How to Work an Estate Sale Like a Pro

It may be the thrill of the hunt that fires you up or the idea of scoring a bargain. Or it could be the opportunity to engage in a little harmless voyeurism. Whatever gets you to follow those “Estate Sale 9 – 4 Rain or Shine” signs, know that I am right there with ya, sistah! I have been chasing that come-hither invitation for four decades, thanks to a small, gilded vintage clock that whispered, “Come get me. I’m yours.”

My innumerable treasures – from trinkets to trunks – have filled every place I have called home. Each has a history and a story, making them much more than mere objects of necessity or delight. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about how best to “work an estate sale.”

Do your homework

Google to identify upcoming local sales, then check the website to “preview” the contents. This gives you a very good idea of what to expect.

Contact the organizer about specific items

I emailed an organizer to inquire about some vintage Asian jackets and discovered that there would be even more available than were pictured on the site. I also learned other specifics, which helped me to pre-gauge my interest level.

Get there early

Often, there will be a long line and the organizer may give out numbers in advance. The lower your number, the better chance you have of snagging the good stuff. Tap into your patience as needed.

Partner up

When possible, bring along a friend. This way, you can each look out for the other’s items of interest. I recently needed a specific Pyrex bowl and my friend, the kitchen maven, scouted it out for me.

Get some dirt on your boots

And yes, be ready to get a little dirty with all of that scouting, so wear your comfy clothes and shoes and remember that you are not at Tiffany’s.

Head for the category of most interest

If you looked online, you have a good sense of the categories that will be included in the sale. If it’s Asian jackets you’re after, I’d head for the closets. Pyrex? Probably in the kitchen, the basement, or the garage. You get the idea.

Leave no stone unturned

My friend found that coveted Pyrex dish buried with all manner of things in the garage, near the other odds and ends. I once scored a concrete birdbath by walking the property and asking the organizer if it was for sale. Be adventurous but respect areas marked as off-limits.

Be a good person

Please do not become witchy, no matter what happens or how much you may want something. Mind your manners, treat everyone with respect, and do your part to make things go smoothly.

Cash and credit

Again, go online and do your homework. Personal checks are rarely accepted, so bring a wad of cash and a piece of plastic.

Ask for a discount, but be reasonable

Respect the fact that someone went to a lot of time and effort to organize this undertaking. It’s not a charity or a yard sale, and most of the time, the folks who work the sale are employees who need to be paid.

Remember that it’s “Let the Buyer Beware”

There is rarely, if ever, a return option on estate sale items. Once you lay down your cash, it’s yours.

Return on the last day

Most estate sales reduce prices by 50% or more on the last day. Yes, it will be picked over, but that Pyrex dish is all the more “precious” because I got it for a steal!


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