Choosing a reputable dealer

The other way to minimise the risks is to choose a reputable dealer. Here, the same advice applies to antique buying as it does to plumbing, life insurance or any business transaction.

You can add an extra safety-net by going to a firm which is a member of a trade body such as BADA, which vets its membership and enforces standards through the code of practice contained in its strict Bye-laws.

Such safeguards can be important, particularly if you have cause to question the authenticity of your purchase and wish to claim redress. Such a query should not, for example, present a problem if the piece came from a dealer who is a member of BADA.

Since 1918 BADA has been looking after the buying public. Under its codes of practice, a mistake in the description of an object usually entitles the purchaser to a full refund from the member. In addition, should this be a cause for dispute between the BADA dealer and his customer, then the matter can be taken to the Association's free Arbitration Service.

Use  a specialist

Many BADA members are specialists within their chosen field, with years of expertise that the customer can draw on for help, not just with the initial selection but with follow-up advice on care and repair. Remember that you should never be afraid to ask questions. As a serious potential customer, you are entitled to find out as much as possible from the vendor and no reputable professional should begrudge any genuine enquiry.

The wide variety of specialist fields within which members operate may be easily experienced by using the Dealer Search facility of this website.

Again, as in any field of business, it makes sense to build up a relationship with a specialist. Think to the future; it is unlikely that your first purchase will be your last and any expert will have a wide circle of contacts that he or she can use to seek out special requirements for a valued customer.

Any reputable dealer selects their stock with care and takes pride in any pieces they offer, so you will often find that, given a reasonable lapse of time, they will be happy to buy those pieces back from their customers or accept them in exchange for something else in the shop.

Invoices

On a practical note, having asked the dealer for details about a piece you have decided to purchase make sure that the invoice reflects that all-important information which helped you make the decision to buy.

For example if the dealer pointed out some restoration, ask that this is noted on the invoice. It can protect you and the dealer from any misunderstandings later on.

Ensure the invoice indicates the period of the article, if known. There is no point in buying what you believe to be an 18th-century table, described on the invoice as "a fine walnut table" only to discover later that it is a Victorian copy.

Paying for your purchases

Some dealers incorporate terms and conditions of sale into their sales invoices. Others do not. This can mean that ownership rights to the antique you intend to buy will vary depending on whether or not they have been paid for in full. The same goes for deposits. The moral of this is that you should always make your intentions clear and if you do not understand any aspect of your purchase arrangement, such as deposits, or who bears restoration costs simply ask the dealer. He won't bite!

Do not tell a dealer you intend to buy an item if in truth you are not quite sure that it is right for you. If you need to check that your partner approves of your purchase then be honest with the dealer and tell them as much. The dealer may then be prepared to hold the piece for a day or two, or may reserve the right to sell in the meantime should a firm offer come in. So often do customers ask to have a piece reserved for them, only then to disappear into thin air, that the dealers do have to cover themselves.

The golden rule

Finally, your guiding principle should always be to buy what you like. Forget for a moment about buying for investment. Most antiques do appreciate in value, but why not let the dealers take the financial risks. Under their expert guidance you will have the confidence to indulge your own tastes.

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