Recently, I have had a few inquiries for some advice for attending estate sales when you are starting out. I thought this was a great idea for a post, so here are some tips.
***I just want to say in advance, I am by no means an expert. The tips I am sharing are just some things I have learned over the past few years I have been attending estate sales.***
Some Terms To Know
These are numbers that either the first person at the sale or the company holding the sale itself provides for attendees to keep order in line. This allows for people to take a number and not be forced to stand in line to keep your place. While this is great for days when it snows and is cold outside, some companies do not like the idea of people getting to the sale the night before and passing out numbers only to have people get their spot in line and return home or go out and grab a coffee. That is why some sales do not allow street numbers.
I know in Michigan, most sales are never labeled as a "tag sale," but I know other states call their estate sales, tag sales. This term is hard to define as just one thing, so I am sure it depends on what area you live in. Some people might consider a garage sale a tag sale, so make sure you do your homework before the sale. Estatesales.net interchanges tag sale with estate sale, so it may be in your best interest to call ahead of time to double check.
If a sale is advertised as a "digger sale" this means that many of the items will probably NOT be priced. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. Most of time you get a price for how much you buy more so than what you buy, i.e. the more you buy the better the price. Digger sales can be fun, if you like to investigate things and be a bit nosey in some else's home. They can get pretty dirty, as most of the stuff has been in storage for years and many companies recommend you bring along a flashlight. A flashlight can be helpful when you are in basements, garages, and attics even if it isn't a digger sale.
*Everything Must Go Sale*
In my experience, these sales have been quickly put together and don't last as long as regular estates sales. Because these sales must clear out everything, they are more likely to accept offers for their customers and will be more inclined to take a lower offer if you are paying in cash. If a sale is advertised as everything must go, be ready to wheel and deal with the people running the sale!
This normally happens on the last day of a sale. The company running the sale will sell bags for a certain amount, most commonly $5, and allow you to fill the bag for that flat rate. Pay attention to what areas the home are allowed in the bag sale because sometimes the company will only allow you to take items from certain rooms. I have gotten a lot of awesome deals at bag sales. So don't think just because it's the last day there won't be anything left. A lot of the over priced sales in my area do bag sales, which means that a lot of good merchandise is still left because of high prices.
Some Basic Tips For Beginners
*How an Estate Sale Works*
An estate sale normally happens when someone has passed away and the family need to clean out the home for sale or to pass onto someone else. Estate sales can start anytime in the week, but most commonly start on a Thursday or Friday and continue on into the weekend. While not all companies accept street numbers, most do. In my opinion, it really makes sales run more smoothly, especially if there is a lot of great vintage stuff there and has drawn a large crowd. Anyways, street numbers are normally only done on the first day of the sale, when there are likely to be the most people. Most sales only let a select number of people inside a sale at a time (this is most prevalent on the firsts and last days when there are the most people).
Once inside the sale, many companies have lists posted on the walls that outlines how much everything costs. This allows for them to put a flat price on common items such as plates and glasses and take more time to price out the more special items.
Most companies will not barter on the first day, although don't be shy. If an item is stained or missing a piece and you feel it's too high, just ask if they could do any better. If you are buying a lot of stuff, they might just knock a dollar or two off.
A lot of people like to bring their own reusable shopping bags with them. Some companies don't allow this, so if you aren't sure, it might be a good idea to call and check. I normally only bring bags to sales I know I am going to buy a lot at. It makes it easier to tote everything around the sale without having to say every five seconds, "That pile is mine."
Keep in mind that if you put something down, it's out of your hands. I have been known to carry stuff around with me until I am done with looking at the whole sale and then evaluate what exactly I want to purchase. It never hurts to hold onto it because once you set it down, you can't claim it.
Also keep in mind that people at these sales are very competitive and can be vicious. Now, not all people are like this, but you may experience someone just grabbing everything and not giving others a chance. You really have to be assertive and avoid being too shy. If you really want something you see, make sure you make your way to it, because that lady grabbing everything in sight is not caring what others think of her, she's there to get what she wants.
Make sure when buying clothing you check for stains and holes. I always hold my garments up into the light to check for holes. It's the easiest way to find the tiny little moths holes that you may not notice until you get home. When buying glassware, I normally carefully run my fingers along the edges to feel for chips.
It's a good idea to bring a flashlight and be prepared to use cash as your main method of payment. Some companies allow checks (mostly instate with an ID) or credit cards over a certain amount of money. Some even charge a 3-5% fee for using the card.
*Where to Find Sales*
The internet is one of the best places to find estate sales. I mainly use Estatesales.net, but will occasionally check craigslist.org. Estatesales.net is a site dedicated to estate sale listings. Companies have to pay to get their sale advertised and most of the listings contain pictures and details about the items at the sale. In my opinion, this is the best place to search for an estate sale because of how much detail is in each listing. You can also go directly to a company's website to find out when their next sale is. You may also be able to find sales by looking in the news paper.
*Get to Know the Companies*
I can't stress enough how beneficial it can be to get to know your local estate sale companies. I have a mental list of the different companies in my area and how their pricing ranks. This can be helpful when you are deciding between two different sales that begin on the same day. I normally go to the company's sale that is priced cheaper first and then will go to the higher priced sale later in the day or week. It also helps to know which companies are more inclined to bargain with you and which sales take which forms of payment. The sales listed on Estatesales.net normally state whether or not they accept check or credit cards and if they accept street numbers. Knowing your companies can also help when it comes to bag sales and last day discounts. Companies don't always advertise these, so being a frequent customer will help you get a feel for how much they discount on the days following the first day and if they hold a bag sale. Some companies also only deal with certain kinds of estates. I know there is one company in my area that does mostly contemporary stuff, so I tend to by pass their sales.
*The Early Bird Get the Worm*
Just as in any other avenue of vintage shopping, being early pays off. Bigger sales, the ones that have tons and tons of vintage items, are going to draw in tons of people. There are a few tricks to these sales, in my opinion anyway. I first evaluate the sale -- is it one I am willing to wake up super early for? Is there enough vintage stuff that I am into? Is it a company with good prices? Those types of questions. If the answers are yes, then I will attend the sale on the first day and try be as close to the front of the line as possible. If it's a company that normally charges more money than I am willing to pay, I won't go unto the second or last day. That way I won't feel bad about missing out on something. Now, if it's a sale I just have to go to, I make sure I get their really early. Sometimes I will drive by the night before and see if someone is passing out numbers. Then I will have my place in line and I can sleep in!! Most of the time though, I just get to the sale 3-4 hours before the sale is set to open and get my number. This has been a pretty good gauge for me. If the sale is like the farmhouse sale I went to, I got there like 5 or 6 hours before. I know it sounds crazy, but estate sale people are crazy!! Most companies do allow for street numbers and once you get yours, you are free to do something else (even if some people frown upon it, who cares!!) until the sale starts...just make sure you get back about a half hour before the sale is set to open because sometimes they'll open early -- now always but occasionally. I always remember why I am going to a sale -- what items I am looking for at that specific sale and to head for those first, then I will look at the rest of what the sale has to offer.
In closing, the best way to get to know your way around estate sales is to just keep going. The more you go, the more you will learn about how sales work in your area. Some places might have tons of great items in rural areas, but the city sales are duds. In Southeastern Michigan, both rural and urban areas produce good sales, so I know to check out every sale that is listed. It seems here that the suburbs tend to have more of the duds, but it's not always the case. Just keep working at it and you will no doubt become a pro!!
If I missed anything important or you have any questions, feel free to comment or email me!