How to Master Estate Sales for Great Vintage Finds

Learn how to find and shop at estate sales.

For the uninitiated, estate sales are similar to yard sales, but only way better. Let me put it plainly: estate sales are the Champagne (and not just sparkling wine) of the secondhand shopping world. You may find better bargains at a yard sale, but the pickings are generally slimmer. You will find clothes that the kids have outgrown, paperback books, and old toasters, but generally these are the things that people no longer want. Estate sales, on the other hand, are more likely to include collectibles, art, really nice furniture pieces, and other cool stuff. Generally, this is stuff that people have wanted but need to jettison for one reason or another.

Just What are Estate Sales?

Estate sales, or tag sales in some parts of the country, are a way of liquidating the belongings of a home or estate. The most common reasons for having an estate sale are needing to make a move, downsizing, divorce, and after the death of a loved one. Estates sales can happen one of two ways: The public is invited into the home to purchase items that have been marked for sale, or the contents of the home are transported to a warehouse and sold there.

Whether in the home or the warehouse, items can also be auctioned off via an estate auction, instead of being marked with a selling price. Auctions are a different creature though. I bring them up, because some advertisements might not be clear about whether they are holding an auction or a sale.

Estate sales can be held by the homeowners, but more are hosted by a company that manages the sale. They take a commission of everything sold for their services.

Resources for Finding Estate Sales

  • Estate Sale Network – Online interactive site for finding estate sales.
  • – Another online site for estate sales.
  • CraigsList – As always, be somewhat wary of CraigsList, but it can be a useful resource.
  • Classified Ads – Many estate sale companies still use newspaper classified ads.
  • Social Media – Two of my regular estate sale sellers I found via Facebook.
  • Thrift Stores/Flea Markets/Antique Stores – Many of these places, also run estate sales and sell the leftover items in their shops. Ask the next time you are out shopping at your local thrift store, flea market or antique shop.
  • Email List – When you find an estate sale, make sure to sign up for their email list.

Haggling or Finding Bargains

Haggling is considered acceptable as far as estate sale etiquette goes. There is an art to it though. Obviously, there isn’t much incentive for the sellers to reduce prices on the most coveted finds. You can ask, but don’t be disappoint when it doesn’t work out. Your best bet for haggling is to go later in the day. You may miss the cooler finds, but the sellers may be more motivated to reduce prices on the items closer to the end of the day.

If you find yourself feeling conflicted about going through someone’s home and buying up their things, remember that you are helping the family left behind settle a loved one’s estate or helping someone get rid of things for which they no longer have room.

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Image: Heartland Estates