estate sale

Estate sales differ in many ways, from house to house and from neighborhood to neighborhood.  I’ll try to describe a few of my strategies for finding them and determining which ones may be worth taking the time to visit.

Family run estate sales. Family run estate sales are fun because you usually get to talk with the family, or the person representing the family who is authorized to run the sale. You’ll hear a variety of interesting stories about the owner of all the things for sale. You’ll also get to determine what time constraints they may be under and whether they’ll be willing negotiate. Prices at family sales are usually negotiable and you’ll find that most families want to dispose of the “inventory” as quickly as possible so they can return to some sort of normalcy after the death of their family member. Reasonable offers, even if on the low side are usually accepted at family run sales. Here’s a tip: If you see a garage or basement full of tools or art, or books or other items you want, and there’s much more to be uncovered, ask the seller if they’d accept a lump amount to take everything in the space. I once cleaned out the contents of a garage after the seller accepted $300 from me to do so. Other shoppers stood and watched as I filled box after box with amazing collectables including several vintage Lionel and American Flyer trains sets with loads of accessories, vintage toys, valuable books, tools, a few oil paintings etc. Buy in bulk if you can.  

Estate Sellers. Estate sellers are generally specialists in antiques, fine art, jewelry, vintage furniture and other collectibles, and most have a general inventory at a retail location or warehouse from which they work out of.  These sellers operate estate sales for families, who in turn work out a payment method for the estate sellers time and labor. I like these sales because estate sellers are usually experts and although they will price things a bit higher than you might find at a family run sale, they tend to focus on what they can transport and store efficiently or on items related to their specialty, leaving a huge variety of things available which they just want to sell. The more they sell the more they make. Some estate sellers will provide previews and presale opportunities for dealers, or local residents.

Open House. Some estate sale operators allow customers to walk through the whole house hunting for items to purchase. I like these as opposed to just a blanket on the front lawn with a few items. I’ll write more on open house estate sales, in another blog article.

Research. Look online to see if there are sales in your neighborhood. I like to write a list and keep it with me when I travel so I have addresses and directions to each sale. In some parts of the country you can see local signs posted in your neighborhood on Friday night. Look for these and attend early in the morning. Look for sales that may be a little out of the way or off the beaten path. Not everyone will be willing to drive long distances. On a summer Saturday morning in LA’s San Fernando Valley, I once drove to, got out of my car and looked at 48 different estate and garage sales. That’s tenacity.

Sign Hunting. Many American cities are traditionally master planned in grid style (with consistent rows of North South and East West running streets). A great technique on the weekend is to just pick a city or part of town and begin to drive (if you like to drive), traversing East then back West, then North then South looking for estate sale signs. This is fun if you’re the adventurous type. Sometimes you’ll find a sale that’s just opening, or one that may not have much in the way of advertising or signage.  Both are good for you as a buyer.

Go on a Friday morning, before work. If you find an ad that’s advertising a weekend sale, call and ask the seller if they are available Friday for you to make an appointment and come by. Some sellers are available Fridays and will welcome customers; some will not. Bring cash.

Balancing act. THIS IS JUST MY OPINION. SOME WILL NOT AGREE WITH ME. I KNOW THAT. As a dealer, reseller or collector, you are trying to acquire items for prices that are on the lower side, allowing for a markup for your time and effort in finding, transporting and cleaning the item, when you sell it. However, don’t insult a seller with “low ball offers” on the very first items you see, leaving them unwilling to negotiate any further with you on other items. This is especially true when the seller has allowed you to visit on a Friday prior to the public sale. You are always legally allowed to make low ball offers, but it’s not going to make further negotiations with the seller any easier. I am aware some people are always just going to make low offers.

Prep your vehicle. I like to bring tools and cleaning supplies so I can disassemble and clean larger items before I put them in my Jeep®. This includes an adjustable wrench, pliers, a ratchet screwdriver, tape, rope and twine, paper towels, leather gloves, a blanket for padding fragile items, and a cleaner (like (Fantastic® or Glass Plus®). A tarp is good too if you want to preserve the interior of your car.

Have a friend available just in case. If you have the good fortune to have a friend available to help you lift and load large items, you won’t ever have to pass up valuable items because of inability to transport. It doesn’t mean they have to attend estate sales all morning with you, but that they are available if you find something you can’t move alone. Most sellers will hold the items for you (after payment) for you to come pick up later.

Break outside your world of knowledge. This is one of those things I’ve learned by trial and error (lots of error).  You will benefit greatly by learning as much as you can about everything. Read books and articles about your specialty and interest, but also about other areas that may not interest you as much. I have to admit I’m not particularly interested in blue glass, or Royal Daulton, or watches, or antique candleholders…but I have to know something about them in order for me to identify and purchase them for reasonably low prices.

Treasurebee welcomes collectors, buyers and sellers of all kinds. We hope your membership results in more finds, more fun, more expertise, more connections, more pieces for your collection, more revenue and more value than your typical source or marketplace.

By Jeff Rosen


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