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19 Easy Estate Sale Shopping Tips from a Pro

Now that warm weather is the status quo, there will be more estate sales, garage sales, and outdoor flea markets. If you love vintage shopping like I do, it’s good to know the best ways to get the best deals. Here are 19 easy estate sale shopping tips from a pro.

I’m always on the lookout for estate sale finds. Whether you are looking for small or large items to accessorize your home decor or items to repurpose as DIY projects, estate sales offer a fabulous opportunity to buy high-quality items for a fraction of their original price.

How to get the best price at an estate sale? How to know if you are getting a good deal? How to know what is worth buying and what you should pass on? How to make sure you have a pleasant shopping experience?

These 19 tips will answer all your questions.

Estate sales (along with flea markets and garage sales) are truly a place where “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”.

The rules for estate sale shopping are a bit different from antique mall shopping. As I mentioned in my post about shopping at an antique mall or thrift shop, they are retail brick and mortar establishments that are open all the time.

Estate sales and flea markets have different rules and guidelines. And it helps if you know what those are.

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down and picking the brain of the owner of one of the most successful and well-known estate sale professionals in the Dallas area and beyond. She shared with me so many of her most impactful estate sale shopping tips.

What are Estate Sales?

So let’s first clear up exactly what is an estate sale, a garage sale and a flea market?

  • An estate sale, also called a tag sale in some parts of the country, is a way of liquidating the belongings of a family or estate. These usually offer higher quality items than garage or yard sales. They are used when someone needs a way to sell items due to downsizing, moving, divorce, bankruptcy, or death. The public is invited into the home and given the opportunity to purchase any item that is priced for sale. At times, items are not for sale because the family has decided to keep them or new owners of the house have made them part of a contract to buy the house.
  • garage sale is a way for homeowners to purge items they no longer need. A slight variation on the garage sale is a yard sale where someone has so much stuff to sell, it spills over into their yards and front lawns. (Google)
  • flea market (or swap meet) is a type of outdoor bazaar that rents or provides space to people who want to sell or barter merchandise. They are usually seasonal. Used goods, cheap items, collectibles and vintage items and antiques are commonly sold. Many markets offer fresh produce or baked goods, plants from local farms and vintage clothes. (Google) In Texas, we have the Roundtop flea market. Buyers and vendors come from all over the country for this spring and fall event. I have been to Roundtop twice – it’s where I bought the French doors that we turned into a barn door for our laundry room.
barn door from French doors from an estate sale
  • Thrift stores are shops where an owner or charity accepts donations and resells them. This is how I acquired our vintage dining room set (obviously the before picture). 
vintage table before

As an interesting bit of trivia, the name flea market comes from the French marché aux puces, a name originally given to a market in Paris that specialized in shabby second-hand goods of the kind that might contain fleas.

I’ve had garage sales over the years. I love holding them as a way to get rid of things we just don’t need anymore and make a little money to boot. Once I made enough to pay for most of our moving costs. It is a lot of work to get ready for one and it takes up 2 -3 days.

An estate sale is a whole different animal. They are held inside a home and require the services of a company who knows how to establish the value and price of items, market the sale and conduct the sale. That’s where my friend Janelle comes in.

In addition to furniture, you will find jewelry, designer clothing and shoes, artwork and decorative items. My favorite things to shop for are chinoiserie, glassware, serving pieces, and decorative accessories.

Items at an estate sale may come from different sources, not just the home where the sale is held. Family members are not present at the sale, just the employees of the estate sale companies. 

Here is my most recent estate sale purchase. It’s a Baker furniture side table in perfect condition for $45.

vintage stained side table

How I Met the Estate Sale Expert

Janelle is the owner of Janelle Stone Estate Services and she has been in the business for 40 years. She runs the best estate sales in town.

She started right after graduating from college when she helped an established older woman whom she met by chance. 

She learned by doing and her business grew by word of mouth. She started her business by taking whatever came her way. She said her mom told everyone she met about Janelle’s business and how great she was. Janelle is a true woman entrepreneur.

