit of a rabbit hole. If you’re in more of a time crunch, you can get specific with keys words, but play around with a few different combinations. Remember to put in ‘antique’ or ‘vintage’ depending on how old you want your item to be. Antiques are over 100 years old, vintage are less but at least 20 to 30. “Being able to search is a really unique skill set,” says Denny. “It's something that’s done experientially, the longer you do it, the better you get.”
Shop From Someone You Trust
Many auction sites, like EBTH, authenticate everything they sell before it goes up for bidding. But if you’re buying from somewhere that doesn’t, like eBay, it’s a little riskier. Do your due-diligence and make sure you’re shopping from a trustworthy seller (and always, check out their return policy just in case). “When you do business in person, you can get a feel for the personality of who you're dealing with,” says Denny. “But online, you have to gather that info from how they present themselves—the biggest thing is transparency about the items.” Pay attention to how much information he or she is giving on everything from the condition to the size to the color. Check out other items they’ve listed, as well as their ratings.
When buying used products online, never assume anything. But don’t worry, sellers completely understand that orange to one person may coral to another, so they’re usually super responsive and happy to answer any queries you may have. “There is a subjective part of buying second hand online,” says Denny. “We all have different filters, so if you're going to spend serious money on anything, ask enough questions to know you'll be satisfied.” Plus, the return process with vintage isn't just putting something back in the bag and sending it back. “It's a little more complex and it's hard on everybody, the person who sold and the buyer,” says Denny. “So it’s best to be clear upfront—good communication skills are a big part of the online buying experience.”
When bidding, the more people that engage, the quicker the price ramps up. Denny saves all the things she’s eyeing, then comes in at the very end when others may have experienced bidder exhaustion. “I start following pretty hard the last day, but I don’t start bidding until an hour before it ends,” she says. People will start jumping in, and you can see your competition. “The interest at the end of every auction is really intense,” says Denny. For some it’s best to set a price limit for themselves, so they don’t get into an emotional bidding war. You can also just put in a maximum bid and walk away. “You are less likely to win, but also less likely to bankrupt yourself,” she says.
When buying larger and more expensive pieces, remember that shipping will be a component in the final price. Antiques and artwork have to be packed and handled differently. So, before you dive into shopping, figure out how much you’re willing to spend on an item, as well as how much on getting it to you. Denny suggests that instead of using the shipping that’s offered, try uShip, a peer-to-peer company made of independent shippers who you’ll deal with you directly. Most sellers will be relieved to not have to deal with the logistics, just be sure to check with them and the site first. “I love Uship,” says Denny. “They’re driven by getting good reviews, so they’re really invested in getting your item to you, and they’re usually cheaper than the big companies.”