Shopping at neighborhood estate sales is a popular weekend activity. Whether you live in a large city or a small town, you’ll likely find a few estate sales within easy driving distance. Depending on your interests, you may use estate sales to search for antiques, vintage pieces, collectibles, or anything that catches your eye.
When it comes to estate sale shopping, strategy is key. We’ve got the info on how to shop at estate sales to get the most benefit. If you practice smart strategies and learn what actions to avoid, you’ll be well-prepared for your next estate sale.
Find Local Estate Sales
Finding nearby estate sales is the first step in discovering sought-after treasures. For regularly updated information on local estate sale locations, visit EstateSales.net and EstateSales.org. Both websites enable you to search by city or zip code. You can also sign up for estate sale email notifications. If you’re looking for estate sales in Southern California, visit True Legacy.
Another resource for finding estate sales is Craigslist. You can browse Craigslist for estate sales in specific cities or towns.
Your local newspaper’s classified sections may also carry estate sale information. Start scanning the listings several days ahead of likely sale dates.
Finally, enjoy the thrill of the hunt by cruising through your area looking for estate sale signs. Estate sale companies usually post signs a few days before the sale, so you can plan an early bird outing on Thursday or Friday morning. However, you can always look for signs on the day of the sale.
View Sale Items’ Photographs
Many estate sale companies augment their online listings with photographs of upcoming sale items. The hope is that photos spur antique dealers, collectors, and curious shoppers to hop in their vehicles in search of well-priced treasures. While at the sale, compare similar items’ prices on eBay to provide insights.
Besides providing visual details about items for sale, photographs can indicate whether the estate sale is a worthwhile destination. If you’re searching for rare Hummel figurines, but the sale photographs mostly depict power tools, rustic décor, and a trailered boat, you may decide to skip that sale.
Plan Your Estate Sale Route
During any given weekend, there will probably be multiple nearby estate sales. Once you determine the sales’ locations, map out the best route.
Don’t wait until the first day of the sale to complete this task. Instead, determine your route the night before the sales begin, and be among those early birds that catch the best items.
Items to Bring and to Leave Home
If it’s your first time visiting an estate sale, plan to travel light. You don’t need a large tote, but you don’t want to leave any crucial items at home. Take a look at the following for what to bring to your next estate sale and what to leave at home.
What to Bring
Consider carrying a small bag containing the following few essential items:
When you’re shopping estate sales, bring plenty of cash. Although many estate sale companies accept credit cards, don’t assume this is the case. Include some smaller bills as well, in case the company can’t make change.
Poking into dark corners, attics, and basements is easier with a dependable flashlight. Bring extra batteries as well.
Measuring Tape and Measurements
If your estate sale finds must meet specific dimensions (think furniture and window treatments), be sure you know those measurements and bring a small measuring tape. Don’t rely on the estate sale company to provide one.
This little folding magnifying glass is worth its weight in gold. A jeweler’s loupe helps you to detect identifying marks or signs of repairs on furniture and collectibles.
Notepad and Pen
Be ready to jot down notes on one-of-a-kind items, as you may want to check for price reductions. You may also want to record the finer points of favorite new collectibles.
If you’re attending a sale to purchase specific items, be sure you know how you’re going to get them home.
You may want to bring packing materials to safely transport your collectibles. If you’re looking to purchase furniture or larger items, plan ahead and bring a large vehicle or ratchet straps.
Hand Sanitizer (and Mask)
You should always bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you to estate sales. It’s likely that the items were not cleaned prior to the sale, and the sanitizer can freshen your hands after perusing potential treasures. If you’re sensitive to dust, bring a mask. It’ll come in handy as you dig through boxes of dusty collectibles. Additionally, if you plan to visit any estate sales while the novel coronavirus is happening, you can minimize your COVID-19 risk by wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer after touching shared surfaces.