Janelle Stone home page

I first became aware of Janelle several years ago just by stopping at one of her sales. I signed up for her email list to be notified of upcoming sales where she posts descriptions and photos of items for sale. 

Then a friend of mine started working for Janelle on an occasional basis and would give me a little heads-up. I would see Janelle at sales so I knew what she looked like.

A few years ago at the beginning of January, while getting a mani-pedi, a lady walked in to the salon and I knew it was Janelle. (As it turns out we’ve been going to the same nail salon for years!).

Another lady started talking to Janelle and mentioned just returning from New Orleans and Janelle said she had just returned from New Orleans. Since Sweet Shark and I had just returned from New Orleans, I had to contribute to the conversation. As it turned out Janelle had stayed at the same hotel as Sweet Shark and me.

As the conversation continued, I told Janelle I knew who she was and she asked, “Aren’t you Sarah’s friend?” Yes, I am. And then she said (This made my day), “Aren’t you a blogger?” Well, with that we were best friends. We exchanged business cards (After our nails had dried.) and promised to get together.

Janelle Stone

The next week I texted Janelle and asked if she could meet and share her ideas and tips for successful estate sale shopping. She readily agreed and asked if she could bring her son Wen who does all the technology for the company. We met a few days later for happy hour. (Guacamole, chips and a glass of wine just happened to land on our table.)

I picked Janelle’s brain and she was so gracious in sharing her knowledge. So without further ado, here are Janelle’s best tips for estate sale shopping. I wrote that these tips are easy because all they require is knowledge and implementation.

An Estate Sale Pro Shares 19 Estate Sale Shopping Tips

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I furiously took notes as Janelle shared so many tips. I combined some of them for clarity.

NOTE: All the photos below are from the Janelle Stone Estate Sale website.

Tip #1

If an estate sale shares pictures and descriptions prior to the beginning of the sale (Janelle does.), study them online. If you find an item, copy the picture and description so you are prepared to look for it or ask about it when you walk in the door.

grey dresser with decorative accessories.

Tip #2

Most estate sales run over a 2 – 3 day period. There is absolutely no bartering the first day of the sale. Expect to buy full price. That means that if you love an item and can afford it, pay the price the first day. Discounts start on the second day of the sale and continue through the last day of the sale.

Tip #3

You can bid on certain items as designated by the estate sale service. (I didn’t know that!) If you want to take a chance, leave all your contact information required to bid. At the end of the sale any items that have not been sold will be subject to the bids submitted. Be sure you leave all the required information and understand the rules.

Tip #4

Keep your phone ready (and charged) to search any relevant information about the provenance of an item, such as trademarks, maker’s marks or history. This is not to take pictures on items, which usually isn’t allowed.

Haviland maker's mark on back of plate

Tip #5

Carry a jeweler’s loupe. What is that? A loupe is a simple, small magnification device used to see small details more closely, such as maker’s marks, carets, quality of item.

This is especially important if you are shopping for jewelry or gold items. Janelle had hers with her and let me look through it. It’s small, will fit in your purse, and is inexpensive. I found this one online. 

jeweler's loupe

Tip #6

Bring all your measurements. Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing for certain if a piece of furniture or art will fit in your home! The estate sale company is constantly asked for a tape measure, Janelle said.

Tip #7

Make sure that the style of an item will fit the style of your home. Pictures of existing items in your home that you want to complement are also helpful. A good deal doesn’t make an item stylish. Don’t buy just because an item has a low price tag. You can’t return items, so be certain.

Tip #8

The more you shop, the more you will find. Estate sales have large inventories and it’s hard to see everything. Ask if there are more items that have not been put on display yet. Decorative figurines, like these Herend ones, are common estate sale items.

Herend figurines in several colors

Tip #9

Estate sales are great places to shop for gifts. Have a list of needed people and gifts to shop for and designate which items are for which person on your list.

Tip #10

Think outside the box. Items can become different things (I love this tip since repurposing is one of my favorite things.)

credenza with lamps and decorative accesories.

