Estate Sale Shopping 101

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Estate sales are where I do a lot of my shopping these days.  I used to go to more garage sales because estate sales, for some reason, seemed . . . intimidating! But, after a year or so now I’ve learned that estate sale shopping gives me so much more bang for my buck that going garage sale-ing.  Sometimes I have to go to 5,6,7,10 garage sales before I find even one thing.  The great advantage of estate sales is that most often you can see pictures of their inventory online beforehand and get a great idea of if it a sales you would like to visit.

There are a few things I’ve learned though in my process from being an intimidated estate sale shopper to a confident one,  and I’d like to share those with you today.


1.  Know how to find them.

There are great online sites that catalog ongoing and future estate sales.  I use and can search by my zip code.  Craigslist will often have estate sales listed under the “garage sale” tag.  Check your local paper too, they are a great place to find those smaller, family-run sales that often offer great deals.

2. Bring Cash

That’s probably obvious, but many of us are not used to carrying hundreds of dollars in cash around with us when we’re out.  Many estate sale companies will accept credit cards, but trust me, cash always wins in bargaining.

3.  Know what to buy at estate sales, and what not to buy at them.

In my experience, estate sales are terrible places to buy anything French Provincial, collectible china and glassware, and silverplate.  Estate sale companies know dealers can make a quick profit on those items and they are usually priced sky high. Wait for Joe and Susie who live down the street to sell Great Aunt Marge’s old tarnished silver teapot at their garage sale instead.  They’ll only ask $5 because they just see it as old and damaged.

Estate sales are great places to buy old books (read about how I use old books in my decor here and here), vintage ephemera, family photos, sheet music, picture frames, and old garden supplies and implements.

estate sale shopping


4. Never buy anything one day 1 of a sale.  

In my experience, estate sales are generally way overpriced.  But, they always discount as the sale goes on.  Very little goes full price on the first day.  The final day is most usually 50% off of all items, and I’ve even stumbled upon one in its final hours where everything was 90% off.  Especially for furniture, wait until the discount days.  The great majority of it will still be around then and you’ll pay a much more fair price.

estate sale shopping

5.  Take advantage of your tax exempt status, if you have it.

Estate sales generally charge sales tax, and some will nicely offer a simple sign-up sheet where you can leave your business name and state sales tax ID number.  After running into a few though who refused to accept just my number, I now keep with me printed and filled-out copies of my state Sales Tax and Resale Exemption Form.  Not paying sales tax can save you alot of money! Be prepared with the right documentation (and by the way, if you are resale and don’t have a state sales tax exemption number, you should!)

6.  Head for garages, attics, and outbuildings first

You’ll find less traffic and better deals outside the main house. Many items in these places aren’t even priced and are sold on a “make offer” basis.  I found my Aubusson Blue Buffet in a garage of an estate sale and paid $40.  It was painted lime green and had junk piled all on top of it.  Steals are found outside.

estate sale shopping

7.  As the sale winds down, bargain away!

In the final hours of estate sales, the sellers can get pretty generous.  If you aren’t happy with a price on an item, don’t be afraid to make an offer! Smile, be kind, but firmly ask, “__$’s is the most I can pay for this item.  Would you consider that offer?”  I scored a great deal on the vintage Basset sideboard at a local sale this way.  The sellers were much happier to sell it to me for less than to have to haul it away to Goodwill.

estate sale shopping

I hope these tips give you a confidence boost as you step out in the estate sale world.  Great treasures and great deals are to be found!



Thursday 13th of February 2014

Great advice on estate sale shopping. As an estate sale professional, I hope you don't mind if I add a couple of comments: 1. Do buy on the first day of the sale if you know there is something that you really do want. The second day, it may not be there. Otherwise, you are right, the second usually does find the prices coming down. Also, I don't mind at all if someone makes me an offer, as long as they are polite and reasonable. I may not accept the offer, but it doesn't hurt to ask. 2. Get to know the estate sale professionals in your area. That way you'll know who prices reasonable and who is too expensive. Also, if you get on their good side, they are more likely to consider your counter bids on items you want. 3. Your idea of having the resale exemption form already filled out is excellent. Here is CA, I'm required by law to check on a resale license each and every time some uses one, even if I already have a form filled out. If the form is already ready, that at least saves SOME time. That's it for now. Thanks for sharing your ideas with us.


Thursday 13th of February 2014

Thanks Nanette for your thoughtful comment. It's great to hear from a professional in the business.


Monday 27th of January 2014

Great advice, Melanie. I've just subscribed to your blog. Ann Marie @ Iris Abbey


Monday 27th of January 2014

Thanks Anne Marie, for both :) I subscribed to yours earlier this morning as well. Looking forward to reading more of it soon.

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