A Beginner’s Guide to Estate Sales

I was chatting with an Instagram friend the other day and she said that she was intimidated by estate sales. This was not the first time I had heard that from a friend and I thought to myself, “well, if I had not grown up frequenting estate sales with my mother, I might harbor similar feelings towards them.” So, I’m here to tell you that estate sales are nothing like attending an auction at Sotheby’s or Christie’s. I also want to tell you why you absolutely need to get over that fear, because you are seriously missing out.

Nearly everything in this photo was sourced by Kate at estate sales

Perusing estate sales on weekends has long been a favorite pastime of mine, but ever since opening my Etsy shop three years ago, attending estate sales has been of absolute necessity for my business. I suspect I have been to well over 500 sales in my lifetime, so I feel fairly well poised to offer some advice on how to best navigate these mysterious places. The first order of business would be, “how do I even FIND estate sales?”

I am sure every country and every state has their own methods, but for me in the NYC Metro area, EstateSales.net has been an indispensable resource. Nearly every estate sale company operating in and around New York City lists their sales on this site, and the site is also nationwide so I do know that it is likely a very good resource if you are in the United States. The best part of EstateSales.net is that you can input your zip code to see which sales are closest, but you can also see photographs of what will be inside the home. This is how I am able to vet homes before I take the time to go to them, and I hardly ever enter a sale that doesn’t have a very good mid-century inventory. Other ways of finding sales are the app YardSales – or simply checking your local papers or google. Once you find your favorite Estate Sale companies, get on their email lists so you are sure to never miss a good sale.

Rare Powder Blue Mid-Century Alarm Clock – listed at Kate Pearce Vintage

Ok, so now that we know how to find a sale, what do we do now? Most sales happen on weekends and, around NYC/Long Island, I often wait in very long lines to enter them. Want to avoid the lines? Go late in the day, or if you have the flexibility, find that gem of a mid-week sale. Lines also tend to be longer during estate sale season (Spring – Fall). Just be aware that if you do go to the sale on Day 2 or later in the day, you will not have the pick of the litter (but you will undoubtedly score better prices). If there isn’t something that you have your heart set on, going later in the day can really be a win-win.

Velvet mid-century dress sourced by Kate at an estate sale

Many estate sales companies also have lists that are put out early in the morning. If a sale starts at 9am, the list may be put out at 6:30 am and dealers and estate sale junkies will be there to get there names on the list so they can be the first to enter the home ( how do you think all those Brooklyn vintage shops score their steady supply of Eames recliners )?

Ok, we have our sales, we’ve waited in our line and now we’re inside. Now what? Well….. go crazy! Estate sale companies will almost always give you a better deal if you buy in bulk. And unless you were the first one through the door or a price seems very fair to being with, don’t ever pay that price on the tag. In the 500+ sales I have been to, I have only walked out the door on two occasions paying full list price for items. If bargaining intimidates you or offends your unbending propriety, I assure you these companies are expecting you to bargain with them (hence why they price their items as they do).

Art deco acrylic mannequin sourced and for sale by KatePearceVintage

The last bit of advice I’d like to offer about these sales is to please not be intimidated. Sometimes I think it was a good thing I worked on Wall Street before entering this business because my skin was already pretty thick going into it, but don’t let those estate sale gurus push you around. People can get a little crazy in these places, but just remember that the worst thing that can happen is someone says no to your price (and if they say no with attitude, just take a deep breath and remember these people are dealing with a bunch of vultures all day). And if you think you’re the only estate sale freshman in there, I assure you that you aren’t. There are ALL types of customers in these sales: rich, poor, dealers, collectors…. or just that guy walking down the street who decided to pop in to see what all the commotion is about).

Vintage apothecary bottle sourced and for sale by KatePearceVintage

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there! I promise, there is nothing more exhilarating than digging through a dusty basement to find that authentic Fernand Leger ceramic with a $2 price tag on it.

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