Tips for Shopping at Estate Sales

Estate sales differ from garage and yard sales in that when you go to a house for an estate sale, pretty much everything you see is for sale (unless set aside in a clearly marked area). Usually, the occupant of the house has passed away, or through other factors, is obliged to sell his/her belongings. The amount of sheer stuff at most estate sales can be overwhelming, but there are plenty of hidden treasures to be found.

I was at first intimidated by shopping at estate sales because of the tales of antique dealers lining up at 6:00 in the morning in order to get first dibs on the goods. There was no way I was going to be aggressive enough to compete for the good stuff with the real pros. A few estate sales later, the intimidation factor was gone, and a new hobby was born. If you’d like to try out this fun and rewarding activity, here are a few do’s and don’ts to get you started.

Look for estate sales ahead of time.

Don’t leave it for the last minute

Search on Craigslist, Google, Facebook, and in community listings. Don’t rely on driving around the neighborhood, as you’ll probably arrive too late in the morning to get the good stuff.

Get there early, but don’t stress yourself out if you’re not the first in line.

No partying the night before

Most estate sales begin at 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning of a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and the most hard-core shoppers are there at least half-an-hour before. But even if you get there at 8:30 or 9:00, there will still be plenty of stuff to look at. Most antique dealers and collectors, the most dedicated shoppers, are looking for something specific, so even if you get the second pickings, there will still be many items of interest. If you get there very early, you may have to take a number and wait your turn to go in.

Bring cash

Don’t take it from your kid’s piggy bank

Even though many estate sale companies can now handle credit card transactions and most will note in their ad what other types of payments they accept. It is very important that you have some cash in your pockets. There have been a few times when I’ve arrived at an estate sale only to realize I have just $10 in my pocket. Sometimes, if you see something you really love, the organizers of the estate sale may hold it for you while you go to the ATM, but there’s no guarantee this will be the case.

Map out the sales

Save gas and time

We suggest taking a few minutes the night before shopping to browse the sales on our site in your area. Utilize the GPS Application in your phone or Google Maps to map out the best route. REMEMBER: The early bird catches the worm so be sure to arrive at the sale early so no one else snags your find and blows your mood.

Dress comfortably

No tuxedos or high-heels

Wear comfortable shoes and clothes that you can easily move around in, but leave the work boots at home. Sometimes people still live in the homes where sales take place, so you wouldn’t want to track dirt through the house.

Ditch the purse

That goes for you too Gentleman

Many companies no longer allow large purses, so we recommend not bringing one at all. If leaving your purse isn’t an option, try wearing a crossbody bag or carrying a small wallet instead.

Set a limit on your spending.

Don’t go broke

While you can get great deals for cheap, you don’t want to blow your monthly grocery budget. So be smart and spend money wisely.

Clean your car

No need to wax it, just empty the car

You never know what sort of treasures you’ll stumble upon while shopping at estate sales. Clear out your car before shopping and dodge this beginner’s mistake.

Consider coming on Sunday.

You can go to church later

Usually, most of the best stuff is gone by Sunday (the second or third day of the sale), so prices are typically marked down by 50%. You’ll have to rummage, but you just might find that perfect, overlooked vintage dress in your size.

Bring the muscle.

It’s time for that gym membership to pay off

Be ready to haul your own load to your car. That’s right, many sales’ workers are very busy and don’t have someone handy to help carry items out to your car. You’ll want to bring someone with you or have them on-call, just in case you strike estate sale gold.

Don't be rude while haggling.

Be nice, Santa is watching you

While there generally is a little room to discuss the price of an item, typically prices have been set at a level the organizers think is fair. If they’re not budging, let it go, and come back on Sunday when prices are lower and there’s more room for bargaining.

Estate sales are not just the domain of antique collectors and dealers anymore — lots of regular people are finding hidden gems. It’s a great way to give new life to an unwanted item, to reduce the amount of new junk that gets manufactured, and to save yourself a penny or two as well.