Estate Sales 101: Tips and Tricks for Successful Treasure Hunting

estate sales

People often ask me how and where I find the amazing deals that I do on all my ‘cool old stuff.’  It’s usually hard to give a short reply without a story, but my answer is always, “At an estate sale!”  Thrift stores, antique stores, and flea markets are great…but where do those vendors get their goodies? From estate sales of course! I like to go to the source, dig through junk to find treasures, get lost on the way there, and then brag about the cheap price I paid for it all.  I love to share my tips with others, so this post is for all you treasure hunters like me!  The following are some things I’ve learned about Estate “Sale-ing” over the last few years. I’m not affiliated with any estate liquidation companies, so all of these tips and tricks are developed from my own observations and experiences.



How to find a good estate sale:

1. is my #1 go to spot for finding good estate sales. Click on the “garage sales” link under “For Sale/Wanted” section and then type in “Estate” into the search box. Usually this helps me narrow down the listings, so that I don’t have to filter through all those garage sales and dumb “virtual sales.”

 2. Just because the listing says “estate sale” does not mean it’s great sale that is worth your time and gas. There really is no way of telling for sure whether it’s going to be awesome, until you really get there…but here are some things I look for in listings to help me weed out the ones that may not be good…

 – Look for words like “Pack rat,” “70 years of stuff,” “house and garage PACKED full,” “huge estate sale,” “multiple estate sale,” etc. The bigger, usually the better…and the more fun (if you like digging like I do). Also, a big sale usually means better prices, since they need to get rid of so much stuff in a short amount of time.

 – Does the listing have photos? This is not necessarily a good indication, but if you see piles of stuff, old stuff, or specific things you’ve been looking for, photos can help you determine whether or not you want to check it out.

 -When does the sale begin? This is a HUGE one. I’ve found that 80% of the time, if a sale starts on a Wednesday or Thursday, it is 1) a big enough sale that they need 4 days to get rid of stuff, and 2) it will be a great one to get the first pick from since most people work on those days.

 3. What neighborhood is it in? The best estate sales I’ve been to are in older (1900-1960’s) middle class neighborhoods, where older folks have lived for 40-70 years…or homes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Newer and/or wealthier neighborhoods will have newer or more expensive items…which is fine, it’s just not the kind of sale I seek out.

 4. After you’ve been to a few good estate sales, you may find that you are attending ones put on by “estate liquidators”…or people that are hired to sell estates. Often times they have mailing lists you can sign up for. This is how I’ve found quite a few good “liquidators” and sales. Plus, if you frequent their sales often enough, you may get to know the people running them and therefore get better deals. ALWAYS be nice to the sales people!!!!!! ALWAYS! They are the ones who give you good prices. So smile and be friendly.  …Oh I’m getting ahead of myself…



Should I get there 30 min early? Should I stand in line? Should I wait til the last few hours of the sale to see if I can get even better deals?  Each of these has it’s benefits and down sides. You will have to determine which one you choose depending on how much you want to go to the sale or if you’re looking for specific things. Here are a few benefits and drawbacks…

First day early birds –

The early bird does get the worm, so if you’re looking for the best pick, this is the time to be there. The downsides are: 1) You may not get the very best price, because usually first day prices are pretty firm, so you may not be able to haggle much. But, keep in mind that this is an estate sale…so the prices will definitely be better than an antique mall right off the bat. 2) If you are there before the sale opens, you may have to wait in line and/or park far away.

As an early bird, don’t go knock on the door…when they are ready to let you in, they will open the door. If the house is small and there are lots of people waiting, you may have to stand in line and/or sign in on a sheet. If they have a sign in sheet, make sure you do that first thing when you arrive, so that you will be called in when the next wave of people is allowed in the house. In the meantime, just wait patiently and make new friends!

1-3 hours after the sale starts –

I have found this is a prime time to hit big sales, a sweet spot if you will.  The early birds are gone and you probably won’t need to wait in line, but there is still good stuff to be had. Parking may still be difficult, but it’s worth it. The exception would be if the sale starts on a Saturday…then it will usually always be busy for the first whole day.

Day 2 thru the last day –

The sale should definitely not be as busy and you can feel free to peruse at your leisure. You may get better discounts on these days, especially the last day, but as you should expect…there may not be a ton of the good stuff left. If the sale is HUGE, this shouldn’t be a problem, as new treasures are unearthed each day. Some of the best deals I’ve gotten are in the last hour of an estate sale. One time I saw a steamer trunk that had been in the basement and they had just hauled it out…they wanted to get rid of it, so they gave it to me for $5. Uh, yeah…I took it.

