Estate Saling 101 Series

I’ve been going to Estate/Yard/Garage/Rummage Sales since I was a kid.  My mom always dragged us along and I hated it, but now… I’m an addict.  Every weekend my husband and I hit estate sales.  I’m going to break down our strategy for estate saling for you to help you make your experience as fun and care-free as possible.

The Planning Stage

1.       Know the difference between Garage Sales and Estate Sales.
Garage Sales: great if you have kids.  A lot of people sell lightly worn children’s clothing, toys and various other things at garage/yard sales.  Other than that, the chance finding anything of value is really quite non-existent.  Most people use garage/yard sales as a way to sell their garbage.  Literally.  And that is why we frequent Estate Sales instead.

Estate Sales:  Mostly, estate sales happen after someone passes away.  It’s a way for the family to liquidate whatever items are left from their loved one.  Often, you’ll find antiques, furniture, china, collectibles and clothing at estate sales.  The best part of Estate Sales... they happen ALL YEAR LONG!

2.       Know your source for ads.
Know where to look for the ads showcasing Estate Sales.  Locally, we find them in the Almanac and the Pennysaver.  There are also various iPhone apps available that list and pinpoint the sales on a map.  We use Garage Sale Rover every weekend.  Some sources may list items being sold and may even offer photos of said items.  If using Craigslist, PAY ATTENTION TO DATES.  Unless the user deletes the ad, it will stay on Craigslist until it expires.  More than a few times we've shown up to sales 2 weeks after they happened thanks to Craigslist.

3.       Choose your locations.
When hitting estate sales it is absolutely imperative that you choose a good neighborhood.  Upscale neighborhoods usually offer the most worthwhile items.  But, it depends what you are looking for.  Sometimes we hit the artsy areas of town and find some pretty interesting things.  In the Pittsburgh area we frequent Upper St. Clair, Peters Township, Squirrel Hill, Sewickley and Mt. Lebanon.

4.       Map out your route.
Once you choose which sales you want to hit, list them all out on a piece of paper in the order you want to hit them.  Besides location being considered, you may want to think about the items you were looking to get your hands on and how desirable they would be to others.  This may influence how early you want to arrive at a sale.  Make sure when you make your list to write down the full address!  This way you can use your GPS and not get lost.  Most times, the directions given in the ads are awful.

5.       Know your local Estate Sale Companies.
We have learned from experience that we favor certain companies over others.  Certain companies price higher or vend clients that don’t necessarily have much to offer.  Then there are those that price high, but always host high-end clients with a lot to offer.  Some companies haggle better, others will never budge on a price.  Some take credit cards, others only take cash or check.  This will take time, getting to know the companies, but it helps when choosing the ones you hit once you do get familiar.  We know there are certain companies to completely avoid.  Most companies have lists available at each sale of other sales they are hosting.  Grab one and make sure you’ve got all the ones in your designated area on your route!

6.       Always have cash, checkbook and credit card with you.
I usually always have at least $60 in cash on me, plus a checkbook and credit card.  I try to only use the cash, but sometimes there’s a huge piece that you just CANNOT pass up.  It’s best to get your cash the night before.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting part 2 of this series:  Estate Saling - Being Prepared 

If you guys have any tips or tricks that you want to share with us, let us know! 

Being Prepared
I’m going to give you some of my helpful hints for making Estate Saling a pleasant experience.  Lord knows, that it definitely has the potential to make a person detest crowds and stinky old houses and possibly develop a severe anxiety disorder when faced with these things.  So these tips might prevent all that fun stuff from happening.  I've learned all of this the hard way and now I pass my wisdom onto you!

1.       Have your GPS ready to go!
Chances are, you won’t know how to get to all the addresses of the sales, so a GPS is a necessity!

2.       Pack a Snack Pack
Take water, pop, something salty and something sweet.  Make sure not to leave without having your coffee first!  My preferred snacks include Smart Water, Chex Mix, something fruity and some Pepsi Next.  If you get too hungry, it will make dealing with crowds and pushy people much more difficult!

3.       Always know where the nearest bathroom is. 
Most estate sales will not let you use the residence restroom.  Most pharmacies with in-house minute clinics or urgent cares have public restrooms to use.  And if you drink a huge cup of coffee early in the a.m., you can bet you’ll need to go a few hours later.

4.       Prepare yourself mentally for the crowds. If you aren’t prepared, it can get ugly.  There have been many a time when I wanted to deck someone.  People have a habit of finding the smallest hallway that YOU want to walk through and they just stand there staring at the wall for some unknown reason.  Prepare yourself to stay calm.  Because IT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU.

