19 Best Tips for Shopping Estate Sales Like a Pro

The thrill of the hunt is real. Today I am going to share with you my 19 best tips for shopping estate sales like a pro! 

Shopping estate sales is different than other thrifting. Most sales are held in someone’s home, and sometimes, that can feel a bit weird.

quilt squares at an estate sale shopping

Many times I have had an overwhelming feeling how strange it is that life comes down to strangers digging through all your crap. But I will say, it can be a great place to find a good deal.

I’m ready to reveal all the secrets that go into amazing estate sale finds. But first, let’s cover a few questions.

Why are you going?

Before we get to my top 19 tips, first ask yourself, why are you going? Are you looking for something specific? Do you resell your items that you find? Are you hoping to uncover treasures?

As I said, estate sales are very different than yard sales, thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets, or any other places you like to search for used stuff.

Many sales will have newer household items, and occasionally, you may run across a gem of a sale that is selling fabulous vintage. Whatever the reason you are there, these tips will help you shop an estate sale like a pro.

estate sale shopping for outside items

What you can expect to find at an estate sale

An estate sale is great to shop for many reasons. And over the years, for me, it has been the perfect place to find fabulous vintage items. But estate sales can be a mixed bag.

First off, in most cases, the entire home contents are for sale. So not only can you score a lawn mower, but you might find vintage Pyrex, power tools, vintage linens, home decor, vintage clothing, vintage art, and other everyday items.

But an estate could also be one of the best places for that unique treasure! There will be smaller items, a great piece of furniture, or other unique finds. You never know what you will uncover!

Do people haggle at estate sales?

Most estate sale liquidators will not adjust prices on the first day, especially on any popular item. You have a better chance of getting a good bargain as the days go on of the sale. Most sales run anywhere from 2 to 4 days depending on the amount of stuff in the house.

How do I find estate sales to go to?

First off, you need to find where they are. I would suggest downloading the app for Estatesales.net to have on your phone. This will give you the current list of sales, give you a sneak peek of items they are selling, and also let you know what is coming up. 

estate sale shopping app

All reputable estate sale companies advertise on this. The great thing with the app is if you are traveling to another city, you can have your settings to always provide you with the listings of the local sales to wherever you go. You can also set your zip code and the mile radius you are willing to travel.

Back in the day, estate sale shopping used to be listed in the local newspapers, but everything is digital now so the app is the best place to start. You can also find some sales listed on Facebook marketplace, but these may be privately done sales. That isn’t a bad thing, just be aware what estate sale company is running it.

You will get to know how each company runs their sales, and this can be helpful moving forward as a frequent shopper.

Descriptions and terms

When choosing a sale to go to, read all of the details available for the sale. Pictures will be listed to let you know what types of items will be there, and you can determine if it is worth your time.

The app has two tabs that are important to review, descriptions and terms.

descriptions and terms of the estate sale shopping

Descriptions will list the types and things and you will see at the sale. Terms will outline what the estate sale companies policy is. This may include payment options, as many do not accept credit cards.

Be aware if a sign-up sheet will be set out at a certain time and what restrictions there are for signing up and leaving after. The app will tell you everything you need to know about upcoming sales and prepare you for your treasure hunt.

If this is your first time going to that area of town, review maps prior to getting in the car and use your GPS directions from the map. There are often street signs directing you to the sale, but don’t count on these.

estate sales shopping how to find

Estate sale pro tips:

Arrive early and get on ‘the list’

The early bird gets the worm. If you can get on the list early, this is the best practice, especially if there is stuff that you are interested in. And generally, there are a lot of people that will be attending the sale as well. 

The terms will tell you if they offer a sign up list. Many times, if the estate sale companies don’t supply their own waiting list, people waiting will create one. Some companies hand out numbers.

Arrive early, get a number, and adhere to the restrictions they have for leaving and returning when the sale starts. You don’t have to be the first person in, but top 20 is desirable if there is amazing stuff advertised.

estate sale shopping

Scoping out the property

When you arrive at the property early, well before the sale starts, take the time to scope out your surroundings. Are there outbuildings or garages? Do they appear to be set up for the sale? Are there items priced on the porch or in the backyard?

I like to do a walk around, checking out the property and taking note of all the areas where the sale will be offering items. In the over 20 years I have been estate sale shopping, I have only been yelled at once for doing this (hahahaha) so it’s totally worth it to get the lay of the land first.

Plan a strategy based on what you really want

If you want to shop like a pro, be detailed oriented. Review the photos and pinpoint what you really want.

I go as far as noticing all the photos and assessing the possible floor plan. What room is the item in? Look at the flooring in the picture. What clues can you see that might tell you where that item is?

I have even been known to peek into windows while walking around the property to help me find what room I might want to go to first. If there is nothing specific I want, I like to start in the basement. Come up with your plan of attack before entering the house when the sale starts.

estate sale shopping mirror

Don’t hesitate

If a sale is awesome and you are on the hunt for something you really want, don’t hesitate. Never leave it behind, or it will be gone. If your hand is not on it or you haven’t pulled the tag (if this is permissible for larger pieces) then it will be someone else’s.

