Some of my best furniture, decor, and home finds have come from estate sales. It’s also a hobby I’ve grown to love over the years. There are few things I enjoy more than perusing the contents of someone else’s home in hunt of designer pieces, interesting objects, or beautiful home decor. This post has been a long time coming, as I always get plenty of estate sale questions. Consider this your complete guide on how to find the best ones and shop home estate sales! Click through for everything I know…
If you’ve been reading for awhile, you already know I’m a fan of secondhand finds, vintage decor, thrifting, and I often shop Facebook Marketplace. Estate sales are really no different… they’re a great way to score designer home decor, vintage furniture, and antiques at affordable prices.
What Is An Estate Sale?
If you’ve never attended an estate sale… it’s exactly what it sounds like: a home or estate, in which mostly everything is for sale. Sometimes estate sales are held because someone has passed, other times a family is moving or downsizing, and in some instances- it’s simply to liquidate (maybe someone has multiple homes). They say estate sales are usually due to one of “the D’s”: death, divorce, debt, or downsizing. Sometimes attendees know the story, and other times it’s up to the imagination. Sometimes the home itself is for sale, occasionally pieces of the home are stripped and sold (think fixtures- lighting, plumbing fixtures, appliance, hardware, millwork, etc), and most often it’s solely the contents of the home (decor, clothing, cookware, etc) that is being sold.
I honestly love the estate sale experience… they give you an intimate look into someone’s life- how they lived, what they liked, where they traveled, what they wore, how they decorated their home, etc. It’s an extremely personal look into someone’s private collection… and everything is for sale. A weird, but cool concept. While it may sound strange to some, I always look at estate sales like a museum tour. I often wonder if I’d be friends with the person who curated the collection. I take in the home architecture, admire the items, and wonder about the history of the home and its inhabitants. It’s an entertaining experience- and a most excellent way to source items for your own home on a budget!
How to Find the Best Estate Sales
One of the most asked questions is how to find the really good estate sales? In thinking back to my experience reference- you’re most likely on the hunt for things that match your personal aesthetic, and craftsmanship or quality expectations. Find the homes that align with your personal preferences. Here are my best tips for finding the ones that are worthy of your time and money:
- Follow local estate sale companies on social media– they always post details and previews. It’s also helpful to get on their mailing list for upcoming previews!
- Search online– I prefer to use estatesales.net.
- Narrow your search by location and neighborhood. It’s always fun to go to higher-end estate sales in neighborhoods with aspirational homes.
- Make sure the sale is worth your time– check the listing or preview to ensure the aesthetic aligns with your own.
How to Shop at An Estate Sale
Estate sales are what you make of them. Generally, it works like this…
- The Sale Is Announced
- Hours and Location are Given
- You Show Up To Shop During the Posted Time
- You Follow the Estate Sale Rules
- Grab What You’re Interested In
- Check Out & Pay
- Load Up & Transport
It’s honestly a simple process or concept… no bidding required (like an auction). I did receive a lot of questions pertaining to timing, prep, and sale tags, so I’m answering those below…
I always shop on the first day to get first dibs, but the last day of the sale is actually the best day for bargain shopping. Sales are usually held over weekends- beginning on Thursday or Friday, so I like to beat the weekend or work (nine to fivers) crowd.
I always arrive early to get a decent spot in line. It really depends on if you’re showing up for something specific, or you just want to browse. You can attend anytime during the listed window. In my experience, people begin lining up 30 minutes to an hour before. Grab a coffee, be prepared to scroll your phone, and dress accordingly- as you’ll be waiting outside until the door opens.
Absolutely! I look at the preview photos in advance (zooming in to study them), I plan what I’m interested in purchasing or want a closer look at, and map out the floor plan or home layout the best I can, so it’s easier to navigate.
2 or 3 days. The really good items usually are sold on day one. Bargains and markdowns typically take place on the last day of the sale.
