Estate sales can offer quality used goods at great prices. But in addition to cash or credit card, it helps to come armed with information. Here’s how an estate sale works, what you can expect to find and what you should avoid buying.
Not a garage sale
An estate sale is different from a garage or yard sale. Typically an estate sale is designed to sell the household goods of an elderly person who has passed away or moved somewhere smaller. In an estate sale, a house will be open to the public, with items large and small tagged throughout the home. By contrast, garage sales tend to be outdoors, with the sellers disposing of mostly smaller items they no longer want.
How estate sales work
If a family is conducting an estate sale for an elderly relative, expect the sellers to insist on cash payments. Where a professional estate sale company is conducting the sale, you may be able to use a credit or debit card. Payment terms should be spelled out in the sale’s advertising, but confirm when you arrive. Professional companies will be firm on prices, but at a family-run sale you may be able to negotiate for a better deal.
The sale’s advertising will probably list the best items available to attract buyers. The ad can offer a preview of what’s available and a clue to the overall quality of goods to be found.
To get the best items, show up early the first day. Come with a truck if you are looking for furniture or large appliances. If you cannot bring a truck, find out the policy for later pickup. Don’t count on sale organizers to help you load. Bring your own movers.
Great deals on quality goods
Estate sales often have older items made at a time when quality materials and craftsmanship were common. You may find classic furniture brands made of solid wood with no veneer. Older appliances will likely be made from solid steel with durable parts, not plastic (although be sure to plug them in to make sure they still work). Since the surviving family simply wants to clear things out, expect to find great goods at prices well below what something new would cost.
Deals to be had at estate sales
Furniture: Older furniture was made with quality materials and dovetailed joints. If veneers were used, they were well made. Give upholstered items that interest you a sniff test, however, as lingering pet or cigarette odors will be hard to remove. If you spot scented candles and aerosol deodorizers around the premises, they may be masking such smells.
Appliances, large and small: Older appliances were made from solid materials that last. Still, even the best machines wear out. Also, keep in mind that older large appliances aren’t as energy efficient as newer models and may have a dated look.
Silverware and China: Look for great bargains on high-quality fine china or everyday dishware. Fine silverware or flatware may also be available. If you’re interested in a set, count to make sure all the pieces are there.
Linens: Look for nice tablecloths and napkins and luxurious towels. Be mindful, however, that if the homeowner was bedridden, bed linens may have been soiled at some point.
Designer clothing: You may find top brands at terrific prices.
Power and hand tools: Don’t skip the garage, where sturdy power and hand tools may be had at bargain prices. If there is a solid workbench, ask if it is also for sale.
Outdoor furniture: Visit the patio or deck for comfy outdoor furniture and grills.
Jewelry: Sometimes jewelry is available. Fine jewelry may not have an appraisal for you to look at, so you will have to make your best guess on value.
Art and books: You may find quality artwork that appeals to you, as well as vintage or first-edition books.
Serendipity: You never know what else you may spot: vintage typewriters, record players, hurricane lamps or other delights.