Estate sale shopping is one of my favorite things to do and you never know what you’re going to find. However, there is something called Estate Sale Etiquette that I want to share with you today.
The thrill of the hunt is part of the excitement and adventure of shopping at an estate sale. When I was growing up, yard sales were all the rage, and I can remember rising early every Saturday morning to hit the local yard sales with my mother.
Today, at least in my location, yard sales are no longer what they used to be and I rarely shop them anymore. Instead I shop auctions, thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace and estate sales for those elusive vintage and antique treasures. Estate sales are such a fantastic way to score home decor, artwork, furniture, antiques, vintage, and all sorts of collectibles.
Estate sales, often held on-site, are public sales of the personal property contained within a household.
It’s an excellent method of selling the contents of a home. Estate sales typically occur after a death or other life altering event that causes the inhabitants to quickly move away from the home. The sale will usually take place over several days and is open to the general public.
Typically, estate sales are managed by professional estate sale companies, who are responsible for organizing and selling the contents of the home. The estate sale company will sort through all of the items in the home and determine what is valuable and what is not, and then they will price the items accordingly.
Estate sales are also a convenient way to reach a large number of buyers. Many buyers frequent them to find things like antiques, paintings, and treasured family heirlooms for a great deal. So many of my most treasured finds have come from estate sales, and there’s a huge monthly estate sale in our area that I try to never miss! Not only have I found treasure for myself, but also for our online shop!
Of course, different estate sale companies may have different rules, so it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with them before you go. Those rules will usually be on their website and many times, will be posted at the sale.
Unless held in a massive mansion, estate sales may be limited to a certain amount of individuals at a time to avoid overcrowding, and there also may be a sign-up sheet at the entry, or by issuing numbers to people and calling these numbers in small groups. Typically, estate sales operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you’re planning to attend an estate sale as a buyer, there are a few rules of etiquette to keep in mind.
Tips to help you navigate an estate sale with grace and respect:
1. Arrive Early: Estate sales can be crowded, so it’s a good idea to arrive early to get a good spot in line.
There’s an old expression, “the early bird gets the worm”. This is very true in the world of estate sales. Usually an estate sale will start at 8:00 a.m., but I’ve seen some that have started as early as 7:00 a.m.
You want to be there when the sale opens because I can tell you from experience that the best items tend to sell early in the morning.
2. Respect Others: Respect others in line and treat them as you would expect to be treated.
Hold your place in line with your presence and do not cut in line. Do not rush the door when the sale opens. Do not block others from entering. Everyone has just as much right to be there as you.
3. Follow the Rules: Estate sale companies often have rules in place to ensure a fair and orderly sale. Be sure to follow these rules, such as not removing price tags or trying to negotiate prices.
Most estate sales run over a 2-3 day period. There is absolutely no bartering the first day, which means, if you love an item, you pay the tagged price the first day. Discounts start the second day of the sale and continues for the length of the sale, with up to 50%-60% off on the last day. It’s always worth checking back on the last day of the sale for some great bargains!
4. Respect the Home: Remember that you are in someone’s home, and it will likely be someone’s home again, so be respectful of the property and the items for sale.
Don’t damage or move items unnecessarily. Stay out of areas that are clearly marked with “do not enter”. Ask for help with heavy or hard to reach stuff. Try not to squeeze into a closet or other small space when someone else is already in there. Wait your turn to walk down crowded hallways or narrow stairwells, and try to stay aware of your surroundings (and anything you’re carrying) as you move through the home shopping so you don’t break or damage anything.
5. Not the place for dogs or small children. An estate sale is not the place to bring your dog or small children. I can’t tell you how many estate sales I’ve been to where I’ve seen people attending with dogs and small children. I love both, but it’s not a good mix.
6. Pay Promptly: If you decide to purchase an item, pay promptly and don’t try to negotiate the price after the fact.
Most estate sales will take cash and credit/debit cards. Some will also take checks. Recently I attended a local estate sale that didn’t take any credit or debit cards, cash or check only. So go prepared!
Scope Out the Sales on Estate Sale Sites
In my opinion the best website to find out about estate sales in your area is EstateSales.net.
Simply enter your zip code and the site will give you a listing of all the sales in your area. Make a plan the night before to determine which sales you want to visit. EstateSales.net also shows you teaser pictures of items available at the sale, so you can determine if the sale has items you’d want. Get an idea of what items you like even before you go to the sale.
Don’t Call Ahead:
Don’t call or email ahead asking for prices. This is a big faux pas. Estate sale companies won’t give you this information and they are too busy getting the sale ready. Also, it’s unfair for you to get that information ahead of time when others don’t.
Thoroughly Inspect Your Items Before You Buy
This is a good rule of thumb anytime you are buying something secondhand. Make sure that you really look over the items thoroughly. You won’t have any opportunity to return your purchases because all sales are final. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve purchased something and then gotten home and found a chip or a crack that I didn’t see beforehand.
Bring Bags or Boxes
Many times estate sales don’t have bags or boxes for customers to use to help carry their purchases. Plan ahead and put some bags or a box in your car to help you transport your treasures home.
Do be prepared for sticker shock.
Not everything at an estate sale is a good bargain, and often the prices can be higher than at typical thrift stores and yard sales. Keep in mind that the family or the owner of the home is looking to make some needed cash on the sale. If the sale is run by a company that specializes in organizing estate sales, prices may be higher because they are more attuned to what something is worth. If it’s not a good deal, then definitely walk away.
Leave no stone unturned.
Don’t feel uneasy wandering around. Survey the entire sale, and don’t forget basements, garages or outbuildings. If you aren’t supposed to enter an area, it will be marked off. Some of the coolest items live in the strangest places!
I’m gearing up for our local monthly estate sale and it’s my favorite time of the month. We’ll be up bright and early on Thursday morning and will hopefully be in the front of the line. It’s exciting to treasure hunt and if you’ve never done it, you are missing out!
All photos courtesy of Olde Mobile Antiques Gallery