Things you should never buy from a flea market

While spending the day at a flea market might be a fun (and relatively cheap) outing, not to mention a kind of offbeat but enjoyable idea for a first date, it's not always going to be such a great place to score bargains on stuff you either want or need. That cute little tchotchke you picked up would probably cost a lot less at a yard sale, and there'll likely be a much wider selection of clothing and household goods at any decent thrift store. 

And as far as unearthing a fabulous find that has the potential to put you in Scrooge McDuck's tax bracket, fuhgeddaboudit. Antiques Roadshow has been on the air in the US for over 20 years now (over 40, in the UK), and there isn't a flea market dealer left on the planet who's likely to overlook or underprice a dusty old Da Vinci.

That isn't to say that you shouldn't shop at all at a flea market, since that's kind of what they're for, but you should probably try to keep your buy small, cheap, and portable. And just like there are things you shouldn't buy from a thrift store, there are items you shouldn't pick up at a flea market either, including stuff from certain categories such as cookware, electronics, "luxury" items, and anything too large to take with you.

Old pots and pans

If you're into collecting vintage cookware, that's cool, as long as you're knowledgeable about prices and condition and can pick out the real thing on a table full of faux-vintage, mass-produced "shabby chic." If, however, you're looking for pots and pans that you actually intend to cook in, never buy anything with a scratched or chipped lining. 

One exception, according to The Spruce, may be copper-lined cookware, since it may be possible to have this re-lined, but you should check into the expense of this first and determine whether you really want to spend that kind of money refurbishing your flea market find. If you come across an old cast iron skillet at a decent price, though, go ahead and grab it. Even a dirty, rusty skillet can, with a little effort, be cleaned and seasoned and put to good use.

Electronic items

Most home electronics are another flea market no-no. For one thing, how are you going to check to see if they work? Even if, by any chance, the vendor has a power strip so you can at least plug in and power on the TV, computer, or tablet, you still won't know about any other potential problems it may have until you take it home and start using it. Not to mention, any electronic device that's been used to connect to the internet could well be harboring a malicious virus. 

Plus there is always the possibility of safety hazards from damaged cords... really, just not worth it. Although, once again, The Spruce does suggest one exception to the no electronics rule: a vintage gaming system, at a decent price, may just be worth the gamble, particularly if it comes bundled with a large selection of games.

Name-brand products

A lot of what you see offered at flea markets isn't vintage or even pre-owned. Many vendors are selling brand new items: clothing, makeup, perfumes, and toys that appear to be from well-known brands. While you're obviously going to know right away that a $100 Gucci purse or a pair of $50 Jordans are fake, and may well suspect that a still-in-the-shrink wrap DVD of a movie that you saw at the theater last week is probably pirated, there's also a good chance that a number of other new items are also cheaply-produced knockoffs that aren't even worth their relatively low prices. 

Not only are these items illegal to sell, but they may well be dangerous. Market Watch warns of bargain batteries that explode and cheap cosmetics that contain lead or other toxic chemicals.

Anything troublesome to transport

If you fall in love with a cute little table and chair set or a lovely antique mirror, you'd better hope that the flea market where you're shopping is close by your home, and that you've got a friend with a pickup truck waiting on standby. The Spruce advises that many vendors won't be too happy to hold onto sold items while you take the time to arrange transportation.

If you're doing your flea marketing at Paris' Marché aux Puces de Montreuil and you'd like to ship your finds back to Boise, you might be looking at a whole 'nother set of headaches. Market Watch cautions that the importation of many different items is restricted or prohibited altogether, so you may be looking at anything from having to acquire a permit to facing the possibility of your item being confiscated by customs inspectors. It's best to check with U.S. Customs and Border Protection before you buy, just to make sure you're not bringing back any banned bibelots.