How to find an antique bargain on eBay


eBay can be a totally overwhelming place. There are literally billions of items on there, and wading through pages and pages of results takes far too much time to be worthwhile. But if you know what you’re doing, it can be an absolute goldmine of bargains and one-off pieces. The key is to know the right way to hunt these things down, and then the right way to bid so you’ll win at the best price. 


1. Look for things others don’t want

eBay is the place people go to get a bit of cash for the things they don’t want anymore, so the best searches are for things that people are trying to get rid of. Search out pieces that are out of fashion or that can be easily updated to be more current. For example, pine furniture is abundant and cheap on eBay, and can be quickly updated with a coat of stain and varnish. 

It’s also worth considering if you’re willing to fix a little bit of damage yourself. The best finds are things that look like they’ve got significant damage but will actually be pretty easy to solve. For example, wooden furniture that has watermarks is an easy win because it can be refurbished without much time or effort.

2. Nail your keywords

When you’re searching on eBay, the keywords you use really matter. Start off with a very broad search and then narrow it down by type of item, material or colour. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, try to use unusual words where you can, rather than words that are associated with a trend. For example, instead of searching for ‘mid century modern’, you could try descriptive words (like ‘simple’), materials (like ‘teak’) or an era (like ‘1960s’). 

eBay also has a setting that allows you to search item descriptions, so if you’re not managing to find what you’re looking for, switching that on might help uncover secret gems.

3. Set your search area

When you’re buying antique furniture, you’ll probably need to collect in person, so you need to make sure you’re only seeing things that are within driving distance. The eBay search function allows you to set a maximum distance from home. Also, you’re likely to be spending a lot of money so may want to view things in person to check the condition is as advertised, particularly if the seller doesn’t allow returns. You might also want to view an item before you place a bid, for example if the seller has listed poor quality pictures or a very short description.


4. Save your searches

eBay searching takes a certain amount of patience. Often your search will throw up things that are sort of right, but not perfect. In this case, once you’ve nailed your keywords, your search area and other settings, hit the button ‘Save this search’ at the top of the list of items. eBay will automatically send you an email when a new item is listed that fits your criteria (or, if you choose to turn emails off, you can login to check instead). This is particularly useful if you like a particular designer, artist or brand, but items don’t come up very often. 

Another excellent way to use saved searches is to search for something very broad like ‘wardrobe’ but narrow down the results on location, price or condition. You’ll end up with quite a few new items to trawl through every few days, but you’re guaranteed to find a bargain eventually. This is the way I’ve found some of our best pieces, often from sellers who listed their amazing mid-century items with shockingly non-descript titles, like ‘chair’! Make sure you’re not too broad though, otherwise you’re very likely to get overwhelmed and avoid looking through the items your search throws up.

Oh, and I always select ‘Auctions only’ in my searches … more on that in the next point!

5. Know how to bid

Call me old fashioned, but I still think the best way to eBay is by bidding on auctions. These days there are often many more listings for ‘Buy it now’ items, but items tend to be new and listed at close to full price. However, if you don’t know how to bid effectively, you can end up shooting yourself in the foot by pushing the price even higher.

The key is to resist bidding until the very last minute, and then bid the absolute maximum you’d be willing to pay for the item. If you bid any sooner than the last minute, you signal to other buyers that the item is in demand, thus encouraging them to bid too and to push up the price. And I know it sounds crazy to bid the maximum you’d be willing to pay, but eBay will automatically only bid as little as is needed to beat the previous bid. So if the current bid is £10 and your maximum bid is £15, eBay will only list a bid of £10.50. 

Occasionally, you’ll find that even your maximum bid isn’t enough to win the item, because another buyer has placed a higher maximum bid. In these cases, you can walk away with your head held high, knowing that the other person has paid too much! More often though, others won’t have set their maximum anywhere near high enough, and you’ll outbid them easily. And because you’ve done it at the last minute, they won’t have a chance to one up you!

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