What Not to Bring
The following items should be left at home:
Large Purses or Tote Bags
Many estate sale companies now prohibit large bags or purses. Instead, consider a crossbody purse, a fanny pack, or a small wallet. And, leave tote bags or other large bags in your vehicle until you pay for your purchases.
Family Member Who Requires Supervision
If you have an unpredictable youngster or a family member who’s unsteady on their feet, please leave them at home. Navigating through a house full of breakables and other shoppers is a challenge. And, as an added incentive to shop alone, many estate sale companies have an “if you break it, you’ll buy it” policy. And that broken Lladro figurine could cost you more than you think.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but dogs are discouraged at estate sales. High-energy, tail-wagging pooches could knock over a table full of porcelain collectibles. Or, your unneutered male might mark his territory on an upscale Oriental rug. To potentially head off damage payments, leave your dog at home.
Arriving at the Estate Sale
As a practical estate sale shopper, dress as if you’re preparing for a trip to a secondhand shop, thrift store, flea market, or garage sale. Pull on comfortable clothes that enable you to move, stretch, and bend. However, don’t wear your work boots or other footwear that will drag dirt into the home.
Get to the Estate Sale Early
Assuming you’re attending the first day of the sale, get there well before the official start. Note parking restrictions, so you don’t discover a pricey parking ticket when you leave the sale.
If it’s a well-advertised sale, expect a good-sized crowd. If there are a lot of people, estate sale company employees may distribute numbers to indicate the order of admission.
Other estate sales operate on a “first come, first served” basis. If that’s the case, get in line quickly, and stay there. Chat with other early birds, who likely know about upcoming sales and may even act as your lookout for specific items.
Early Birds Get the Best Items
Early birds get the best selection, but late shoppers may get a better price. Estate sales can offer some great price reductions on the second day, with increasing price reductions on each subsequent day. If you’re looking for deals, this is something to keep in mind. However, your favorite items may be gone before those price reductions kick in.
Expect items to sell for the price tag amount on the first day of any sale. On the next day, estimate 25 percent lower prices.
On the third day or last day, 50 percent price reductions (or more) are common. Toward the end of the last day, the estate sale company will almost pay you to take the items away. If you like to haggle, you might have the best odds of success near the sale’s conclusion.
How to Shop at an Estate Sale
When shopping at an estate sale, implement a targeted strategy. Perform your due diligence on your “Wish List” items. Make those items your top priority as you determine what to look for. Then look for other vintage and antique items you might want to add to your home. When shopping at estate sales, use this simple focus to greatly simplify the process.
First Walk Through, Then Browse
The estate sale’s living room will likely contain furniture and collectibles. Stick to your strategy and quickly scan every room, looking for important items first. As you walk around, grab treasures on your wish list along with other intriguing pieces.
Next, return to the entry point and cover the entire property with a fine-toothed comb. Go through each room and carefully browse through boxes, bins, and closets.
Remember, items for sale likely belonged to a loved one, and family members may not want to see you treating their loved one’s items with disrespect. Therefore, while you conduct this intensive search, expect estate sale company employees and/or security guards to observe your actions. Also, be sure to avoid any areas that are off-limits.
Shop the Entire Property
Ensure that you shop the entire property. An estate sale typically includes items across the entire estate. Browse through the basement and attic (if it’s safe to do so). The garage and/or shed may contain tools, lawn and garden equipment, bicycles, motorcycles, and other interesting items. Don’t forget the patio, porch, deck, and other outdoor areas.
Navigating Estate Sale Issues
Like any worthwhile endeavor, navigating an estate sale means resolving any unanswered questions. Here, most of the issues pertain to the items themselves.
Resolve Unmarked Items
First, ask about unmarked items that pique your interest. Items located in the house, in other buildings, or outdoors are fair game. By grouping unmarked items together as a lot, you may receive better prices compared to asking about items piecemeal.
If you’d rather make an offer, check applicable items on Amazon or eBay first. Avoid insultingly low offers, pay cash, and be ready to haul off the item(s) immediately. This is one example of how to buy at estate sales.
