“Hello, my name is Kim, and I am an Estate Sale Junkie.”
I wasn’t always an ESJ. I started with what seemed to be relatively harmless excursions: thrift store perusing, perhaps the random yard or garage sale were as far as I explored. It all changed when, about a year ago, my Dad introduced me to the intriguing underworld known as the estate sale network.
I’ve now come to understand that estate sales are different from the standard garage sale. A garage or yard sale is usually small in scope and tends to include items that folks are just trying to get rid of: old toys, lots of clothes, maybe the random household item. With an estate sale, the contents of the whole house are up for grabs. Another big difference: estate sales are almost always organized by professional companies.
Dad was hooked in himself when a friend casually asked him to tag along to a local estate sale. He was fascinated by the yard tools, Pyrex dishes, Christmas china – all being sold at terrific prices. He was soon calling me weekly to describe his latest “score”, and assuring me that there was no reason to ever pay retail again.
Last year, during a visit to the west coast, we accompanied Dad to see what all the fuss was about. We arrived at the first sale a full 45 minutes before it was to start. This would be my first glimpse at the ESJ sub-culture. Feeling a bit like an amateur anthropologist, I observed the tribe with its accepted rules of conduct. A hierarchy was established through the distribution of numbers which dictated where you would be placed in line for admission to the sale. I was surprised to find out that the woman who I deemed to be a tribe queen, the woman who distributed the numbers, was self-appointed! She did not work for the estate sale company that had organized the sale – she just stepped in and took charge. Fascinating.
Four sales later I began to understand Dad’s addiction: it was the thrill of the hunt, the idea that perhaps you’d find something akin to those million dollar Rhino Cups featured on last year’s Antique Road Show . I became hooked.
Back home, I subscribed to http://www.estatesales.net (the best source I’ve found for estate sale news and events). Each week I began to scour the featured sale photos. I searched for intriguing artifacts worthy of an early morning trip in ridiculous Northern Virginia traffic.
Now, a full year in, I’ve learned that there are a few “ESTATE SALE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT”:
- Arrive early and respect the numbering process. I have seen two sweet looking little ‘ol ladies almost throw-down because one was not abiding by her place in line.
- Cash is King. Most estate sales only take cash; read the sale fine print before you arrive.
- If you want it; pick it up. Possession is literally the law. I once picked up a bathroom trashcan that I thought I might buy. Another woman literally stalked me throughout the house, hoping I would put it down. I bought the thing on principle (and it looks very nice in my powder room, thank you very much).
- Merchandise selection is best on the first day; cheapest on the final day. Most estate sales run Thursday or Friday through Sunday. Thursdays you will get the best selection, but by Sunday what’s left will be half price.
- The best deals are yard tools and kitchen items. For my son’s first apartment we bought just about everything for his kitchen at estate sales. Yard tools are almost always a good deal too, but they go fast so walk through the garage first.
- Play by the rules. I recently watched a woman go through a sale and mark items with yellow sticky tabs – she noted that this meant the items had been sold. Turned out later she didn’t work for the estate sale company – she was just being greedy! She had no intention of buying all those items, she just wanted more time to “shop.” FOUL! Don’t be that girl.
- Once you buy it, you own it. Inspect items carefully before you purchase. If it’s cracked or chipped make sure you aren’t paying too much.
- Keep your expectations low. Looking for Pyrex dishes and glass cake plates – you’re gonna score. If you think you’re going to find a tiffany lamp for $2 you’re going to be disappointed.
- Watch for “good bones.” Most furniture is likely to be either expensive antiques or very worn out and dated. Be on the look-out for pieces that are sturdy, but may be in need of a little update.
Check out this $17 dingy vinyl yellow that my cousin Joyce spotted buried in a basement:
Which transformed into this beauty:
Estate sales aren’t for everyone. Husband Greg won’t tag along anymore; he feels like he is riffling through the possessions of dead people. But if you are a bargain hunter and you want to meet some truly interesting people, you just might be a fellow ESJ. One of the best ESJs: Cari Cucksey who hosts Cash and Cari on HGTV. I am a huge Cari groupie and love her ESJ tips and advice.
I’m wondering how may other ESJs are out there? What advice would you give to novice bargain hunters?
PS: Being that it’s now June, an early Happy Father’s Day wish to my Dad. Hope you find some great stuff this weekend; but just remember that 16 blue and white Chinese vases are probably enough.