Everyone seems to have that friend (or favorite blogger, magazine, etc.) that nails the shabby-chic look with flea market finds. But the bevy of options at the flea market, on Craigslist and at yard sales — not to mention the complete mashup of the good, the bad and the ugly — may overwhelm inexperienced shoppers. Here's how to spot a steal.
Know what to get: The best way to save yourself from a wasteful purchase? Know what you really need — and want. If you know you need a cozy chair for that reading nook you're dreaming of and you also love to collect funky glasses, skip the vintage china plates. Even if they're a stellar find, they're a waste if you don't want or need them. Also, be sure to measure for any pieces you're specifically shopping for.
Spot quality: It can be hard to tell just how much wear and tear is only skin-deep. If you're looking at furniture, start by giving the piece a good shake. Does it feel sturdy? Does it have visible screws or bolts that just need a little tightening? If not, you should probably pass. On upholstered pieces, it's easier to replace cushions and fabric than springs and other inner workings. For accessories and decor, look out for chips and dings that would leave the piece looking less vintage and more just plain old.
Consider budget: For some, flea market shopping is a cash-saver, while others just enjoy the thrill of the hunt — and the payoff of a gorgeous antique piece. If saving cash is the goal, consider the cost of rehabbing that diamond in the rough. For example, paint, wood stain and elbow grease are inexpensive yet time-consuming, whereas reupholstering a sofa can be very pricey but cost you next-to-no time if you hire a pro.