5.       Get plenty of sleep.  Saling is exhausting! 

6.       Take a large vehicle for any big loot you find.  If you’re taking a truck make sure to have a tarp (in case of rain) and bungee cords for tying
stuff down.

7.       Bring along reusable shopping totes or boxes to stash the little stuff in in your car.  You don’t want everything flying around when you’re racing to the next sale.

8.       Check the weather and dress appropriately!
A lot of early mornings are much chillier than the temp at 11am.  It’s best to wear layers and start peeling them off as the temperature rises.  And wear comfy shoes!

Check back tomorrow for the finale of this series: Estate Saling – What to Buy and How to Buy It. 

Knowing What to Buy & How to Buy It

For the finale of this series I’m going to talk about knowing what to buy and how to buy it.  There is much more to buying things at estate sales than simply forking over some cash.  Hopefully, this will help you maximize the investment and/or return on your purchase.

1.       Looking for treasures
I read the descriptions of what is being sold at the sales in the ads.  This gives me an idea of what I should be looking for.  I tend to be more drawn to the tiny treasures as opposed to the big pieces of antique furniture.  Most antique collectors are after that sort of stuff and most times, the companies liquidating the items are FULLY aware that what they have is worth something… and they charge accordingly.  But, when you happen to be digging through a box of miscellaneous “junk” and find an old vintage pocket knife with the makers name and year stamped on it… THAT is a treasure.  No one notices the tiny little things like that.  My husband lives to find things of this nature.  Often, he buys them for about 50 cents, and can turn around and sell them on eBay for $20.  Which brings me to my next point:

2.       Always have your phone with eBay access on hand!
If you are ever unsure of the value of a particular item, eBay will either tell you it’s crap or confirm your instincts that it’s a treasure.  One particular sale we hit, my eyes immediately were drawn to a stack of leather belts with gigantic gold buckles.  I gasped and said quietly, “Christopher Ross, oh my gosh.”  I knew from reading Sea of Shoes that these belts are collectors’ items and extremely hard to find.  I braced myself for an outrageous price tag, assuming that the company had to know what these were worth.  $18 each.  I thought they were knock offs, of course, $18 was too good to be true.  I checked the back of each buckle and yep, each were stamped with the makers signature and the year of conception.  One was actually by designer Margerita Barrera who worked along side Christopher Ross and emulated his style magnificently.  eBay confirmed the validity of my finds… so I bought them all.  Upon further investigation I found that the net worth of all three belts was upward of $3,000 and each buckle was plated in solid gold.  Let’s just say… I struck gold.  Literally.  So between eBay and my obsession with reading fashion blogs, I was able to actually make an investment with this purchase.
3.       Have a vision for turning junk into treasures.
This is almost always my purpose for estate saling… finding something old that I can make new and awesome.  Like these old brass bookends.  I loved the shape, but couldn’t stand the dirty finish.  Spray paint can work wonders!

4.       Know when Half-Time is.Every estate sale company designates a time in the afternoon when all items are ½ off.  Usually, they just want to get rid of everything by the time the sale is over.  If there is a large item (physically or cost wise) maybe go back at half-time to get it.  There is risk, however, in doing this.  Risk that someone else will buy it in that time.  So evaluate just how badly you want this item.. if it’s desperation you find, don’t wait.  
5.       Pick up what you like and decide later.
One thing to remember about estate saling… PEOPLE ARE VULTURES.  If you find something you like, pick it up!  Carry it around while you look around the house so that no one else gets their hands on it.  Then make your decision once you’re done looking.  I’ve learned this one the hard way!

6.       Don't be afraid to haggle.
The 2 main reasons for having an estate sale is to get rid of everything and make some money doing it.  If it means making the sale, most companies will go down on the price.  I try not to talk them down more than 10%, because frankly, anymore is quite insulting.  If you really feel they're asking too much, that's when you should consider waiting for half-time.  Sometimes if you are buying more than one item.. let's say 2 items marked $15 each, perhaps offer $25 for both.  Again, knowing the companies comes in handy with this.  You become familiar with those that are willing to negotiate with you and those who are not.

I hope this series helps make your saling excursion more productive and less painful.  If it’s not done right, it can be a miserable experience!  But if you take care, it can be so fun and so addictive!  We would love to hear any tips and hints you guys may have to make saling a little more fun.  Share with us!
1.  Vintage doll furniture  2.  Vintage liquor bottles  3.  A musty old room filled with lots of musty old stuff  4.  The most awesome wallpaper I have ever seen!

5.  Vintage beer cans  6.  Hanging flower pots (retail at $10-$15 each... bought for $3 each!)  7.  Creepy blue leather jacket   8.  Box full of vintage stamps for $8

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