How to Make a Living as an Antiques and Collectibles Picker
Pick, Pick, Pick
Pickers have nothing to do with the banjo. They are people that make their living looking for collectibles that others will buy. They spend their time digging through other people's barns, attics, garages, and abandoned buildings looking for particular items.
They are on a mission to locate special pieces that customers may want and pay good money for. Some work for other people and many for themselves. The economy has spurred people to start searching for unique items at garage sales, flea markets, estate sales, church sales, and thrift shops in their region.
Many antique and collectibles buyers can help save the past and make some money too. Most of the rusted and forgotten junk sitting in the fields and basements is thought to be worthless, but someone may want it.
Antiques are defined as anything that is 75 years old and older. Anything old is not valuable so more people are interested in collectibles. They do not have to be old, just in high demand.
One good way to find some deals is to be the only one looking at someone's house or barn filled with stuff. Many hoarders are visited by "junkers" that want to look around but not all hoarders will be open to this.
Vintage Items Sell
Some vintage items such as jewelry, bikes, posters, bicycles, metal signs, motorcycles, and clothing sell for high prices.
Some women collectors will pay well for a vintage era purse from the '60s, or an antique dress from the roaring '20s.
Male collectors like to find old Schwinn bikes from the '40s, and old wooden console radios from the '30s. They will restore them and sell at an antique show or shop. Sometimes items sell online for a good price, but these items do a much better job of selling themselves when seen in person.
I like old rocking chairs and recently bought three at a local auction house. They represent history and look good in the house. Of course, I'll sell them for the right price.
Reasons to Start an Antiques and Collectibles Business
There have been pickers and estate buyers for generations, but the antique picker is fast becoming a popular way to make a living.
Of course, the pawnbrokers are a type of picker as well. They can sit back and wait for people to bring them items but not all are antiques or valuable.
Antiques Roadshow, Pawn Stars, and now Storage Wars have piqued people's interest in making money off collectibles and antiques.
The downturn in the economy has created new and creative ways to raise cash and make a living, for sure. With the influx of recent reality shows, the “American Pickers” program really stood out.
Most of my family and friends have grown up with the love of antiques and collectibles. They are a good way to preserve history, culture, and interest in a way of life. They are also a great investment if you buy right or hold onto an item until it increases in value. The team of Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz drive all over the back roads of America, looking for the most unusual and difficult to find antiques and collectibles imaginable.
Their trips are usually planned by the third member of the team, Danielle Dolbey, who sets up meetings in advance. There are times Frank and Mike strike out with a potential seller, so they must freestyle and look for a deal. They scour the streets looking for an old garage, barn, or vacant building, and knock on some doors.
Steps to Starting a Business as a Freelance Antiques and Collectibles Picker
There are definite steps that will help you become successful as an antique and collectibles dealer. You need to take care and follow proven methods or you'll waste a lot of money and time.
Here are some of the best steps I know towards a successful business:
Set up a business name.
Set up a business account.
Get an occupational license.
Get a state sales tax number.
Get business cards, posters, and fliers made up.
Set up a website or blog.
Set up an online store.
Hold information seminars or appraisals to network.
Teach an adult education class.
Read and research religiously.
Visit many, many antique shops, second-hand stores, pawnshops, flea markets, and online auction sites.
Read and comment on forums for collectibles and antiques.
Have a reliable smartphone with a browser.
Make a list of potential buyers.
Pay people to be “bird dogs” or lookouts for potential sellers.
Post classifieds ads in local papers all over the country looking to buy out barns.
Offer to do a cleanup service.
offer services to realtors who do estate sales.
Get a small pickup truck or van to start out with.
Set up a booth in a consignment shop to start with, and then move into your own shop when you become successful
Never think you know it all. Learn something new every day.
Diplomacy: How to Wheel and Deal
Finding potential deals means you must be tenacious, approachable, and diplomatic.
You'll never be able to find the prize if you're shy, afraid to knock on doors and take "no" personally. It's like being a door to door salesman. Mike and Frank know how to approach most sellers with charm and humor. I like the fact that no matter how dingy and dirty the place is, they never show any judgment in the voices and manners.
People want to be seen and heard, so respect their space and lifestyle, or you'll never get anywhere with them.
Speaking to people about selling their daddy's old motorcycle, rusty bike or metal sign that's been hidden away for decades takes some finesse.
The way you approach them and your tone are equally important. They may not think their junk piled up in the barn is worth anything, but when you start asking how much they want or offer a big price, it may put them off or make them suspicious.
Since most of my deals and collectibles are usually set in a rural location, you'll be dealing with people who don't come in contact with many strangers. Newcomers, and city dwellers especially, will not always be welcomed.
They don't want a repeat of when some fast-talking city slicker cheated granddad out of his land or something like that.
I've run into this situation before so I know you need to warm up to them. Small talk and being genuinely interested will help. Do not pretend to like them or put on an accent because they will know. I've seen people do this, and it's embarrassing and rude, to say the least.
Be upfront and be careful not to show too much interest, or you'll not be able to afford anything.
There are several good sites and books to help you figure out if there is a good deal or not. I check out the eBay auctions and then subscribe to Collectors Weekly to see what is popular
Calling on your list of buyers is one way to figure out a price. Another way is thumbing through general price guides such as Kovels Price Guide, Schroeder's Price Guide, the Antiques Trader, Warman's Guide, and Millers.
There are many item-specific price guides, too numerous to mention.
When you are out of town, visit the local library or bookstores. Also, go to the local auctions to find a bargain.
Website subscriptions services such as Price4Antiques charge $12 a year.
Final Thoughts About Becoming an Antiques Picker
The whole reason for picking and searching through junk is to make money.
Whether you frequent garage sales, estate sales, thrift shops, antique malls, consignment shops, or knock on stranger's doors to pick through their junk, there's a deal waiting for you.
Not everyone will make a large profit or any at all. It takes many hours and years of experience to know what is real and what is a dud.
My best deal was the sale of a '60s character doll by the name of “Blythe.” She had a small body and an over-sized head, but when you pulled her cord, the eye colors changed four times. I bought her at a garage sale in the late '70s and sold her in early 2001, when eBay fever was boiling, to a Japanese buyer for $1250. She had been sitting quietly in a china cabinet for many years, until I saw how much money people were paying for these dolls. Sorry Blythe, everyone has a price!
I guess everyone and everything has a price and I couldn't turn that down. Look around and watch some programs about collectibles also. Not all antiques are valuable, just as not all collectibles are. Antique pickers learn from their mistakes and move on.
It's easy to get burnt and hang on to your mistakes. Keep your price guides and cell phones handy. Good luck.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I have some antiques that were given to me by very special people and I wouldn't dream of selling them unless the profit would be enough to change my life significantly. Is there any company I could call to get estimates on a bunch of different items such as books, brooches, vases, etc.?
You can call auction companies, estate sales, or high end auctioneers such as Sothebys.Helpful 6
© 2010 Stacie L