12 Tips for Shopping Estate Sales—Part 1
I’d been thrifting for seven years before I gained the courage to visit an estate sale. There was something creepy and eerie about driving to an unknown neighborhood and stepping inside a, what I assumed to be, dead stranger’s home. Plus, after having talked to a former picker (someone who buys and flips vintage merchandise), I was certain that the prices at Salvation Army were cheaper.
While searching for secondhand sales last year, I stumbled upon estatesales.net. Determined to put my fears at rest and discover just what an estate sale really was, I pinpointed two sales in my neighborhood for that weekend. Both sales were listed as being held at the homes of “hoarders.” On Sunday, I hopped into my Oldsmobile, drove down Irving Park Road and walked into the most eccentric home I’d ever seen. There was pink fur and glitter on the walls, a high ceiling garage filled with mink coats and collars, and long lunch room tables lined porcelain lamps. I got an entire garbage bag of vintage goodies for $40 and was instantly hooked on estate sales.
Today and tomorrow’s post will list the 12 most important things I’ve learned by shopping at estate sales. These tricks didn’t come about overnight and, since I don’t frequent sales to resell items, there are a few tips I’m missing. I’d love to know what your strategy when shopping estate sales. How do you approach a dig? Connect by commenting on this post or visiting Thrifty Chi on Facebook or Twitter.
1. Examine the sale’s listing: Esatesales.net is the most comprehensive listing of estate sales that I’ve found. You can also find listings for estate sales in the paper but these are usually company liquidations or industrial warehouse sales, not private residencies. Estatesales.net allows you to add a sale to a
When examining a sale’s listing don’t just look at the pictures, read the written description as well. Below are some key words to look for, especially if you’re searching for vintage items.
- Hoarder: While the owner of this house may’ve been messy, hoarder indicates that there is a lot of merchandise the estate sale company has to move. More merchandise usually means cheaper prices.
- Multi-family home: Multiple families indicate multiple ages and genders living under one roof and accumulating stuff. This means that they’ll probably be a wide range of merchandise for everyone.
- Residents for x-amount of years+: The longer someone’s lived in one place, the more stuff they’ve accumulated and the older that stuff usually is.
- Resellers and pickers welcomed: Resellers and pickers buy items to flip them for profit. If a company wants them attending a sale they are usually willing to sell their merchandise at an extremely affordable price. Bring patience to these sales. Most resellers and pickers are friendly and show a lot of interest in what they’re purchasing, making conversation easy and enjoyable. However, flipping is their business so there’s always one pushy prick you can run into.
2. Don’t be afraid to haggle: Unlike at a thrift store, the price listed on an item isn’t always its final price. Don’t be a jerk but also don’t be afraid to haggle or offer a collective price for a large amount of merchandise. Work with the company hosting the sale and find a happy medium where you both come out on top. Sometime this happens without effort if you act patient and respectful while the person in front of you acts obnoxiously rude and tries to take advantage of the saleswoman.
3. Visit on the last day: If you will absolutely lose your sh*t if you don’t snag the Mickey Mouse record player listed in the sales ad then ignore this advice. If you’re just going because you saw that the home’s owner collected hundreds of Precious Moments and you want to buy three, go on the last day. Companies need to sell the owner’s merchandise to make a profit. If you go on the last day, or a bit after the sale has started, you may not get the best things but you will get the best prices.
4. Do look inside dressers and cabinets: I took my Grandma to her first estate sale in Riverside, IL a few months back. She was shocked when a woman started to open up kitchen drawers and pulling out handfuls of silverware. Unless there’s a sign telling you it’s off limits, it’s not. One time, I ended up finding a pair of brand new, suede, vintage Keds booties for $4 after I opened up a forgotten chest tucked away in the basement.
5. Take note of who is running the sale you’re attending: There are a lot of estate sale companies in Chicago. Just like not all thrift stores are equal, not all companies are equal. Some companies only offer a 25% discount on the final day, not a 50% discount. Some companies offer delivery at an additional cost, most companies don’t. Every time you go to a sale, write down the address, date, time, and which company is hosting. Hold on to this information. Once you start frequenting estate sales, you’ll quickly realize what companies consistently have what you’re looking for. Find a company to be too expensive? Rude? By keeping a log of whose sales you attend you’ll be also to “trim the fat” during your initial research.
6. Research: The main thing I determine before a sale is what kind of neighborhood the sale is in. I’m not as concerned about the median income of a neighborhood as much as I’m concerned with how old that neighborhood is. In Chicago, there are suburbs that’re almost as old as the city itself and there are others that have sprung to life within the past decade. Some of these older suburbs, as well as many neighborhoods throughout the city, have gone through dramatic economic shifts. That’s why, the neighborhood demographics don’t always dictate the economic status of the person who owned the home. There are plenty of old timers who’ve refused to leave neighborhoods that are no longer as desirable as they once where in the 1950s or 1960s. The older a suburb, the better chance the owner of the home has lived there all their life and has accumulated a lot of stuff.
Do the pictures or listing indicate what the owner’s profession or passion was? If so, use the listing’s address and do some Googling. You may find out something that can give you a clue as to what kind of items to expect.
Most importantly, when you get there, talk to the people running the sale. They often have information on the homeowners that’s not only fascinating and intriguing but also helpful in your shopping. A lot of time neighbors come to estate sales to be nosy, talk to them as well. Don’t go crazy, but do be aware that, any insight into a homeowner’s personal life or personality, can add to your overall shopping experience.