How to Shop at Estate Sales

Estate sales are pretty awesome. If you’re into treasure hunting and don’t mind digging, you should probably try your hand at estate sales. Some people are a little weirded out by going through someone else’s home (especially if they’re deceased), but trust me - this is where the GOOD stuff is. It’s also totally not as awkward as one would imagine it to be. Usually there is an estate sale company doing the sale, so the client and/or their family isn’t even on the premises. 

I use estatesales.org to find local sales happening near me. They usually list some preview pictures and descriptions a few days before the sale starts to build excitement. The day before the sale starts, they will give the address and sometimes, even more photos.

Most estate sales start on a weekday and go through the weekend. Generally they go Thursday - Sunday in my area. Everything is out and available on the first day so your chances of catching the best stuff is high but the prices are at their highest.  By the last day, it's slimmer pickings but super cheap.  Many accept credit cards, but there are also a few that are cash only. I research ahead of time what the particular estate sale company accepts and make sure I’m prepared.

I like to make a cheat sheet of the items I’m looking for at a particular sale after viewing the photos. This helps me remember to look for those specific items. It’s also helpful if you’re going to hit more than one sale in a day.

Serious buyers will get to a sale EARLY to get in line before everyone else. Depending on the sale, some people may get there hours early. Other sales, no one will be there in line until 20 minutes before it starts. You just never know. If there are some things you MUST have, I recommend showing up 1 hour early. I used to be nervous about aggressive buyers, but I have yet to run into anyone who wasn’t nice. Just use your manners and be respectful. Whoever is there first gets first dibs. If someone else has something set aside as “theirs”, respect that. Often estate sale companies offer a “holding area” for people to put items before they buy them, while they wander around. Don’t touch that stuff! It’s just bad karma. Would you want someone to touch and/or take YOUR items you put on hold?

Bring a box or several reusable grocery bags to hold your finds. Estate sale companies do not provide bags, boxes, or any sort of wrapping for items. You’re on your own! Many won’t allow in big purses or backpacks, so stick to a small bag to hold your personal items.

The way it works is that once you’re allowed inside, you’re free to roam around the house (except any areas they have clearly marked as off limits). You can open closets, drawers, cupboards, etc. Most items will not have a price, some will. Generally items will be priced to sell fast - usually a bit cheaper than a thrift store. Obviously collectibles won’t be dirt cheap, but they are usually less expensive than if you were buying them at retail pricing.

I love digging around in the closets because I’m after clothes and shoes mainly. It’s also super fun to wander down into a basement and see what’s hiding there. Dig through a desk and you may find old playing cards, maps, brochures, etc. I found a 1967 Disneyland daily schedule and park guide this way!

If you’re a reseller and have a sales tax license / permit, you can show a copy when you pay and you won’t have to pay sales tax. I’m sure this varies from sale to sale, but every single one I’ve been to accepts this. It’s always good to sign up for the estate sale company’s mailing list, because often they will invite you to an early sale! And of course, haggling is expected, more so after the first day. Most companies are willing to work with you on pricing as long as you're respectful.  Estate sale organizers deal with gougers all the time so you shouldn't be surprised how quick they are to shut down unreasonably low offers.  Be friendly and get to know the workers - you may be running into them every so often at their sales. When they know you, they’re more likely to hook you up with a sweet discount!

Written and contributed by Kira Malinky of Good Luxe Vintage.  Kira is an e-commerce store owner and expert vintage hunter.