How to Flip Antiques

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You can start your antique flipping business by holding a yard sale.
You can start your antique flipping business by holding a yard sale. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

If flipping houses sounds like too much manual labor, and too large a financial investment, flipping antiques may better suit your taste. You can start with just a few items, if you wish, to limit your financial risk. This business lets you grow at your own pace. You can start by selling a few pieces online or to friends. After that, you can progress to putting antiques in a consignment store, opening a booth at a flea market, renting a permanent booth in an antique mall, or even opening your own antique store. As you practice flipping antiques, you will develop a feel for the market and learn what does or does not sell.

Learn everything you can about a particular niche or set of niches. While it is possible to flip antiques without specializing, choosing a niche and learning about it helps you spot amazing bargains when you see them. If you learn about California pottery, for instance, you will know when a piece of Bauer ring ware is a steal and when it is overpriced.

Buy items below the market value. This is where having a specialty comes into play. While you can make judgment calls on some things — for example, an antique dresser in perfect condition for $20 — knowing about a particular subject helps you spot more common but less obvious bargains. Specializing in antique jewelry, for example, helps you spot genuine antique gold and silver that others may have dismissed as fake. Specializing in California pottery helps you spot unmarked Bauer ring ware pieces that others may have passed up.

Replace missing items if possible. For example, you may have your eye on an antique tea set that is missing the teapot but would be worth around $500 if it were complete. Without the important teapot, you may be able to purchase the set for a mere $250. You could then purchase the teapot — without the rest of the set — elsewhere for perhaps $100. When you resell the set for $500, you will be making a $150 profit simply for finding the missing piece.

Do not attempt other repairs unless you are absolutely confident about what you are doing, or know for certain that the piece you wish to repair has no historical or monetary value. Replacing a broken handle on a dresser may seem like an obvious fix, but the handle may be a desirable part of the dresser. Do not replace the worn old cushion on a valuable antique chair with a newer one. Similarly, do not polish metal items to a bright shine. Removing the antique patina can dramatically lessen the value of the item. When in doubt, consult an expert in the field. She can tell you whether the repairs or alterations you have in mind will increase or decrease the item's value.

Price your antiques based on their condition, the current market, their value and rarity, and your desire to sell. You may be able to sell something for $500, but it might take months to find the right buyer. If you opt to sell it for $350 instead, you may be able to make a profit right away.

Sell your items in the most appropriate venue possible. Some pieces, which have very little value other than their age, may do best in a flea market setting. Rare, desirable pieces — especially those that are easy to ship — may do best in an online auction, which allows you to reach a wide audience. Large pieces such as desks, tables and chairs may do best in a local antique consignment shop. Choosing the best venue helps you command the highest prices.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can find antiques to flip in many places. Estate sales are an obvious choice, but also try local auction houses and online auctions. If you recognize an item's value, and others don't, you may be able to get a great deal.
  • You may need various licenses and permits to legally sell antiques. Check local and state laws to find out which licenses and permits you need.
  • Remember to account for any fees you will have to pay when selling your items. Buying a set of vintage tumblers for $10 and selling them for $15 may sound like an easy $5. When you take fees into account, however, this may not be the case. A consignment store, for example, might take 40 percent of your sale, leaving you with just $9. This means that you actually lost $1, along with the time it took you to buy the tumblers, wash them, price them and take them to the store.

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