How to Shop Estate Sales for Better Deals (My Experience)

by John-Paul Cody

Estate sale shopping is like modern day treasure hunting. 

You’ll find deals that don’t exist anywhere else. 

How do I know this? 

Because I’ve been an avid estate sale shopper for years, and found unbelievable stuff. 

Today, I’ll share how to shop estate sales so you get the best deals, and helpful estate sale tips I’ve learned over the years. 

How to Shop Estate Sales

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Shopping estate sales is thrilling to say the least. 

You never know what you’ll see, and could end up finding treasure.

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Let’s get into the strategies you should know when going to estate sales, whether you are a reseller or not.

What to Bring

A successful estate sale trip starts with bringing the right things. 

Here’s my go to checklist I’ve developed over the years.

  • Tote bag – trust me, your arms will fill up fast, as you’re picking up items at the sale. Bring a tote bag with you to make carrying items a breeze. 
  • Sunglasses – improves your poker face during negotiations
  • Plenty of room in your vehicle – if the car is full before your shopping is over, you might have to leave things behind, or ask the host to hold an item so you can come back later
  • Extra cash – you never know when you’ll come across that once in a lifetime find. Make sure you have extra cash so you don’t have to leave it behind

Arrival Time

The first rule of estate sale shopping is that if you arrive when the sale starts, you’re late. 

In fact, you’re very late. 

Estate sale newbies don’t realize that serious shoppers arrive 15 minutes to an hour before the sale even starts. 

Why? 

Because, estate sale hosts always operate on a ‘first come first enter’ rule. Meaning, the people who arrived first, will get to enter the home/estate and begin collecting items before everyone else. 

In reality, this might give these people a few minute head start, which doesn’t sound like much. 

But, I can tell you from experience that a few minutes can be the difference between scoring a Tiffany antique lamp or vintage Jordans vs walking away empty handed.

Of all estate sale tips, getting to the sale at least 15 minutes early is a must. If you want a more casual thrifting experience, try shopping flea markets or going to pawn shops.

Room Selection

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Let’s assume you arrived nice and early. 

Next, you’ll want to consider which rooms to visit first. 

This depends on what you are searching for, so it’ll vary by person. Bear in mind, each room usually showcases things you’d typically find in that space (example: in a garage, you’ll find a lawn mower, old tools, Halloween decorations, etc.)

One thing I learned during years of visiting estate sales, when inspecting a room ALWAYS look in all corners, closets, chests, behind doors, and in cabinets.

Oftentimes, you’ll find extra goodies in those places that other estate sale shoppers overlooked. 

5 Estate Sale Tips 

Over the years, I’ve learned a bunch of tips for estate sales that helped me find sweeter deals. 

1. Get Steep Discounts on the Last Day

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The average estate sale starts on Friday and ends on Sunday. Most people don’t realize that the longer the sale lasts, the deeper the discounts get. 

If you think about it, this trend makes sense.

Initially, they try selling everything for top dollar, but as time goes on they have less time to make the sale. 

For example, something that starts out as $100 on Friday, will be $90 on Saturday, and $70 on Sunday. 

So if you really want a deal, go on the final day of the sale (Sunday). Keep in mind though, a lot of the items will be picked over by then.

2. Check Out Photos Online to Review Inventory Early

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Most estate sales advertise what’s for sale beforehand. 

They tease items for sale to generate buzz and get more foot traffic. 

Look through the inventory before going to the sale, so you know what items to target. 

Or if you live in a larger area, you’ll be faced with the tough decision of choosing which estate sales to attend, and which to pass on. 

Viewing sale pictures beforehand make it easier to decide which ones you want to check out, when you have lots to choose from. 

3. Bring Plenty of Cash

When I was getting started, I remember visiting a huge estate sale in my area.

I was shocked how good the items were. But then halfway through the house, I realized I didn’t bring enough cash to cover everything I grabbed.

It was a good reminder to always bring plenty of cash to estate sales, because you never know when you’ll hit a once in a lifetime sale.

A good rule of thumb would be to bring $200-$300 cash, otherwise you’ll probably run out of cash if you find an amazing sale. 

4. Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions

Some people specialize in collecting specific items like antique glassware or vintage shoes. 

If you are looking for certain items or brands at estate sales, you have two options. 

  • Option 1: Guess where you might find these items in the house, and hope it works out. 
  • Option 2: Ask one of the estate sale workers if they have what you are looking for. 

Option two removes the guesswork, so you have a better shot of finding your target items.

5. Take a Stab at Negotiating 

One of the perks of estate sales and shopping garage sales is the opportunity to negotiate lower prices. 

From my experience, the easiest way to negotiate at estate sales is to say “can you do any better than this price?” 

This little trick has gotten me $10-$50 knocked off the price multiple times. You can apply similar strategies when negotiating at pawn shops.  

If you are hesitant to do this, remember that most estate sale hosts expect shoppers to negotiate and often build this into their pricing. 

Wrapping Up

How to shop estate sales is easier than you think. 

Hopefully these tips and strategies give you an edge, so you can find better deals. 

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About the Author

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John-Paul Cody is the creator of Trends & Tactics, with the mission of helping people demystify entrepreneurship and money so they can live life on their terms. John-Paul has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from UNC Chapel Hill, and currently works in data analytics and marketing.