Welcome to my newest obsession, Estate Sales.
I’m going to tell you all of my estate sale shopping tips so you can estate sale shop like a seasoned professional.
Often called Contents Sales and sometimes called tag sales, the full contents of the house/estate are to be liquidated. Sometimes houses will be demolished after the sale so you can even buy the fixtures and appliances.
Don’t make the mistake thinking this is just an upscale garage sale…this is a whole other breed. Well organized and highly competitive true collectors and vintage buffs eliminate the middle man and go straight to the source.
Estate sales are held inside the house and are a window into how other people live. You can find everything at these sales.
Half used perfume? Yep.
Partially used make-up? Uhuh.
A bit, but fascinating too.
That too since often the homeowners may have recently died or been admitted to a long term care facility. You get over this phobia after going to a few sales. My first sale freaked me out. A pro told me that it all has to be sold so it might as well go to someone that treasures the items.
How Do I Find An Estate Sale?
Estate sales are often run by professional companies. You can find these online on Craigslist, or Google, Kijiji, sometimes listed under contents sale, in the newspaper or by word-of-mouth. A popular website for finding online Estate Sales is MaxSold.com. Just put in your postal or zip code and it will find online estate sales around your area. You bid for the items online and then go and pick them up in person. Another place to find estate sales is EstateSales.net.
Be sure to sign up for their newsletters. They will alert you to upcoming sales. Also most companies post photos online of items they will have at that Estate Sale. Take the time to go through them to see if they have pieces you are interested in.
You can still find regular people holding their own family estate sales often advertised in the garage sale section of the newspaper or online. These are generally disorganized but you can sometimes get some great deals.
What Do I Need To Know Before Going?
Strategize. Often there are multiple sales each weekend. Go through the online photos to decide which one to attend first. You can map the different sales by neighbourhood. It’ll save you time and gas.
Sometimes you can get the price of pieces in advance if you email the owner of the company. This will help you decide if you feel the items are correctly priced or overpriced and just how early you need to make it to the sale.
Know what pieces you’re interested in by previewing online. Once you get in the house you can head directly to the room where the items are. Everything is stored where you would find it normally in the house however sometimes they will take more expensive jewelry/silver/flatware and put them in glass cases in a different room where they can keep a closer eye on it. On your way into the house ask the person at the door where certain items are in the house if you are looking for something special you saw online. The people working the sale generally know which rooms have which items.
You’ll need to get up very early and dress for the weather.
Bigger sales will require you to line up to get a ticket in advance. You don’t pay anything for the ticket, but you do need to have one to enter the house. Handing out tickets is a way of trying to control the number of people that enter the house and the order by which they enter. A form of crowd control.
Often tickets are handed out at 6:30 in the morning. Once you have stood in line (some people get there literally 8 hours before and stand out in line) and picked up your ticket it’ll be a few hours before they open the doors for the sale. Try to get there 10 minutes before they open the doors to make sure that you are ready when they call your number. Sometimes you will need to push your way through the crowd. This is how you have access to the house in the order that the tickets were given out.
Normally they will allow around 20 people in at a time and then wait for a few minutes before allowing more people in. That is not always the case though, so be prepared for an onslaught of people right behind you.
Most sales happen on the weekends.
They are often 2 days. The second day you can get better deals and negotiate more. Somes companies won’t negotiate at all on the first day of the sale.
99% of the time that is all they will accept. Sometimes they offer to accept personal cheques with ID, but that is rare.
It’s okay to negotiate.
Some companies are more willing to negotiate than others. You almost always get better deals the second day but you risk losing the items you fancied to other shoppers. Don’t expect huge discounts on damaged merchandise though. Pieces are sold as is.
You can often negotiate more if you are buying more. If you have a few items ask them what their best price for the lot would be.
Remember the deal when negotiating…the first person to speak loses, so be patient before trying to counter offer. Also always offer about 15-20% less than what you are willing to pay. This will allow you some room to negotiate. Be respectful though. If you come in too low they won’t want to deal with you at all.
Bring a friend.
It is great to have someone with you so that once you enter the house you can split up and cover more ground quickly.
