How to shop at estate sales and find great deals on vintage

After my last post about estate sales, I figured I should touch on this topic to help you in your estate sale adventures....

Q: What is an estate sale?

A:An estate sale is like a garage sale indoors. Either the owners of the house and items for sale passed away, moved to a retirement home or moved elsewhere. Estate sales are run by companies specializing in estate sales. The companies come in, organize and price items and they are the ones there to let you shop and keep track of items sold. The money made from selling things goes to the family of the deceased or to the home owners to pay for retirement homes or a move.

Q: How do you find them?

A:I find estate sales on craigslist, Sometimes they are also posted in your local paper in the want ads.

Q:What do I bring?

A:Check the estate sale listing for forms of payment. Most estate sales accept cash and check only. Also, you may want to bring your own shopping bags or a big vehicle if you buy anything you can't carry. Prepare to have to move the large items on your own. I also pack a flashlight, bug spray, sunblock, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, snacks and directions to the sale. You may want the sunblock and bug spray while you're in line and you will want to wash your hands after rooting through the dirty stuff.

Q:How early should I arrive?

A: It depends! If you're hard-core about this sale, arrive REALLY early. I guarantee that there will be people there when you arrive, even if you're there at 4am. Antique dealers, collectors, vintage shop owners, etc go to estate sales and they arrive very early. If it's a really good sale, arrive at least an hour or so before they pass out numbers. If there is a Friday preview sale, it is always goo to go to get a look at things before the big sale begins.

Q:What are "numbers"?

A:The estate sale companies often pass out pieces of paper with numbers on them to hold your place in line. Once you have a number, you are free to sit in your car or go get breakfast and no one will be able to get in front of you in line. Be courteous of the person in front of you and behind you so that when the door opens, you know that you are in the right place in line. Sometimes, people are rude and will try to butt in front of you in line. Either ask to see their number and tell them that you are in front of them or take it with a grain of salt and let it slide. Some estate sale companies will not let you in the door unless you have the right number, so that's a plus!

Q:What are prices like?

A: It depends on the company that's running the sales. You can always ask people in line with you if they have ever been to a sale with that company and if they know what prices are like. Some people are window-peekers and they go around the house before the sale to peek in windows to scope out the goods and the prices. Personally, I leave the peeking to the people in line with me. If you plan on attending many estate sales, keep a notebook with the name of the company and what the prices are like. Sometimes, prices can be garage sale cheap, other times they are higher than boutiques! Don't try to bargain on the first day. There are plenty of fools wiling to pay full price and the estate sale companies know that. Many estate sale companies cut to 50% off on the last day of the sale.

Q:How do I find the good stuff?

A: Ask yourself, "where would I keep these items?" and head there first. Clothes are usually in bedrooms and basements. Kitchen stuff is in the kitchen and dining room. Tools are in the garage, shed or basement. Sometimes, jewelry and high priced small items are right by the front door so that they can be watched by the estate sale employees. Check photos before the sale to familiarize yourself with the house and the goods.
Always look in odd places. Check under tables, backs of closets, high shelves, inside of drawers and cabinets. You never know what you may find!
Before making a purchase, check the item over for damage. Make sure that glass isn't chipped or cracked. Check clothes for holes, stains, etc. Check furniture for sturdiness and damage.

Q:Will there be a lot of competition?

A:You bet! As vintage lovers, I advise you to dress in jeans and t-shirts. No cute hair, no cute shoes. This way, you'll blend in, your competition won't know what you're looking for and you won't ruin your vintage pretties. Houses are dirty, cluttered and have dangerous stairs. Stick to a utilitarian look that day. As far as your competition goes, listen in on what they're saying to get an idea of what they are looking for. Don't be afraid to talk to people about estate sales in general. You can learn a lot about sales from people in line with you. Many of these people have been doing this for 30 plus years so they know all of the tricks. Even though they are competition, be thoughtful and polite because I promise you, you will see these people again at other estate sales. You never know, you might end up with a friend! People can be real jerks at estate sales too. I firmly believe that if you are kind and thoughtful and show how calm you are, they will feel calm and be polite towards you as well. (at least for the most part). If you storm in to that place, ready for a blood bath chances are, you will find yourself at war with someone.

Q: Is all of the good stuff gone within hours of opening?

A:Not at all! Often on the last day of the sale, items are discounted and there are still plenty of treasures to be found. If the sale is about to close, ask the employees if they are firm on their prices, they may be willing to bargain with you. If you can't arrive early, don't sweat it! After the early morning crowd has died down, you will have plenty of time to dig through things and sort out what you want.

Estate sales are always hit or miss but they are also always an adventure. If your first sale isn't so hot, find another one. Pay attention to how different companies price and organize items and before you know it, you'll be an estate sale pro! Anyway, that's all I have on the topic of estate sales. Feel free to ask questions and share your knowledge of estate sales too!