Tip #11

Dress comfortably since you may have to stand in line for a while. Depending on the size of the estate sale, you may be walking in a large home (or mansion), and up and down stairs.

Tip #12

Do not bring large purses or tote bags to the sale. You will be asked to leave them at the front door. Many estate sales have security on site. Better to bring a small purse and carry reusable shopping bags with you.

three vintage silver pitchers with wood handles

Tip #13

Check on payment options before you go. Most of the larger estate sale companies accept credit cards, but I have gone to estate sales that only accept cash. I’ve had to walk out. These are always sales I stop at because I saw a sign on the street. Honestly, I find this practice not buyer-friendly and annoying.

Tip #14

Follow the zip code. Janelle said that the better the neighbor, the better the best selection of items. The really good estate sales companies want to offer the best estate sale items for customers. 

Tip #15

If you are shopping for furniture or large pieces, be prepared to pick it up yourself by the end of the sale. 

vintage furniture in living room

Tip #16

Be courteous to the estate sale staff and the other shoppers. The staff is there to help you find things and hold them for you. They are on their feet for long hours. Every room of the house can be crowded (I say, “excuse me” a lot.) and everyone is trying to find unique items.

​Tip #17

The estate sale staff has worked very hard to stage, display and price all items. If you pick something up and then decide you don’t want it, either return it where you found it or give it to a staff member. 

Tip #18

Do not bring small children or strollers to an estate sale. They will not be allowed into the sale. Do I have to explain why that is not a good idea? 

Tip #19

This may be sound weird, but do not ask to use the restroom. You are in someone’s home and the logistics are not conducive to multiple bathroom trips.

Since Janelle and I met, I’ve been to a few more of her sales. I really enjoy the shopping experience even if I don’t find something to purchase – which is rare.

Estate Sale Resources

Here are some websites that Janelle recommends for finding estate sales in your area:

EstateSales.Net

estate sales home page


Estate Sales

estate sale advertisement

I hope that these estate sale shopping tips are helpful to you on your next shopping adventure. Shopping estate sales are a great way to find great deals for items you would not be able to afford at their original price.

Estate sale prices have been researched by the estate sale company. The more popular and more unique the item, the higher the price.

My special thanks to Janelle and Wen for sharing their time and expertise in this field. It’s always great to learn from an insider and a pro.

Do you have any tips to share about shopping estate sales? If so, leave your suggestion in the comments so everyone can benefit.

Be sure to PIN this post or save the link in your digital notes to refer to it for your next estate sale treasure hunt.

PIn graphic for now for later
Hugs, Carol blog signature graphic

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11 Comments

  1. What great tips Carol…I love them so much that I am going to share them at our link party Monday at 8 pm…our Celebrate Your story link party….and for sure the next time I go to an estate sale.
    Kari @ Me and My Captain

    1. I know, Christine, I had never heard of that one. I’m usually not shopping for jewelry at estate sales. But it might help with being able to see small things.

  2. Thanks for sharing these tips about estate sales. I’ve seen them but have never went to any before but now I know how to shop these. Thanks for linking up with us at #OMHGWW and hope to see you next week!

  3. Carol, this is good information. I haven’t been to many estate sales. But I’ll never forget one I went to decades ago. Those people needed Janelle! They simply opened the house (a beautiful house) with everything just as it was when the homeowner died. Everything was in disarray, and they’d stuck a price tag on absolutely everything–and I mean *every*thing, even a bottle of mouthwash with a couple of ounces left in it! I still remember the price–10 cents! #makeitprettymonday

    1. Jean, it definitely makes it hard to shop when the sale hasn’t been properly prepared. I bet they lose sales! The things people will sell. Does anyone buy that stuff?

  4. These are great tips! I have visiting a few estate sales in the past but didn’t buy anything. I love the tip about studying the pictures before you go. It sounds like it definitely helps to have a plan. Thanks for the advice – pinned!
    Shelley