Don’t let the mob mentality influence your buying strategy.
Once the doors are opened it is one huge free-for-all frenzy, hectic and crowded. Keep your cool, be smart and methodical and only go after what you really want. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all and just start wanting to buy all kinds of things. Only go after items that you really need or truly touch your heart. This is always a challenge for me.
Be prepared to push and grab. Possession is everything.
This is my least favourite thing about Estate Sale shopping but it definitely gets the adrenalin pumping. If you see something you like, grab it right away and hold onto it. Even if you’re just thinking about it but not sure. Possession is key and once you put that item down anyone can grab it. Most people just grab lots of stuff they “think” they might be interested in and then try to find a quiet corner in the house to go through their stash and edit out what they don’t really want. This is also the time to have a better look at the items to make sure they aren’t damaged.
You need 8 hands.
Some companies don’t allow you to bring in your own bags to carry items. This means you need to walk around holding everything you are interested in purchasing. Some companies will allow you to carry around large clear plastic bags to stash your loot. Often they indicate on their website what bags you can take.
You need to take it all with you.
Furniture too. This is when it is handy to have a friend along although often the companies will have people that can help you load the items into your car on the second day of the sale. If you are buying any fixtures be prepared to unhook and dismantle them yourself.
Take the “sold” signs offered if buying oversized pieces.
Practical for over sized pieces of furniture they will often have “sold” signs available which are just pieces of paper with tape on them so you are able to mark your item as sold without having to take the piece with you right away. Be wary though, I have seen some people rip off the sold sign and take the item out in their arms. It can be very cut-throat.
You won’t be able to try on the clothes.
Unless you are able to try them on, on top of what you are wearing you won’t be able to try on the clothes. Most of the time is it too hectic and crowded to try on the clothes. Usually you can quickly find a spot to try on foot-ware and coats.
There is a strict no returns policy enforced.
Hard to believe after this awful Estate Sale experience that I was able to make a friend but I did. Now she will often go early and get me a ticket so I don’t need to stand in line and I just meet her there when the sale opens. Thanks Ghada! : )
Also by making friends when you are standing in line you can find out about other good Estate sale companies or just learn about the truly unique people that attend the sales. Everyone has their own story to tell.
This is a tough one since often seasoned collectors or resellers can be pushy, rude and intimidating. If you go to enough sales you start to know the people to look out for and what they are interested in. Hopefully it isn’t the same stuff as you and you are able to avoid them. The companies that run these sales are private and can be quirky. They can arbitrarily decide that they don’t like you and ban you from any future sales.
Once you start going to the same companies’ sales they will start to know you and sometimes offer you items for free or give you better deals. Certain items are hard to get rid of, books are one. If you collect them you will have a grand time at estate sales. Most often the second day of the sale the books are all free.
It is Worth it?
It may sound like these types of sales are more hassle than they are worth but I have come to love estate sales. I get excited now when I see a good one is coming up. The glimpse into other people’s lives (often like a time capsule) and the chance to discover new neighbourhoods in the city and score totally unique pieces keeps me returning for more.
Here are just a few of the pieces I’ve picked up at Estate sales the last 6 months.
Vintage coat – $35.
Vintage hat – Free.
Vintage clutches – $5 each.
Antique couch $450, all frames and mirror around $30
Vintage binoculars $4, books free.
Vintage suitecases $45.
Davis & Whiting vintage purse $10, brooches and jewelry $15.
I recently went to an amazing estate sale where I picked up three vintage dresses, four designer gowns, one sequined beaded top, two pairs of vintage shoes, two pairs of vintage gloves (one opera) two vintage hats, three bracelets and a bunch of feathers for crafting all for $84. The gowns and a couple of the dresses are at the dry cleaners and I will need to do some alterations on some of them before I can wear them but they are all incredibly unique and reinforced my love of estate sale shopping. I can’t wait to show them to you!
I’m sure that now you know my estate sale shopping tips you will feel confident to venture out and discover some treasures of your own.
Have you ever gone to an estate sale? Did you buy anything? Do you have any tips to add?