Choosing a reputable dealer
[This information comes from the British Antique Dealers' Association website with their permission. You may read the entire unedited information on their website by clicking here.]
Use specialists, not generalists
Many CINOA affilaited dealers tend to be specialists within their chosen field, rather than generalists, 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 with hard-earned cash to spend, you are entitled to find out as much as possible from the vendor and no reputable professional should begrudge any genuine enquiry.
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 for 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 with your spouse that he or she approves of your purchase then be honest with the dealer and tell him as much. The dealer may then be prepared to hold the piece for a day or two, but he 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.