You can… if something is out of my budget, I’ll go back on the last day of the sale to see if that item is still there and I can try to negotiate a better price. I’ll also return if the sale is better than expected and I find more than what I can fit in my car. You can always check out and return to pick up your larger purchased items. I’ve had to do that in the past… bring Emmett along for help loading, returning with our truck.
This is dependent on company rules… but typically, it’s grab and go! Anything you want to buy, goes into your tote bag (I carry three Tuesday Made tote bags), then you’ll empty them at the checkout. For larger items- you can pull or mark the sold tag, then upon checking out, hand over the tag to purchase. You can also find a staff member to verify. Every company does it a little different, so be sure to ask in advance!
Not usually. Larger items that are being sold prior to the sale are often listed alongside their price… think vehicles, Rolex watches or high-end jewelry, well known artwork, etc. Otherwise, you show up on the day of the sale, and everything inside will be marked.
What to Bring to An Estate Sale
Here are some things I always bring with me to estate sales…
- A Tape Measure (for making sure things will fit)
- Tote Bags (the easiest way to grab things in the house)
- Moving Blankets or Furniture Pads (for transport- I keep them my car)
- A Trusted Friend (mine estate sale bestie is Jordan… I know what she wants & likes and she knows the same for me, so we divide & conquer- plus, it’s more fun with friends!)
- Accepted Form of Payment (credit card, cash, Venmo, etc)
- Easy Shoes (a pair that easily slides on & off, if no shoes are allowed inside)
- An Appropriate Outfit (something you’re comfortable waiting outside in- check the weather… and something semi-fitted that won’t knock things in tight areas inside the house)
- An Appropriate Vehicle (SUV, rented moving truck, etc… depending on what you plan to purchase)
- A Tolerant Attitude (ha, only slightly kidding)
How to Negotiate at Estate Sales
Depending on the company and popularity of an estate sale, negotiations and deal making typically only happens on the last day or two of a sale. If you’re an early bird, you can try bundling items for a discount, but usually- they’re priced as marked. If you find a bad flaw, it’s always worth asking if you can get it for a lower price.
How do you determine if you’re getting a good deal, in the first place? Take note of the brand, material, quality, craftsmanship, age, and if the item is unique. You can also pull out your phone to do quick search, but I honestly find that difficult during a busy and bustling sale. Things move quick!
Estate Sale Etiquette
Believe it or not- there is an unwritten estate sale etiquette code that should be respected. Believe me- you do not want to be THAT person.
- Familiarize Yourself With the Estate Sale Company Rules – follow posted signs, remove shoes if asked, form a line in the appropriate place, no food or drinks, no smoking, no running, no using your own tags, etc.
- Be Kind & Courteous to Other Estate Sale Shoppers – be reasonable, civil, and kind. A simple, “excuse me” goes a long way in tight spaces.
- Respect the Home – treat it as you’d like your own home to be treated and avoid speaking negatively about the home or its contents, as friends or loved ones could be in attendance… which is an emotional process.
- Understand How to Mark An Item As Sold – so you know what has already been spoken for and can quickly mark things for yourself.
- Ask When Exiting the Line – if you see something while waiting in line, turn to the person behind you, and ask if you can quickly step out to check something.
- Don’t Hold Places in Line – similarly, it’s frowned upon to hold places in line for multiple people. If your friends are attending, wait in line together (rather than one in line and four in the car).
- Don’t Shop from a Pile or Hold Table – people will often create piles or hold areas near the check out. Those items have clearly been spoken for, so you shouldn’t pull items from those areas.
- Pay Attention to Where You’re Walking – oftentimes older homes can be uneven, have steep stairs without proper railing, or slick surfaces. Be careful moving about.
- Avoid Bringing Backpacks & Carts – unlike a flea market, backpacks, carts, and strollers are not allowed inside estate sales. Companies prefer you use totes or bags that can be looked into.
