Buying antiques at estate sales is not for the faint of heart. It can be a wonderful source for finding some great antiques and collectibles at some pretty decent prices. In some parts of the country, you will find many more estate auctions than estate sales. The reason I say it is not for the faint of heart, it can be a very competitive situation when you have professional antique dealers all trying to get to those “treasures” first. Sometimes the serious estate sales shopper will get in line up to 2-3 hours before the doors open to the estate sale. Some of the sales will only allow a specified number of people in the door at a time. Estate sales are known as tag sales in some parts of the country.
Once the doors open it is every man (woman) for himself. This is where the “fun” starts. Many of the antique dealers have their favorite place to go first. Book dealers head to the bookcases, tool dealers head to the garage. You get the idea, they want to go where they have the best chance to find their area of expertise. Most of the estate sales are listed in the paper and many are now being listed online also. If you can find an estate sale online, you can get a chance to preview at least part of what is being offered. If there are several sales being offered at the same time, which in larger cities this is almost certainly true, it will help you decide which estate sale you want to go to first.
Some serious estate sale shoppers have their favorite estate sale agents. They know the quality of the estates they normally handle and how they price things. The role of the estate sale agent is to get as much money as possible for the owners of the estate, but also to liquidate it as quickly as possible. Most estate sales start on Thursday or Friday and end on Sunday, but it varies by the organizers. I am most familiar with Texas estate sales and Dallas estate sales in particular. There, on the first day of the estate sale, they stick pretty close to full price. The second day the prices are lowered by 25% and the last day, it goes to 50% off. Most sales will allow you to leave a bid at any time, and they will call you if they accept your bid.
If you find something you are interested in buying, and it is a good price, you will have to act quickly. Those people didn’t wait in line for two hours because they wanted you to take all the time you wanted to make up your mind. You will see some antique dealers grabbing everything in site and then taking it over to a corner and then decide what they really want. That is very frustrating, especially when some of them only end up with a couple of items. Everyone has their own strategy. The same goes for finding estate sales. Some still rely entirely on the newspaper because that is the way they have always done it. Others will rely on the online estate sales sites entirely. One good estate sale website to check out is http://www.estatesales.net/. They allow a lot of photos and you can get a good idea of what is being offered at that estate sale. Then in many cities there will be a local site like http://www.24-7estatesales.com/ in Dallas.
Once you start going to estate sales you will learn the part of your community where most of the good estate sales are located. There are always exceptions. Two of the best buys we ever made were in neighborhoods that you would never think you would find great antiques. Both houses were packed full of great things. So don’t give up on an area because you haven’t found a good sale in that part of town in a while. Always keep an eye out for estate sales signs when you are driving around. Some estate sales are not advertised. These are usually put on by individuals that don’t think it is worth hiring a professional to handle the estate. You will usually find a lot of things overpriced and some things way under priced because they don’t know the values of the items in the estate. There are hundreds and sometimes thousands of items in an estate sale that all have to be priced. It is a monumental task and takes a team to put one together. We have worked on a few of them, and there is a lot more work than you would imagine.
Even though this is about buying antiques at estate sales, they are great places to find many other things. They are usually liquidating everything that the people owned, so if your lawnmower or microwave just went out, you might find a bargain on one that is not very old. I have seen $1500 refrigerators that are less than a year old sale for $300-$400 at estate sales on the second or third day. So if you don’t find an antique or collectible you like you might find another bargain. Estate sales can be a great source for buying antiques.