If you’ve never been to an estate sale, you’re missing out.
Unlike a garage sale, where you may find a few odds and ends that someone wants to unload, you’ll find that the contents of the entire house and garage are for sale. Sometimes the owner has passed away. Other times, the owner is moving into a nursing home and can no longer live in the home.
Because the families involved in these sales usually want to clear out as much stuff as possible, you’ll find excellent prices on everything from kitchen utensils to furniture to tools.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when shopping at an estate sale.
Get over the idea that this stuff belonged to a dead person. Everyone dies. Lots of people get sick and have to go into a nursing home. This is just stuff. Anything that had sentimental attachment to the family has probably already been removed from the premises. So feel free to buy a few boxes of unused envelopes or a bookcase.
Scope out the sales in advance. Check out your local newspaper’s classified ads section and look online. There are many companies that hold estate sales for families and they often share photos and details about the items on their websites.
Have an idea of what you need. You will find all kinds of stuff that might never have crossed your mind until that sale. Keep a list in a notebook in your purse or on your cellphone of what things you’ve been looking to buy. The list will help jog your memory on things you’ve been wanting (a nice painting for over your couch or an end table for your family room), and keep you from buying things you don’t need.
Set a budget and be prepared to be tested for wants. Bring cash. Most estate sales only accept cash, so set a budget for how much you would want to spend and bring cash. A surprise bargain may threaten to derail your shopping trip, so having a finite amount of money with you will help you make a decision on whether you really need something you want.
Bring a friend or relative. It can be very useful to divide and conquer at estate sales. You can look through the house while your spouse or friend scopes out the garage. Bring your cell phones so you can text or call each other with your finds.
Bring a truck. If you’re looking for big items such as furniture or appliances, bring a pickup truck with you. It can save you time and gas money if you can move the item as soon as you buy it.
Get there early. The early bird gets the worm, so if you want the best selection, be sure to get their early. Many estate sales only allow so many people in the house at a time, so you may need to arrive early to get a number. When your number is called you can go in. Once you’re in, don’t leave until you’re absolutely sure you’ve seen all you need to see. Don’t worry about the people behind you in line waiting to get in. You have serious bargain hunting to do!
Know what stuff should cost. Some families and estate sale organizers hike the prices a bit on things like antiques. Be sure you have an idea of what certain items should cost. Or bring a smartphone and look it up online while you’re there. What may appear to be a bargain might now be.
If you might want it, pick it up. If you stumble across small items you think you might want, carry them with you while you continue shopping. It’s far better to realize you don’t want it and to put it back down, then to realize you do want the item and someone else has already purchased it.
Consider gifts and re-sale. Estate sales can be an excellent place to find a thoughtful gift or a funny gag gift. And they can be great places to find items you can sell at consignment shops or on eBay.
Ask questions if you need to. Sometimes family members will be present at the sale, so if you want to know how old that lawn mower is, go ahead an ask.
Negotiate prices if you can. Some estate sale organizers won’t budge on prices, but some will on big ticket items. It never hurts to ask.
Come back at the end of the sale. Many estate sales run two days with the second day being half-price day. The selection isn’t as great toward the end of the sale, but sometimes the family just wants the stuff gone and is more willing to deal.
Estate sales can be an excellent way to save money on household items. Plus, it can be fun to tour houses and to see just how much stuff another person has accumulated. Not all estate sales are great, but the ones that are make the time spent hunting for bargains worth it.
Do you shop at estate sales? What kinds of treasures have you found?
Donna Freedman says
Believe it or not, I’ve bought groceries at estate sales. Everything must go, including the contents of the cabinets. Naturally I’m not talking about half-eaten boxes of cornflakes, but things such as canned goods, cake mixes, aluminum foil and waxed paper. I tried to buy a package of muffin-pan liners but the woman running the sale just gave them to me.
My daughter bought a few items for her DIY wedding reception: small dishes, candles, etc. The best thing, in my opinion, was the ceramic bride-and-groom cake topper. It had been hand-painted and the groom’s eyes were just slightly askew, giving him a look of sidewise terror: “Oh no, what am I getting myself into?” We later looked it up online and found out it was from Japan in the late 1940s — and had sold for as much as $49 auctions. Abby paid a quarter. :-)
Paula @ AffordAnything.org says
These are great tips! I’m burned out on yard sales/garage sales, which have mostly proven to be a waste of time (for me). I’ve been contemplating estate sales, though, since they consist of stuff that people actually wanted to keep around.
Christina @ Northern Cheapskate says
Love your story, Donna! I love finding great treasures for even better prices!
For your US readers, our website http://estatesales.org is a great way to find estate sales in their area :)