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July 02, 2011


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Estate sales are not necessarily for people who passed away. My mom sold many of her things via an estate sale when she moved out of her house into an a retirement home.

I am not a frequent shopper at estate sales but I do target them when I am looking for household items. Garage sales are good for clothing my young children. But we recently moved from a small city apartment into a suburban house and were looking for things like furniture and silverware etc.

Estate sales work well for lots of stuff all at once--pretty much a whole house worth of stuff. However, I felt that the prices were usually 25% over what I wanted to see at a garage sale, but obviously cheaper than new. Frequently, there was someone taking money and giving receipts, sometimes calculating sales tax. I assume this was because the sale added money to the estate and the estate was being directed by a will.

Overall, if I were picking between an estate sale and a garage sale and I wasn't looking for toddler clothes, I would go to an estate sale because I found usually more items, more interesting items, and more items I'm looking for at this stage in our lives. The price premium I feel I'm paying goes toward the time savings because with two little ones it is hard to get out of the house particularly early on Saturday. Maybe when they are easier to handle for my husband I could crawl garage sales regularly, but that's not in the cards at the moment.

They are all over priced.

Think of it like a garage sale that (i) is run by professionals who know what to charge and (ii) includes a higher percentage of stuff in great condition.

It's harder to haggle, but easier to find good stuff. And prices are still substantially better than new.

We got our dining room table and chairs at what amounts to an "estate warehouse."

In the town where we grew up, there's what amounts to a warehouse where the owners just go to estates and offer the next-of-kin $X for whatever's left in the house (in a "hey, you get what you want, and then we'll go in and see what we want to offer for it) - they take it out, refurbish it if needed, and sell it. Works out nicely.

my father went to his first one recently and picked up some classic paintings he had no idea how much they were worth. i am in the process of getting them appraised because i have a feeling they are worth good money.

I've bought many vehicles from estate sales. The first was my grandmother's 1958 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, the last is my daily driver 1988 Suburban which now has accumulated 300K miles without major repairs. The 1980s for vehicles has been very good to me. Except for a Ford truck and the S'ban, the rest were Toyota and Suzuki GM stablemates. Choose carefully and you can walk away with a bargin.

FWIW, the Caddy paid for itself as a movie extra. Six Asian designed Chevy Novas and Sprints put my kiddies through driver's ed for under $1.5K each, all lasted at least 100K over what was originally on the odometer. The S'ban has provided over a quarter million miles for a purchase price under $2.5K.

You can save yourself and your family a small fortune on vehicle purchases alone. Not to mention furniture, appliances, miscellaneous lawn and garden stuff. Do your homework, someone else's unwanted crap can be your's for next to nothing.

The difference is garage sales sell stuff someone doesn't want. Estate sales sell stuff the seller kept until the day they died.

I used to buy kitchen items, dinnerware and linens at estate sales. The one that are professionally run would usually have everything half price on the last day of the sale if the sale ran Saturday and Sunday. I also bought some vintage linens, which I was collecting at the time and sewing items, like leftover thread.

You can also pick up tools, furniture, craft materials. Whatever a person had in their house that the family members did not want. A lot of sales in the DC area frequently have many people who line up early on the first day to get in and get the most desired items. I think these are people who resell antiques and furniture. You can buy a lot of practical items too, if you need them, like tools and small appliances, even the food in the cupboards has been available for sale at one I went to.

I no longer go because I have most everything I need, and I tended to buy too much of some things. The saddest one I ever went to is where the family photographs in frames were still out, presumably for sale.

I disagree that you can't haggle - I hate negotiating, but the two estate sales I attended made it easy - perhaps because both items were higher end. I got a very good piano for $1200 (they were asking $1800, I offered $1200, they rejected it, but I left my name/number, and after 3 days they called and offered to deliver it for that price). The second was a huge formal dining room table with chairs, in good (not perfect) condition. Ended out buying those for $500 - can't remember what they were asking, but it was much more. After the first couple of days of the sale, the family usually is very motivated to clear everything, since it will just go to Goodwill, etc. otherwise.

In our area, garage or yard sales are 99% junk. Estate sales can be hit or miss, but I've gotten some nice furniture, jewelry, & a few kitchen items at good prices at them.

To find "good" ones - prices are better when the family is running it themselves, as the professional estate sale coordinators charge a fee to do the work & know more what the value of items are. I don't mind paying more than garage sale prices, as items in an estate sale are usually displayed better, sorted and tagged, & there is a greater likelihood of finding good quality items. You can't always depend on the neighborhood as an indicator, as many people (at least in our area) retire into mobile home parks or have always lived in their home that may not now be the best area. Many estate sale listings will let you know if they have a lot of a given kind of specialty items (quilts or supplies, dolls, tools, or whatever).

Etiquette - If you go early on the first day, be prepared to deal with the professional pickers who are there for specific kinds of items only - they can be ruthless. If there are family members on site, be nice to them & chat them up a little bit, as this can be a difficult time for them. If you want a larger item you can't carry around with you, find a worker who can tag it as sold (if you have someone with you, it's ok for one to wait by the item to let others know it's being claimed). Don't try to go into any areas not open to the public; put things back down the way you found them. Bring cash. Don't make any comments about the person's taste - remember you're in someone's home. Don't try to haggle unless you're there at the end of the day, or are planning to buy more than one item. And don't steal (I'm appalled at the stories I've heard of people who just walk out the door with their items).

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