Learn About Items of Interest
Sometimes, it’s all about an item’s backstory. If an item intrigues you, ask an estate sale company employee if they know more about the piece. Maybe the seller shared a personal anecdote about the item. Or, maybe the home’s real estate agent has insider knowledge about the seller’s possessions.
Be wary of a real estate agent who seems to say each item has a quirky backstory. They may be embellishing to persuade you to buy. Naturally, the agent wants this sale finished so they can list the house for sale on realtor.com or another site.
Finally, perform general item research with your smartphone. Given a good cellular connection, you can quickly obtain information on virtually any object.
Evaluate Items with Potential Problems
Because all sales are final, carefully inspect items before buying them. If something’s not right, weigh the cost to resolve the issue against the item’s purchase price.
Upholstered furniture that smells of urine, pet odors, or cigarette smoke may be a good deal now, but it can reek for years.
You could be forced to gut the furniture down to bare frames.
Antiques and vintage pieces may have structural or cosmetic issues. If the structural problems affect the item’s integrity or you can’t live with the cosmetic problems, consider walking away.
If you’re tempted to buy an electrical or electronic item, bring along a tech-savvy partner who can thoroughly test it. If it works but is in poor condition, you may want to reject it.
Make Your Purchases
Finally, it’s time to head to the checkout desk. If you have your eye on a big-ticket item, you may be invited to submit a bid for it. The estate sale company will notify you if your bid is accepted.
Verify that the company accepts credit and debit cards. If not, the company may not hold the sale items until you can return with good old-fashioned cash. *This is why we suggest bringing cash!*
Removing Your Paid-For Items
Getting your paid-for purchases into your vehicle may require coordination. For large items, consider how you can carefully transport them to your destination. You may need to rent a vehicle or use ratchet straps to tie down the items. Naturally, you don’t want any of your treasures to be damaged in transit.
Bring Bags and Packaging Materials
Although some estate sale companies provide packing materials, don’t count on it. Bring reusable bags, boxes, towels, and newspapers in your vehicle. After you pay for your estate sale finds, bring in the packing materials and carefully cushion your breakable treasures for transport.
Recruit Your Own Muscle Power
Let’s say you plan to purchase furniture, appliances, or other heavy items. The estate sale company may not have anyone available to help you move them. Therefore, bring along a strong friend or family member to transport the items to your vehicle.
Check Estate Sale Company Pick-up Policy
If your estate sale treasures exceed your vehicle’s capacity, ask if you can return the next day with a large truck. You may not get your request approved, as some companies want you to remove the items immediately.
Avoid These Estate Sale Mistakes
Estate sale etiquette dictates that you follow several simple guidelines while doing your estate sale shopping. First, don’t arrive the night before the first day of the sale. Conversely, don’t show up halfway through the sale and act surprised that the best items are gone.
When speaking to estate sale company staff, never call the event a garage sale or yard sale. And don’t be rude to the staff, as they can ignore you and even ban you from upcoming estate sales.
If you find a piece of furniture that intrigues you, or a set of draperies you can’t live without, take measurements before you whip out the credit cards. Remember, all sales are final, and you can’t return the item if it doesn’t fit.
Finally, don’t avail yourself of the home’s bathroom. If it’s an absolute emergency, ask an estate sale company employee if you can use the facilities. If you can wait, pay for your purchases and head back home.
Prepare for Upcoming Estate Sales
To increase your odds of finding estate sale treasures, do your homework beforehand. First, learn about an estate sale company’s upcoming events by getting on their mailing list. Subscribe to the EstateSales.org and EstateSales.net email notification lists.
Finally, keep attending estate sales throughout the year. Over time, you’ll become a knowledgeable estate sale shopper. You’ll learn to identify reproductions of popular furniture and collectibles. And, by comparing prices over the long term, you’ll know when an item is a good deal and when you should pass it up.