How to Shop Estate Sales

Apr 16, 2015 / Kastle Waserman

The minute you step into an estate sale, you get an idea of someone’s life – the little collections they must have loved, their taste in furniture. Then you see it, that perfect piece to add to your own home. It’s in good shape and tagged with a great price. It’s this thrill of the hunt that can make estate sales such an exciting prospect for someone who loves shopping for vintage treasures or home furnishings at bargain prices.

Since shopping estate sales can be quite different from shopping at traditional retail stores, we pulled together some expert tips on how to pick up the best stuff at the lowest prices.

What to Look for When You Shop

Estate sales are not like shopping in a store. They usually take place in a home so the environments can vary widely. “Picking the right place is important. It’s a secondary market so there are no guarantees and all sales are final,”; says Angela Pena, Showroom Operations Manager for Hughes Estate Sales in Los Angeles.

You can find estate sales in your area by going to the website or Many post photos of what will be for sale so you can see if the items are things you would be interested in – perhaps that china set you’ve always wanted or a coffee table that will fit perfectly in your space. Be aware that not all estate sales are set up the same way. Some will pull all available items out and have nice displays, others may just open the door and you, the customer, will have to dig through cabinets, drawers and closets to see what is there.

When you get there, look around. Estate sales are other people’s belongings that have been kept in the home or storage and we hate to say it but, some people keep their houses cleaner than others. If you see signs of pest infestation or items are extremely dirty, you may not want to bring them into your home.

vintage fine china is common at estate sales

The next thing to look for is the condition of the items. Since everything is used, it’s expected it will have some wear. “Looks can be deceiving,”; says Angela. “You need to turn things over and really inspect them.”;

If you’re looking for a piece to add to a collection, know what markings to look for to authenticate the item or ask if there is any information available. Some estate sales will have staff on hand, but don’t expect that they will be able to answer your questions. If you’re a dealer who plans to resell the items you pick up for a song, know the market value, do some research ahead of time to be able to determine if the price is at or below the true market value.

Timing Your Estate Sale Purchase

Timing is everything when it comes to an estate sale. The early bird catches the best stuff! For the best selection, go the first morning of the sale before the inventory is picked over but expect crowds because other people will have the same idea. For the best price, go towards the end of the sale when items go into major liquidation mode and prices get slashed.

A bit of haggling is expected at all times, but don’t go in on the first day and ask for rock-bottom prices. The sales agents know someone will likely come along and pay more.

So have a plan ready for shopping estate sales. Whether it’s to get there early for the best selection or to wait to the end for the best prices, have an idea of what you are looking for and most of all, enjoy the hunt!

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