This is a companion piece to my earlier entry about how NOT to shop at estate sales. If you haven’t read it, you can find it here. Shopping at estates sales is not only economically sensible, but it is also ecologically responsible and possibly financially rewarding. You get great stuff at low, low prices! And you can either use them yourself, give them as gifts or sell them at a profit. Whatever your reason, here are some ideas about how to go to an estate sale:
- If you’ve never been to an estate sale, then expect a learning experience. Estate sales are for everyone, not just the rich, or the poor, or whomever you had once thought they were for. They are for you. You are not being intrusive by entering someone else’s home. You have been invited in. If it is in the home of someone who has died, don’t feel like you are being disrespectful by going through their stuff. They won’t care. They would rather you buy their treasures than to have them go in the trash. Their family would also like you to buy things. They have already removed the items they want to keep. What’s left are things they would rather you buy. You are helping the family by buying as much of the things in the home as you want and can use. And the staff at the sale also want you to buy a lot. You are helping them, too.
- Estate sales are not just for shopping for antiques and other expensive stuff. Most estate sale also have lots of ordinary items for sale, like clothes, pots & pans, ironing boards, vases, cleanser and garden tools. In fact, usually you will find any possible type of item that you would normally find in your own home. So why pay retail for laundry detergent when you can get it for a margin of the cost. Need a coffee table? What about bathroom rug? You’ll likely find them at an estate sale.
- If finding something specific is important to you, plan to get to the estate sales early. Some items will go fast at a sale. If there are photos of the household goods available, look them over carefully and plan what you would like to buy before you go to the sale. Remember, though, that not everything will be photographed. What you really want to buy may still be in the house, but may not be in the pictures. If possible, contact the company to be sure the item is still available. Some companies sell items before the sale, if they can, because that is often the best way to get the best price for their client’s property. Knowing the company’s policy will help you decide what is the best way to get what you want.
- Come prepared to pay cash. Some companies do take checks and/or credit cards, but you shouldn’t count on it. Bring plenty of cash with you; you can always take the money back home with you if you don’t find something you want. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, my company can and does take credit card payment, but it’s not what I prefer. There is always a fee to be paid for the service and it also means that I have to put my own dollars into the client’s fund because the credit card charge goes directly into the company’s account.
- Be respectful of the neighbors. Don’t stand in their yards, block their driveways, or otherwise be rude. I know that you think it won’t hurt to park in front of their drive because you are just going to run in for a second and there is NO other place to park. Don’t do it. It always takes longer than you think it will.
- Make sure you follow the rules that the estate sale sets up. Every estate sale company has their own way of handling a sale. Maybe they put up a sign-in sheet, or give out numbers, or run their sale on a first-come-first-in basis. Whichever they choose, you need to follow it. Don’t put up your own sign in sheet even though they’ve specified they don’t do that.
- When you finally get inside, don’t just randomly grab anything and everything that you think you MIGHT want to buy. When a customer does that, it prevents others from having a chance to purchase some items. I’ve had customers bring up a ton of stuff for me to hold that I thought they planned on buying, only to have them come back after shopping an hour and then have them go through their pile and discard half of it. Not only do I lose potential sales from them, but nobody else was able to buy the stuff either. And if they’ve had me hold stuff while they shop until the crowd dies down, then the potential that someone else will come along to buy their discards is less too.
- Be considerate of your fellow shoppers. Don’t bogart the good stuff unless you actually plan to buy it; don’t grab stuff from someone else’s hands (yes, I’ve seen this happen); don’t push in front of another customer to reach something before they can; don’t dig through someone else’s pile of goodies; smile a lot and complain rarely. This should be a fun experience for everyone.
- Try to shop in an orderly manner. See above, but also: walk, don’t run; don’t create a mess if you can help it (and you know you usually can); while waiting in line (either to get in or to pay) talk with your neighbors or stand quietly, but please don’t grumble. The staff are trying their best to move the line along quickly.
- DON’T STEAL. That says it all. You know what’s right.
- Never leave unattended any items you plan to purchase. While above I admonished people to not dig in someone else’s pile, you shouldn’t tempt them by leaving a delectable selection sitting unguarded.
- Feel free to bargain with the estate sale professional, but don’t get angry if their idea of a proper price differs from yours. And be reasonable. Don’t offer a dollar for something marked $20.
- NEVER be rude to the estate sale professional. It’s never profitable for you.
- Get on the estate sale company’s email list. Even though you might find out about their sale through another source, being on their email list is usually a better idea. Sometimes companies will offer a pre-sale open only to their followers.
- Take your time at the sale. Those who hurry often miss things. It takes a while for you to see beyond the clutter of stuff so that you can see the individual items. A sale can feel overwhelming at first. Take a breath and wander for a bit. Try to ignore the people rushing past you and just be in the moment. Sounding a bit zen? It is. Your treasure will often find you when you least expect it.
- Look in less obvious places. Everyone will search on the tables and counters, but it takes little effort to look under the tables, in the corners, in odd gaps. Is there a garage? What about under the house? Any place that isn’t strictly forbidden is fair game, in my opinion. But on that note:
- Don’t enter where you’ve been forbidden to go. I know it’s tempting to open that door that says KEEP OUT. Who knows what treasures may be hidden inside! Unfortunately, those treasure need to be kept from you for a reason, whatever that reason may be. Probably it has the family’s items that they plan to keep, or maybe it contains the estate sale crew’s personal belongings, like their purse or coat. Be respectful and leave it alone. The same goes for drawers and cabinets marked as areas to leave alone.
- Enjoy yourself. Life should never be so serious that you can’t enjoy the experience of shopping, or even just being among other people or interesting stuff. Look around you and see how someone else lived their life. Admire their belongings and appreciate their interests. Or just be glad that you didn’t have to live with that avocado green refrigerator or that brown shag rug. Think about how much money you are saving by not buying retail. Or think about how you are helping the environment by not letting the stuff be added to the landfill and how your carbon footprint has been reduced by reusing and not just buying new stuff that had be manufactured, thus using up even more of Earth’s precious resources. Whatever. Estate sales can be lots of fun if you approach them the right way.
As always, I’m sure I missed some tips. Please feel free to add your own.