Sometimes, if it’s a really good sale, I’ll go to the the first day to get the things I want most, then go back the last day to see if any new items have come up or if items that were too expensive the first day are still available and at a discount. But that’s how crazy I am.


How to haggle:


-Never be afraid to ask how much they want for an unmarked item. Don’t assume it’s too expensive, you just never know.

– Don’t be a grouchy haggler! The sellers gets pushed to sell at lower prices all day long. They are used to it, but they hate grumpy shoppers. If you want to haggle, approach it nicely and point out any potential reasons for discount, like “I noticed this had some stains and holes…would you consider taking less for it?” Or make an upfront offer…”Would you be able to take $__ for this item?”

 – Usually the first price you get is not the final price, unless they tell you they are “firm on the price.” I usually start the haggle with a 30% discount and then end up purchasing it at 15% discount…depending on the item. So if the price is $100,  you say “Would you take $70 for it?”…they may say yes after hemming and hawing, but if they counter with $90, you hem and haw and say $80…then either you get the deal, or you end up at $85 or maybe $90 if they are stubborn. Then you decide if you really want it or not.

 – Depending on how large your treasure pile is (sometimes the more you buy, the better the deal), the condition of the items, and how late into the sale it is – you may be able to start haggling at 50% or even less. Some sales have an automatic 50% off on the last day of the sale, so it’s important to ask the cashier as you enter if there are any discounts on that day.

– Try to haggle on every purchase you make. Even if the price is excellent or already on sale…try and see if you can get it lower. It couldn’t hurt to try right? Just don’t get huffy if they won’t budge. It’s your choice whether you really need/want the item or not.


  • Patience and a sense of adventure – don’t leave home with out them
  • A GPS is something I would not leave home without. They are so helpful when trying to find those five addresses you want to go to. You can even type them in ahead of time, so when you’re done with one sale, you can just click and be on your way to the next one.
  • Money – Some sales take checks and some take credit cards….but all will take cash. It’s good to bring a mixture of each, just so you’re covered. Usually the listing on craigslist will say what they accept. For cash, bring small bills…$20 or under are best. Come prepared, it’s no fun if you have to run to the bank for change because they won’t take your $50 or because you don’t have any cash.
  • Cell phone – It’s a good thing to have for safety in general, but can also be a calculator and a way to keep track of what you bought/how much you payed if you need to keep a record for your resale business (by the way, you can ask for a receipt – just a scratch piece of paper will do).
  • Keep your purse small, so you’re not lugging a bursting bag in a crowded house. You’ll need your arms free for holding your treasures anyway! Better yet, only bring your keys and cash into the sale with you (in your pockets!).
  • Estate Sale Kit: Wet wipes or hand sanitizer, kleenex, reusable shopping bags, a band-aid or two, snacks, water/beverage (a must have!), a measuring tape (for furniture), and a drop cloth for your car (in case anything you bring home is a little grimy. All of these things are very important, whether you think you’ll need them or not.

Do’s and Don’ts…



Smile and have fun!

-Clean out your car before you go. If you plan on making big purchases, whether in size or volume, you’ll need to get those carseats and stroller out of your car to make room for your vintage goodies!

– Have a budget! Give yourself a little wiggle room in case that one thing you’ve been looking for for the last year pops up…but otherwise stick to your budget. If you have some hoarding tendencies, like I do, you need to make sure you are very picky about what you buy and bring home. Have strict rules for yourself, otherwise you’ll start bringing home all kinds of {cool} stuff…but it may just end up sitting in a box somewhere in your garage…not that I speak from experience or anything…ahem…

 – Plan a prioritized route if you’re planning on hitting more than one estate sale in a day. Figure out which one you most want to visit, then plan a route accordingly. I try to keep in mind driving distance as well, so as not to waste gas.

 – Be prepared to walk a ways. Don’t get upset if you have to walk a block or two. Either walk it our and get some exercise in the fresh air or come back at a time when there won’t be as many cars (end of sale, etc.).

 – Always be nice to people! No one likes a hoggy piggy person who grabs at everything around them or snaps at other people because they saw it first.  Generally, the nicer you are the better deals you’ll get (the sales people are watching you), now and in the future (if you frequent this liquidator’s sales often).

– Go with a friend *only* if you both agree to the “Finders Keepers” rule…meaning, whoever sees/picks it up first gets it. You must be ok with this…you don’t want to lose friendships over stupid things like a fight over doilies. Better yet, just make sure you go with a friend who has different taste or style than you.

