5 Estate Sale Tips & 3 Common Mistakes to Avoid

It's all about when and how you shop if you want to score that perfect deal at an estate sale.

Published September 27, 2023
estate sale

From when you walk in the door to whether you bring the kids (hint: leave them home if you can), there are a few ways to make your estate sale experience way more fun and successful. We've got the pro tips you need to find those treasures, score those great deals, and avoid those common estate sale mistakes.

Some of these tips are super simple things that can make a huge difference, and others are a bit more involved. Whether you're a beginner or a veteran estate sale shopper, choose a few (or all of them) to make your next estate sale outing a win.

Get There Early (But Go at the End, Too)

These sales usually last for around two to four days, and when you go really does matter. An important estate sale tip to keep in mind is timing your visit based on your goal.

  • Early - If you want the best selection, get in there at the beginning. We're talking the moment the doors open. You'll get first pick of all the best stuff.
  • Late - On the other hand, if you're looking for a super deal, don't go at the beginning. Go at the end instead. At this point, the company running the sale (or the family) will be ready to negotiate on the prices to move those items out the door.

Bring the Right Things With You to the Estate Sale

It's not just about what you buy, but about what you bring along. Before you head out the door to the sale, take a sec to think about what you're bringing with you. Remember, these estate sale tips for buyers when you're getting ready.

  • Don't bring a big purse. If you're like us, you carry everything in your giant bag, but it's way better to leave it at home on estate sale day. A large bag makes it harder to move among closely spaced displays.
  • Do bring a measuring tape. We can't tell you how many times we've wished we had a measuring tape to figure out whether something would fit in a space. If you're shopping for something for a specific spot, you'll need to know whether it will be the right size.
  • Don't bring kids if you can avoid it. We totally get it. There's a point in your life when it's virtually impossible to get out without the littles. If you can leave them with others, though, you can concentrate on shopping instead of keeping them away from the china.
  • Do bring a big enough vehicle. One of the biggest estate sale mistakes is buying something with no plan to transport it home. If you're shopping for something big, make sure you have a truck to take it home.

Be Respectful When Talking About Items

making a sale at an estate sale

Another huge estate sale mistake is trash talking the merchandise or the people who lived in the house within earshot of others. We know it's tempting to wonder aloud who would own that super weird lamp or that giraffe-shaped umbrella holder, but you never know who may be listening. Although many estate sales are run by companies instead of the family, there are times when family might be there to hear you.

In addition, anyone working the sale will be way more likely to deal on the prices with you or hold something until you can come pick it up if you are nice to them and complimentary about the sale.

Quick Tip

If you're shopping with a friend and want to talk about items without being overheard, turn to text. You can stand right next to each other and text about that fur coat or costume jewelry collection, and no one will even know.

Ask Whether This Is the Best Price

You also don't want to low-ball anyone on prices. If the sale is run by a company, these people know their business. If you offer half of what something is worth, they won't take you seriously as a buyer and will just say no.

Instead of starting negotiations with a specific offer, ask if this is the best price. If it is, they'll tell you. That means you shouldn't counter with another offer. If they lower the price, consider that your negotiation and don't try to go lower.

Look Over Every Corner of the House

Another essential estate sale tip for beginners, experts, and everyone in between is to really check all corners of a house for items. You never know what great treasures might be hiding in the corner of a den or library or sitting next to the sink in the bathroom. This is how you can find some of the best stuff.

Gather Things You Want and Leave Them Next to an Employee

If you find some wonderful items, don't just leave them where they are while you browse. Trust us; that's how you lose those precious finds. Someone else can come along and snap them up while you're not looking.

Instead, check with an employee about whether you can leave a pile of things you want to buy near a register. That way, no one else will nab that perfect vintage blouse or funky kitchen canister.

Skip These Three Estate Sale Mistakes

box of toys

A lot of the time, what you buy or skip at an estate sale is all about your personal preference. However, there are a few things that are estate sale mistakes you're more likely to regret buying. We recommend you skip these big three.

  • Upholstered furniture - Yeah, that 70s couch might be perfect, but it might also smell like dog pee or harbor bedbugs. If you super love it, buy with caution. Otherwise, pass.
  • Games and puzzles - Ever get a puzzle all the way put together and be totally unable to find that last piece? Don't buy puzzles at estate sales, since they might be missing a piece or two. Same goes for board games.
  • Baby items and toys - Safety is kind of a huge deal when it comes to baby items, and safety standards tend to change quite a bit over time. While a vintage crib might look adorable, it probably isn't safe for your little one to sleep in.

You Never Know What You're Going to Find

If you can avoid a few common estate sale mistakes and keep some pro tips in mind, you've got a great chance of finding that perfect item you'll treasure for decades. After all, the great thing about estate sales is that they aren't curated. You never know what you're going to find, and it could just be your new favorite thing.

5 Estate Sale Tips & 3 Common Mistakes to Avoid