Buying Antiques on eBay: Step-by-Step Guide

Updated March 15, 2022
Woman shopping on ebay

If you want something specific or are hoping to find cheap antiques for sale, eBay is an excellent option. However, buying antiques on eBay requires a good understanding of the shopping process and a clear sense of your goals. You can't pick things up or look them over in person, so it's important to know what you're doing. From searching for the specific antique you want to determining whether something is a fake, these are the steps that will make your eBay antique shopping experience a success.

1. Do Your Homework Before Buying Antiques on eBay

Before you start shopping for antiques online, make sure you have a clear idea of what you want and what it might be worth. Browsing on eBay is fun, but you have a better chance of getting a good deal if you are looking for something specific. Make a few notes about the item you're looking for. For instance, if it's a china teacup to add to your set, write down the pattern, the manufacturer, and any other identifying information.

You also need to know the value of antiques you're considering buying online. This will help you keep from paying too much for an item, and you'll be able to tell whether you're getting a good deal. Remember that lots of factors can affect value, including the condition of the piece you're considering.

2. Keep a Few eBay Search Tips in Mind

Now that you have a sense of the item's value and characteristics, you can start to look for it. While you're buying antiques on eBay, these tips can help you search and find what you really want:

  • Be as specific as possible at first. Search for the item using its brand, color, pattern, or other descriptors.
  • Start searching without the category. eBay is divided by category, but sometimes, sellers can place an item in a different category than you might expect.
  • Refine your search by category. You can start to narrow down your results by choosing categories, such as antique furniture, glassware, and more. This makes it easier to find the exact item you want.
  • Try more general terms if you aren't getting results. Sometimes, eBay sellers don't know enough about an item to use the right terms in the description. Try more general terms like "vintage floral teacup" instead of "Shelley Rosebud."
  • Filter your results. You can refine what you're seeing listed by choosing its color, brand, and other factors. This lets you view the things that best meet your needs.

3. Understand What the Item Description Tells You

The item description is a very important part of safely buying antiques on eBay. This is where the seller describes exactly what you'll be bidding on. This will include the basics, such as the item's brand, color, and other characteristics. It will also include any damage to the antique or anything that might change your mind about buying it. You'll learn whether it's really functional and whether it has repairs or other modifications.

Read the description carefully. Sellers are required to be honest in their descriptions, but they may not include all the information you want. For example, when you're buying antique furniture on eBay, a seller might not tell you about whether one leg is slightly shorter or a drawer sticks a little. They may not mention that a sterling silver spoon has a spot where a monogram has been removed. This is why it's essential to look at the item photos and ask questions.

4. Remember to Look at the Photos

The photos are a huge part of how you experience an item on eBay. The seller will try to show off the item's best features, and they'll also photograph damage they might not state clearly in the text. Often, sellers will state that the photos are part of the description.

Take some time to look very carefully at the pictures of the antique you're considering buying on eBay. Zoom in on anything that looks like it could be damaged or on area where damage commonly occurs. For example, if you're buying antique glassware on eBay, try to look at the edges of the piece to check for chips or unevenness. These may not be called out in the written description, but they will show in the photos.

5. Check for Signs of a Fake

Reproductions or fakes show up on eBay and other auction sites from time to time. Some items, such as carnival glass, can have modern reproductions that look very similar to original antiques. The key to identifying whether antiques on eBay are fake is knowing about what you're buying. Before you bid or buy something, take some time to learn as much as you can about it. Is the pattern or style appropriate for the era?

It's also important to watch for deals that are simply too good to be true. If no one else is bidding on an item or the price is very low, other shoppers may know it's not a genuine antique. This doesn't mean you should completely avoid this piece, but it definitely merits more research.

6. Pay Attention to Shipping Charges

Young woman shopping online

When you buy an antique on eBay, remember that the shipping charges are also part of what you'll pay for the item. The cost of shipping is clearly stated in the item description. This cost is in addition to the agreed-upon price for the antique. In some cases, this may change your decision about whether you want to bid on it or buy it.

Some sellers only offer local pickup, which means they aren't willing to try to ship the item. This is often the situation with things like antique sewing machines, large pieces of antique furniture, or other heavy items. If you don't live in the area where the item can be picked up, don't buy it.

7. Check the Return Policy

If the item isn't as it's described or shown in the photos, eBay will help you facilitate a return. There's still a chance you won't get your money back, but you often can.

However, if the item is how it was described but you simply don't want it or changed your mind, you can't always return it. Some eBay sellers offer returns, and some do not. Read the fine print in the store policies if you think you might need to make a return in the future.

8. Understand About Bidding and Buying on eBay

When you've checked everything over carefully, it's finally time to bid or buy. There are three main ways to do this. Sellers don't always offer all three options, but you'll see at least one.

  • Buy It Now - If you see a "Buy It Now" button, you can click this to purchase this item for the stated price.
  • Make Offer - A "Make Offer" button means you can make a reasonable offer to the seller to negotiate on the price of the item. They will have 24 hours to answer you and accept your offer, reject it, or make another one.
  • Bid - The most traditional way to buy antiques on eBay is to bid. This can help you get a good deal, although it means special treasures can sometimes slip away. You enter the amount you are willing to bid, and you can increase the bid if you want.

A Great Source for Buying Antiques Online

If you know how to buy antiques on eBay and keep a few tips in mind, it can be a wonderful resource for finding treasures and collectibles. There are lots of places to buy antiques online safely, but eBay is one of the few that lets you easily negotiate on prices. It's also one of the most established, and it offers an incredible selection of everything from antique jewelry to classic cars. Just take your time and read everything carefully, and you'll find what your heart desires.

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Buying Antiques on eBay: Step-by-Step Guide