I have a rule about buying what I really love. Don’t stop to think where you will put it. If you love it, and the price is right, you will find a place for it.

Be nice

This is important, especially if you plan to frequent sales in your area. Vintage communities are small for dealers, and most people who frequently shop get recognized.

There is a lady I often see at sales who is a known problem around the county, as she isn’t much fun and definitely not nice. People remember. Companies also remember and often ban anyone who has shoplifted or switched prices. Integrity is never worth saving a few bucks.

Bring a large shopping bag, if allowed

Most estate sale check out areas will have a hold area where you can stack things up if you are shopping and finding lots. If allowed, a sturdy reusable shopping bag is great to carry around so you can put small items in and then begin your pile in the hold area.

Some sales will not allow large purses, but will allow open type shopping baskets to stack items in. Be aware of their restrictions.

estate sale shopping

Utilize the HOLD table and go back for more

Sellers love when you make a pile and often are very helpful for their best shoppers! Utilize the hold table so your hands are free. Find out the sellers policy for larger pieces of furniture. Can you pull the tag? Or must you tell a worker you want it so they can put a SOLD tag with your name on it?

Check all the available areas

If you have checked out the property properly prior to the sale starting, don’t forget to go back through each of the spaces.

Check porches, decks, outbuildings, garages, basements, attics, and all the areas that items may be for sale. Ask the people running the sale if you are unsure where you can go. And if there is a barn, definitely head there!

Assess cleanliness to see what to buy

There are some things I would never buy used. There are also some items I am very picky about. Estate sales are awesome because you are actually seeing the surroundings that the item has probably lived in throughout its existence.

Unlike flea markets, where you never know where items have come from, an estate sale will give you clues. Does the house smell like mold? Is it filthy dirty? Or has it been properly cared for through the years.

I tend to never buy textiles that cannot be washed in the washing machine if the house hasn’t been cared for. If it is gross, it can definitely be a turn off for purchasing certain items that may be harboring mold, bugs, or something else disgusting. No one wants to bring home bed bugs.

estate sale shopping for larger items

Make a pass throughout the house, then go again

Often for the best estate sales, I will do one whole lap of the house and all available areas and grab up all that I am wanting. Then I will do the loop a second or third time to make sure I have seen it all.

Sometimes items will be uncovered as shoppers take things away. People also have been known to pick something up that they might want, carry it around, then set it back down anywhere in the house if they have decided against it. You just might find something you didn’t see the first time.

If it has a plug, test it

This seems like a no brainer, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard stories of people buying things and they don’t work. It is easy to get caught up in the frenzy of a good sale. But if it has a plug, then plug it in and test it.

Especially lamps. Don’t skip this step if there is no bulb, go find one. A team member is often happy to help with this endeavor.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Many people will pick items up and not find a price tag, then put it back down. I have personally purchased great items because someone had it first, but set it back because there wasn’t a price.

Always ask. If you see something you love that appears to not be for sale, ask. You might be surprised. 

estate sale shopping
This tablecloth was not for sale, I had to ask about it as it was being used on a display table. They thought no one would want it because some of the lace was torn on one side. I didn’t care.

Watch as you are rung up

If you are purchasing a lot to resell, organize items together and watch as they are rung up. A receipt is always great to have so you can keep track of the purchases. Mistakes are often made, and it is always best to not be surprised at the end on your total, as that will hold up the line.

When I get items back to my warehouse, I also review the receipt and take inventory of all that was purchased.

Pay with cash or check if allowed

Many companies do not take credit cards, and if they do, there is a fee. Cash is always best, but if checks are accepted, a check is a great way to track what you are spending. Unless of course, you need to hide that info from anyone, then cash is king!

If it was your jam, go back on the last day

If you visit a sale that had lots of great items but they were out of your price range, go back on the last day. The first day is always full price and there usually is no dealing. If the sale goes a second or third day, this is when the deals will happen. Some companies will do 50% off after the first day, and some do a lot less off. But the best deals will be found on the final day.

The sellers usually make great deals before they have to haul everything away, so if you want bargains, the last day of the sale will be your best day to get them.

Get to know the staff

If you plan to frequent estate sales in your area, get to know the staff. They can tell you about upcoming sales, offer you a good price on different things, and will be more helpful in general when they know you are a repeat customer. A good relationship can be the beginning of many future great deals!

Be prepared if you are looking for something specific

If you are shopping for your own home, then you may want to come prepared. Have your measurements handy in your phone, if looking for something size specific. Bring a tape measure and make sure those furniture pieces will fit before dragging them home.

To get the best unique pieces for your home, you may end up paying top dollar, but the prices will still be less than retail. Vintage offers way better quality for a much lower price, along with lots of style!

estate sale shopping for larger items

Bring your own help to move larger items

If you have a large piece you have purchased, bring someone to help you move it. The staff isn’t always able or willing to do this. Also keep in mind, when the last day is to remove items from the premises. Larger items don’t have to leave with you on the day you shop, but they will need to get picked up before the sale is over.

Okay my friends, now you are ready to shop estate sales like the pros! Have fun and happy hunting!

Follow me on Pinterest for inspiration and ideas to style all your fabulous finds.

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