Estate sales are perfect for finding unique and sometimes discounted items for your home. With the right strategy you can swap current items for vintage treasures that will make your home unique and inviting. However, attending and shopping an estate sale can be intimidating when you don't know what to expect. These simple tips will make it easy to feel confident and comfortable when arriving at an estate sale.

By Laura Putnam

The key to a successful estate sale starts long before you enter the door. It starts with research before you go. Start by checking community listings and Craigslist. There are also several sites dedicated to listing upcoming sales sorted by ZIP code. Generally an estate sale involves all or most of the contents of a home being put up for sale right in place within the home.

Whenever possible, search ahead of time to see if there are pictures of the items being sold. When there aren't pictures, read the description of the ads closely. Although we all end up at a bust of a sale from time to time, there are hints in the descriptions that can help you choose which sales are worth attending. 

Another tip is that generally a sale will have higher-quality items when it is being put on by a professional management company. Get the card of someone running one that you liked and you might be able to be set up for notifications for future sales.

2. Get There Early

If you found a sale that sounds like it's going to be a really good one, you won't be alone. Plan on getting there early and expect to wait in lines. Shoppers generally line up before the start of the sale. Often, there will be numbers handed out and they call in shoppers by number. Just be patient; although being at the very front of the line is great, it is not necessary. Try not to look at anything that is leaving the house before you get in! Whenever a sale is on a Friday, that is usually your best day to attend. However, Sundays can be good for negotiating a great price on items that are still left.

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3. Grab It When You See It and Shop in Pairs

While being patient and courteous is key, if you see something you like, don't hesitate to grab it. If it is too large to grab, they will often have tickets on it that are meant to be grabbed and brought to the checkout station. If you wait on an item, you run the risk of someone else picking it up. To really have a strong estate sale game, bring a friend and, even better, a friend who isn't shopping. Setting up someone as a "pile watcher" is the best way to keep shopping without having to worry about what you've already picked out. If you don't have a friend with you, figure out who is working there; workers will sometimes help you designate a spot to keep your finds while you continue to shop.

4. Have a Plan, But Be Flexible

It is always a good idea to go into an estate sale with a few items in mind and what you are willing to pay. However, don't lose sight of the opportunity estate sales bring to find unique items. If something really catches your eye and is affordable, consider it even if you don't know where you would put it. If you really love it, you will be amazed at how you end up finding a way to use it, and you will never have to worry about the one that "got away."

5. Find Balance Between Courteous and Assertive

When you are attending an estate sale, you have to find that balance of being courteous and kind but still holding your own. The person setting the prices and taking the money is trying to get the most they can because they need the money, it could be their job, they could be emotionally attached to the items being sold, or they might be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity that is for sale. Whichever version it is, kindness will go a long way.

However, that doesn't mean you should overpay. Often, items at an estate sale are not priced and you are required to ask for each item. Sometimes this can work to your advantage, especially if you are asking for pricing on a group of items. Whenever possible, don't ask for prices one at a time, ask once you have gathered up all the items you want and generally you will pay less per item. Know what you are willing and able to pay when heading in and always be willing to walk away if the price isn't right.

The most important tip is don't be afraid to ask for a lower price; it's part of the process. If you are reasonable with your request, you will find it is often granted.

6. Visit All the Areas

Most people head inside of the home to start jumping between rooms to find the best items. Don't overlook the other options. Often the garage and basement are also available for shopping and can house some great finds. Tents or outdoor areas are also often set out in yards or driveways where more items are for sale. Of course, always check before entering any of the areas to make sure it is OK with the homeowners.

7. Cash Is King

With the advancements in mobile-payment devices, credit is more of an option at estate sales than it has been in the past. However, cash being king will never change. You will almost always be able to negotiate a better price if you are paying with cash.

8. Have a Plan to Get Everything Home

There is nothing worse than finding the perfect piece that you have been hunting down for years and not being able to fit it in your vehicle, or buying so many small items that you can't get them in your car. Have a plan before you pay as to how you will fit what you bought and how you will move it. If it is not something you can do yourself, inquire first if there are delivery options and if there is anyone there who can help carry items.

If you follow these eight simple tips you will find that shopping estates sales will not just be the perfect place to find things but also a great way to spend a day!


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