I will be honest with you, estate sales have always intimidated me. I always assumed they were the exclusive domain of antique dealers and collectors—a world of prohibitively pricey china and artwork. But, after listening to some of my fellow Thrifting Divas in my Facebook group, I decided to give it a try, and was not disappointed. You should understand that you are not being intrusive by entering someone else’s home as you have been invited to be there. If it’s in the home of someone who has died, don’t feel like you are being disrespectful by going through their stuff, because their family has already removed the items they want to keep. What’s left are things they would rather you buy. Furthermore, not all estate sales are held due to the death of a relative. Estate sales can be good for people who are moving, or families that are completely redecorating or remodeling their home, and want a fresh start. Downsizing and divorce are also common causes of estate sales.
Whether you’re an estate sale newbie or a seasoned veteran, this list of estate sale shopping tips will get you through any estate sale.
1. Where To Find Estate Sales?
The number one question I get asked is how do I find out about estate sales. The answer is rather simple actually. I find listings on websites such as EstateSales.net and EstateSales.org. Simply type in your state and zip code and a list of sales will magically appear. Many include photos of the items for sale, as well as details about the types of items you will find at the sale, which helps to determine if the estate sale is worth your time. Upcoming sales will be listed, but addresses may not be displayed until a day before the event. Don’t forget to check your local newspapers and Craigslist.org garage sale section for listings as well. Finally, you can also get in the loop about local events by searching for estate sale companies in your area – they often have mailing lists that will alert you to sales.
3. The Logistics
I will admit that estate sales can be a bit intimidating if you’ve never been to one. If you look them up, they will say things like “a list will be honored” or that numbers will be given out. This is because, if you get there early on the first day of the sale, chances are, a lot of other people are early too. Some sales only let a certain number of people into the house at a time, so you may have 20 people standing in line outside, and the person in charge will hand out numbers, say, 10 minutes before the scheduled start time, and then when they open they will let numbers 1-10 inside, then 11, 12, etc. 2.
4. Get there Early, Late, or Whenever You Want
Get there early, late…or whenever you want. If you have your eye on something from the listing, I would say get there early. When I say early, I am talking crack of dawn, 7a.m. etc. Some items will go fast at a sale. Me personally, I don’t rush to be the first in line at an estate sale because I wake up early 5 days a week for work. My weekends are for sleeping in. Period. Secondly, I don’t “need” anything, and I know there is plenty out there, so I’ll wait for it to come to me. I get to estate sales in my sweet time, on either Day One or Day Two, and trust that the Thrift Gods will send me what I need. If you go on the last day of the sale, you are guaranteed to get some items that have been drastically reduced because organizers are eager to make a deal.
5. Cash is King!
Bring cash, and lots of it. Most estate sales won’t take credit cards or checks, and individual organizers almost never accept credit cards. For the estate sales which accept credit cards, you may be charged a surcharge. Yes it might be convenient to use your credit card, but why pay anything extra if you can avoid it? Also, if you’re using cash, it might help you to stay within your spending limits, so you don’t buy everything without an actual need! You will thank me for this tip later.
6. Be Prepared to Haul
If you are on the hunt for furniture, and score such furniture, be prepared to move it yourself as many estate sale companies won’t help you move furniture out of the house, nor do they deliver. This is where bringing along a buddy who can help with the heavy lifting can be super helpful. If you’re flying solo, after paying for the item, you can generally schedule a time to come back to the sale with someone else to help you move it. You should clean out the trunk of your car – because anything can happen at an estate sale. You truly never know what you will find at one of our showroom sales, so better to have plenty of space in your vehicle to tote your treasures.
7. Nearly Everything Is For Sale
If you see something you like, don’t be afraid to ask whether it’s for sale. Inquire about window treatments, including hardware, lighting, and other fixed objects, even if there’s no visible price. At many estate sales, the house is being stripped bare before putting it on the market. Ask about garden tools, potted plants, and kitchen appliances also. In many cases, those items are also up for sale. Hit the garage, basement and attic – it’s where I head first and where I find my best treasures. With that said, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Very few of the prices are set in stone, and the people running the sale have no personal investment in the items, so they won’t be offended by your offer – unless it’s ridiculously low and you’re wasting their time.
Estate sales are not just for shopping for antiques and furniture.
Beyond shopping for furniture, I always check out the closets when I head to an estate sale. Last summer I attended an estate sale in Long Island, New York on the last day of the estate sale, and literally hit jack pot in the clothes and shoes section. This estate sale was not for a person who had died, but rather, an elderly couple who was moving overseas. I immediately started in the basement, and was very happy that I made that decision. Apparently the woman had made her basement her storage for out of season clothing. I opened a large bin, and found 15 gorgeous Neiman Marcus cashmere sweaters in excellent condition, and in my size! Could you imagine my glee, as I asked the organizers the cost of each sweater. As it was the last day, and it looked like the bin had gone unnoticed, they told me $2 per sweater. Can you imagine paying $2 for a Neiman Marcus cashmere sweater. These sweaters retail at $250, but you can get them for $125 on sale (insert sarcasm). I took all 15 sweaters and give away quite a few to my sisters and some friends. I did keep this particular sweater for myself because of the super cute pearl details.
Can you believe my luck that in that same estate sale, I also snagged these absolutely fantastic, and comfortable Cole Haan suede knee high boots. These boots were still in the original box and appeared that they had not been worn. My magical price, $15. These boots are over $150.
I paired my estate sale boots and estate sale cashmere sweater with this thrifted blue midi skirt, which I picked up this skirt from Salvation Army years ago for less than $5. Of course winter calls for a great coat, and this thrifted Calvin Klein camel coat went perfectly with this look. The price, $6. Yes, thrifting is life! Finally, I completed the look with my thrifted vintage leather handbag and thrifted leather wide belt. These leather accessories set me back $13.