- Leave The Kids at Home – I rarely see kids at estate sales, and when I do- they’re extremely well behaved (like they’ve been prepped or this isn’t their first time tagging along). Most sales have a no stroller policy and some even have a no small children in attendance rule. Just keep in mind, valuables & breakables are everywhere, and estate sales can be a difficult & crowded obstacle course for even adults to navigate.
Things I Always Hunt for at Estate Sales
If you’re wondering what I’m usually shopping for, here’s a list of my personal favorite things to keep an eye out for…
- Original artwork
- High-end or designer furniture
- Interesting books
- Textiles- like blankets or custom drapery
- Vintage and designer clothing
- Designer Fixtures
- Seasonal Decor
Always look for tags, material specifications, “made in” stickers, etc. It’s also smart to double check corners, drawers, item functionality, and plug-in fixtures to ensure they work. Sales are final, so be sure something is as expected.
This is a tough one because I’ve found so many cool things over the years. Most recently, I love my oversized woven lamp. I can’t wait to style this fixture! It is pictured above.
This totally depends on the item. I always toss clothing or textiles into the laundry or drop them at the dry cleaner. Some items simply need dusted or wiped. Take note of the material and clean things accordingly (leather, linen, glass, marble, etc).
My best tip is to attend on the last day of the sale- that’s when the deals are made and prices are slashed. You can also try bundling items for a lower price. Kindness also works to your advantage… estate sales can be intense and stressful, so be sure to lead with kindness and compassion. I promise, it will come back tenfold in the form of karma (hello good finds!) and lower prices from appreciative staff members!
Follow the pros- you can quickly tell what kind of estate sale you’re headed into based on the line. I know I’m in for a treat if I see the older, experienced antiquers in line next to me. Similarly, for the sales with tons of good clothing, I follow the people with the best fashion. Seriously! They know what they’re looking for. Make friends in line! I’ve become pals with a few book collectors I met in line (they’re always near the front with me) and I’ve learned so much from them.
One more hot tip… leave a written offer or grab the phone number of an employee or staff member. If you’re not willing to pay for something on the first day of the sale, leave your price for the last day or get in touch to see if something is still available.
I have! Arguments usually occur because two people want the same thing and it’s a matter of “who had it first”… for larger items, who pulled the tag or notified the staff first (usually it’s a protocol mixup), and for smaller items- I’ve seen people physically pulling something back and forth (crazy, right?). This actually happened to me once… I had my eye on a French iron patio set (image below for the one that got away). I pulled the tags from all four chairs, took them to the front, and notified a staff member I intended to buy the set. I forgot to pull the tag from the table, and a couple grabbed the tag and argued they were purchasing the set because they had the table tag. It quickly became clear they weren’t willing to reason and as things got heated, I bowed out. In my mind, it’s not worth arguing or making a scene. Something better will come along. Most people are friendly and reasonable, but occasionally things get ruthless.
Absolutely not! I’ll quote him, “Estate sales are my own personal kind of hell.” He really did say that to me once, ha. I take forever to browse, he has little tolerance for confrontation or rude interactions, and does not enjoy crowded areas or waiting in line. My preferred estate sale buddy is Jordan. She and I have the best time, know each other’s style really well, and make a fun day of it. We also help each other decide what’s worthy of our time or money. We’re an efficient and productive team. We usually go for lunch after a sale to celebrate our finds! Emmett is an asset for helping us carry heavy things and tetris-load the car, though… I will say that.
A final walk around the house before heading to check out. I always find at least one more awesome thing during that last walk about. It’s easy to miss really good stuff, so make a couple rounds.
I hope this post helps give you a confidence boost when attending your next (or first) estate sale! They’re really a wonderful and unique way to shop for home and interior items. While it may be morbid, I always tell Emmett- someday when it’s my time, I can only hope to have an epic estate sale that brings many people joy, and my treasures are styled into homes that will appreciate them. He says he’d like people to admire the craftsmanship of whatever home we last land in, as they wander our estate sale someday. Is it weird that we talk about this? Haha! Probably. Leave your questions for me below!