Tips for Estate Sale Shopping

estate sale
[Above Image: (clockwise from top) Floral panel painting dated ’73 – $20 for set of 2, 40’s urn style lamp – $5, Side table with magazine slots – $10, Owl lantern – $2, Floral Barkcloth Pillowcase – $3 set of 2, 50’s Floral Club Chair – $40 set of 2]

By Morgan McVeagh

Hey ModShoppers! Morgan here to give you some hints and tips on my absolute favorite weekend pastime: estate sale shopping!

At ModCloth, we think it’s just as important to have a house full of unique and extraordinary decor as it is to have an unrivaled closet full of clothes. When you’ve cleaned out the shelves of your favorite antique malls and thrift stores, it’s time to go straight to the source.

Keep reading for Morgan’s secrets to finding great estate sale deals!

Check the web: Estate sales are usually advertised in three places – Craigslist, the local Pennysaver, and the local newspaper. Hard-copy listings are less descriptive than their online counterparts. Check the web for a broader range of listings.

Plan a route: Estate sales tend to be spread over a wide area. Rather than driving all across town, try to pick a group of sales within close proximity to one another. If you don’t plan accordingly, you may miss something great!

Pack lightly, but efficiently: Don’t forget measuring tape, CASH, a notepad, pen, scotch tape, and a recyclable tote

Prepare: Much like a Saturday spent at the thrift store, estate sales can be packed with pushy shoppers. Some estate sale regulars can be very intimidating. Don’t let that get in the way of acquiring the item of your dreams!

Know what you’re looking for before you start shopping: If you don’t have a general idea of what you’re looking for, you may end up with your hands full of items you don’t need. Impulse buying is at an all-time high at estate sales. Before checking out, think to yourself ‘do I really need another vintage dress?’

Be open-minded, but don’t go overboard: You have to look beyond the white paint and see the oak table that’s underneath. Don’t be too ambitious, though. If it’s woodwork that your table needs, you might want to pass it up and leave it for the experts (for now, anyway).

Try your best to make quick decisions: If you’re not sure whether or not an item fits with your aesthetic, grab it up anyway. You can always put it back later. As soon as you show interest in an item, someone else is bound to snatch it up the second you set it down.

Don’t be afraid to claim your prize: If you’re sure you’d like an item, but it’s too heavy to carry along with you, write ‘SOLD’ on a piece of paper and tape it to the item. Let one of the workers know you’d like to purchase the item and keep browsing.

Learn to barter: Don’t be afraid to bargain with the salesperson. They expect it! Most of the time they’ll give you a better deal. If they don’t cut the price, you can always buy the item at the original price.

Measure measure measure!: The perfect piece might not be so great when it’s stuck on your front porch or in your garage. If an item doesn’t fit in your house, it’s no good to you.

Sales can be hit or miss: It might take a few trips to find a really great sale. Eventually you’ll learn to filter out the not-so-great sales. Here’s a hint…if it’s antiques you’re looking for, avoid sales with the following keywords: La-Z-boy, Ethan Allen, contemporary, multi-family, apartment. Some antique-heavy sales include the following keywords: armoire, oak, Mission, Art Deco, vintage, __ years of accumulation. Certain neighborhoods tend to be better than others. The more often you shop, the better you’ll get at picking out the best sales of the day.

Now that you have the basics, it’s time to get shopping! We suggest you bring a friend to help you carry all of your fun new items. Don’t forget to share all your estate sale finds with us. We’d love to hear your stories!


About ModCloth

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  1. Avatar
    Sari 03/24/2009 at 10:00 am #

    I can’t wait to go Estate Sale shopping now!

  2. Avatar
    Susan 03/26/2009 at 4:29 pm #

    OMG that owl lantern is incredible!

  3. Avatar
    Fine Estate Sales 10/19/2009 at 10:01 am #

    Your passion for estate sales is obvious. I particularly like that you suggest that people learn to make decisions quickly, especially at the beginning of a sale.

    Estate Sales are a little like a Big Sale day at your local department store…controlled chaos…

    Your suggestion to tag an item sold though could land a shopper in some hot water – most of the time it is better to ask one one the estate sales staff, to tag it.

    Take Care


  4. Avatar
    ASB 12/25/2009 at 11:29 am #

    Nice post! These pointers are helpful, especially for those not familiar with estate sales.

    You can find the most adorable things (just see your pic!) including high end but at a fraction of cost. Estate sales are where you’ll find the dealers purchasing to sell in their stores 😉

    I agree with Martin on tagging an item yourself. This is generally frowned upon. Typically, it is marked sold once paid for then the estate sale staff tag such.

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