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How to score deals at flea markets, auctions

Anyone who has ever won a hotly contested eBay auction for an orange vintage Pyrex or hit a local flea market early to ferret out Victorian earrings knows the thrill of the old-stuff hunt. It's the charge that powers PBS's Market Warriors (Mon., 9 p.m.), in which four antiques pros, including newcomer and auctioneer Bene Raia, trawl flea markets across the country trying to score the best deals on such goods as World War II plane propellers and 1950s Mickey Mouse watches. Raia recently answered some questions about the art of the hunt:

On the show, you usually talk dealers into cutting their prices. How can I do that?

Be prepared to walk away! And start out just by acknowledging a dealer, smiling and asking questions. Find out why he or she is pricing something a certain way. They want you to be happy with what you buy.

What about auctions, both in person and online?

You need to do preliminary research to figure out what the prices of certain things should be. Look at what things have sold for in earlier auctions online.

When you walk into a flea market, what's the first thing you do?

I start scanning, especially when I'm doing Market Warriors, because we have target items we need to get, like something gold or something painted. It helps to have an idea of why you are going to the flea market. Are you completing your grandmother's china set or just browsing?

What's a common mistake people make when antiquing?

If you're at a live auction, don't get emotionally involved and bid up an item at any cost. People will bid it up on purpose to teach you a lesson. Also, don't tell a dealer at a flea market booth to hold something for you and then forget to come back. That's just rude.

Any tips on living with older stuff and not wrecking it?

Well, I live with my antiques, and my 4-year-old twins know that they're precious and that they should be careful. But never have out things that can't be replaced or just dusted off. You want everyone to feel comfortable in your house.

What about displaying things? How do I avoid the Hoarders look?

Weed out what you don't like, and don't feel like you have to display everything all the time. Rotate things with the seasons.

What's the hottest thing at flea markets and auctions now?

I think my customers, both baby boomers and younger people, are still into midcentury modern. It's here for a while.

It's popular now to rehab older furniture. Is it okay to paint antiques?

If the furniture is mass produced, it's fine to repaint it, particularly if it's from the 1930s or 1940s. Do what you want to enhance your life and your possessions!

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: PBS's Market Warriors airs at 9 p.m. Mondays.

How to score deals at flea markets, auctions 02/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 6:29pm]

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