 – Tell someone in charge that you would like to purchase that {insert large item here}, right away. They can put a sold sign on it for you. If you see it and love it and have already placed it in the living room in your vast imagination…but then continue shopping for 30 minutes elsewhere in the house…you may loose that perfect treasure to someone else.

 – Bring your own bags or boxes – sometimes they run out or may not have any to begin with.

 -If you’re carrying around a big pile of stuff, do ask if they could hold stuff at checkout for you. Some estate sales will have more organized systems than others. Just make sure that your pile is made obviously not for sale…have them write your name on a tag or put your stuff in a box, etc. Your arms can only hold so much and if you hit the “big one” you’ll probably not be able to carry in your arms everything you’d like to buy. Been there, done that.

– Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting a little dirty, and prepare yourself mentally for doing so. You may have to dig in boxes, kneel on the ground, or get a little dirty hauling a grungy piece of furniture. Also, dress in layers, as the day progresses and you’ve worked up a sweat digging through boxes of fabric and grungy garage bits and pieces…you may wish you hadn’t worn that cashmere sweater.

-Wear sturdy shoes, there is no telling how much walking you’ll do or how many stairs you’ll be climbing when you set out on an estate sale extravaganza. Leave the cute pumps and sandals at home ladies. Just sayin’.

 – Also, leave your kids at home with Dad or Grandma. Estate sales are crazy enough and the last thing you want is your little one either wanting to buy every little shiny thing, having to carry them and your treasures around, your precious baby getting lost in a stranger’s house, or breaking something valuable that you can’t afford to purchase. Believe me, you’ll have a much more peaceful experience if you go without small children. When they get to be older, though, definitely bring them…they’re an extra pair of arms. Wink wink.





-Be rude, a grump, a meanie…etc.

– Don’t talk about the owners or their estate. It always rude to walk into someone’s home and say “OH MY GOSH….look at all this stuff! What a pack rat… Wow look how ugly their furniture is!….”  So, yeah…no matter how bad it smells like chain-smoker, how hideous their taste is, or how much junk they have…just keep it to yourself. You never know if their family member will be there at the sale listening to every word you say. So ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’

 -The same goes with prices. Most estate sales will have some of the nicer more expensive things priced and the rest will just be “quoted” when you’re ready to check out. Priced items are usually negotiable. Don’t go look at the expensive table or case and exclaim, “Wow these are so over priced!” You will probably get annoyed looks from the sale people and limit your bargaining power. Use your poker face people!

 -Don’t park in or block anyone’s driveway. Definitely don’t park in the sale house’s driveway, unless you are invited to by someone in charge or are loading large things into your car (with permission).

 -Don’t get too excited when you find the BEST TREASURE ever! Calmly pick it up and nonchalantly carry it around with you. Don’t ever set it down! 🙂 Remember…poker face until after you’ve paid.

 -DON’T set ANY of your personal items down. EVER. Your keys or phone may get lost permanently or your purse may end up getting sold to the highest bidder. Never set your personal items down. In fact, if at all possible, only bring your keys and your cash in with you, in pockets, and leave everything else locked in the car.

-Don’t expect help hauling things to your car, unless maybe if you’re pregnant. Generally sales people are nice and will help if you have a ton of stuff or if your items are large. But if a sale is really busy…you may just have to take a few trips. Don’t be grumpy if no one is able to help you, you chose to come shopping at a place where there are not shopping carts…it’s part of the deal.




 -Always wash your hands before you eat something…you never know what you’ve collected on your hands. Yuk. Use those wet wipes!

-If there are not a lot of cars around and the house looks creepy when you drive by, or you have any bad feelings about it in your gut…don’t go in. You don’t have to actually go in just because you drove there. Be safe and listen to your instincts.

 -I know I said be nice before…but I can’t overstate it. Don’t start or get involved in fights. It’s not worth it. Some people at estate sales can be real jerks! My friend ended up yelling at one estate sale guy because he was saying snarky things about me while I shopped and thought no one could hear. If it’s not a good sale, or people are jerks… just leave. Don’t waste your time or your energy.

 With all that said, estate sale hunting is one of the most fun things in the whole world, in my opinion. 🙂 I hope this was informative and that it will help direct you to the best estate sales out there. If you have any questions that I didn’t answer here or you have any tips of your own…feel free to comment! You never know what you’ll find while estate-saleing and that’s part of the thrill of the hunt! Good luck! Can’t wait to hear what you find!

Happy hunting!