Estate sales are a step-up from yard sales or garage sales. Instead of selling items people no longer want, they are trying to sell a house full of possessions people actually owned and used. They are usually held after the homeowner passes away, but may also be held because of divorce, long-distance moves, or for debt elimination. Estate sales are a great way to find antiques, unique items, and outstanding bargains!


What Can You Find at Estate Sales

Each estate sale offers unique items that cover a wide range. Think about what you find in most people’s homes — there’s a good chance you’ll find these items in estate sales. You can find everything from furniture to appliances, clothing, silver, dishes, to linens – even jewelry, antiques and artwork. Some estate sales even include the vehicles, boats, or campers the homeowner owned.

How Estate Sales Work

Most estate sales are run by a professional company or auctioneer. These companies organize the sale, advertise it, determine the value of the items, display the items available for sale with price tags, and ensure the sale runs smoothly as buyers come through. In exchange for their assistance, they receive a percentage of total earnings from the estate sale — which may be 25 to 35%.

Save Money Shopping at Estate Sales

Most estate sales will have a line at the door before it “opens”. You need to know how to really shop an estate sale. Sales are generally a first come, first serve situation, with a handful of people allowed into the home at a time. Shoppers are allowed to walk through the home and view items for sale, but are expected to remain in line so that the people who arrived first are given first dibs on everything in the home for sale. You can often bargain or make “bids” on items you want to buy at an estate sale but want to pay less than the price on the tag. You declare the price you are willing to pay for the item, and if someone else pays more, you will lose to the higher bidder.

If the estate sale is done as an auction, there is normally a viewing period where all interested parties can walk through the home to identify which items they would like to bid on. This viewing period can span a few days, and then everything is auctioned off in one day.

Estate Sale Tips:

  • The early bird gets the worm at estate sales! Get to the sale long before it’s “open for business”.
  • Be extremely thorough as you may find special treasures are hidden inside closets or boxes at estate sales.
  • Consider what a little tender-loving-care might do for an item. For example, sometimes a new coat of paint can turn an older piece of furniture into something spectacular. If an item is in good shape but just needs cleaning or minor fixing — consider it if it’s priced well and you have the patience to do the work. It’s a great way to decorate your home on a budget.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Just like you can at yard sales, you can negotiate prices at estate sales.
  • Know what you’re looking for. You can easily buy more items than you need because they were “priced right” at estate sales. Go to the sales with a budget or an idea of what you’re looking to buy to avoid overspending and ending up with a bunch of items you don’t even need.
  • Return to the estate sale on the last day of the sale to see what hasn’t been purchased. Many times the sellers are more willing to negotiate prices on the last day of the sale to get rid of whatever is left.
  • Bring your smartphone and check item values before buying. You can check what certain items are worth on the spot, to find out if the items are priced fairly or not.

Photo by rochelle hartman.