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Score Deals at Estate Sales

house valuesHave you ever been to an estate sale? Estate sales usually occur when a property owner passes and their belongings are liquidated. There are also living estate sales that occur when the property owners have moved due to a relocation circumstance (assisted living care, divorce, foreclosure, etc). Can you imagine having to walk through your home and put a price tag on every single item in sight? Sounds a little overwhelming, right? This is why a professional company is often brought in to organize the sale and they take a percentage of the revenue. Since the goal is to sell everything, the prices of items are marked far below retail value. I attended a living estate sale for the first time last month and it was a fun and interesting experience. I’ll share a few tips that you might find helpful if you haven’t attended one before.

Learn the story

Learning why the estate sale is occurring may give you some insight into the quality or type of items that will be sold there. This home was in a very wealthy area of town and the story shared in the ad was that a couple and their three young kids who lived in this 4,000 square foot home decided to pack one suitcase each and leave everything to tour the world. Therefore, they hired an estate sale service to sell everything in their home. WOW! Needless to say, this was a rare gem of an estate sale. Often estate sales involve more antique-esque items from elderly folks who passed away. In this case the family had clothes, furniture, kitchen supplies, etc. that were all in great condition.

What are you looking for? 

I was browsing Craigslist for a patio set when the ad for this estate sale came up. I saw a beautiful patio set and thought it would probably be significantly cheaper than market value since it needed to be sold during the two-day sale. We also keep a running list of items we would eventually like to get but aren’t in a hurry to pay full price: a floor lamp, storage bins, a space heater, an immersion blender, and winter boots. I saw a few of these items in the pictures for the estate sale so I planned to scope out the prices while I was there. My husband and I budget a lump sum each year to spend on new clothes so when I saw the wife of this family wore the same size shoes as me and had some new-looking winter boots, I added them to my list to see.

Get there early or show up late

I decided to go when the sale started at 9am. I didn’t realize how big of a deal this sale was until I got there and was handed a sticky note with the number 98 written on it. I showed up at 9:05am and was number 98 in line! For security purposes they only let in 25-30 people at a time. I waited in line for an hour and my turn to enter finally arrived. The boots I had my eye on were already taken but I managed to swipe the immersion blender for $15, some storage bins for $1-2 each, and a few other items. There were signs that said “No price negotiations. Discounts start 11am Sunday.” After talking to some people I learned that if you come toward the very end of the sale many items are marked down to $1 or free! You can’t guarantee what items will be leftover but it could be worth browsing.

estate saleGo in with a plan

Who are you shopping for? Do you have a list? Do you have a spending limit? Will you allow spontaneous purchases? I had every intention to not make a spontaneous purchase but how can you pass up $0.50 pairs of Smartwool socks or $1 toothpaste and peanut butter?! I also got a $15 scoot bike and my 9-month old isn’t even walking yet. I knew the retail value for these type of bikes was over $100 so I bought it and gave it to a friend with a 3-year old to borrow until Nora is old enough to use it. I wasn’t willing to spend over $200 for a new patio set so when I saw the price tag for $325 I moved on. This set had to cost well over $1,200 so $325 was certainly a steal but it was over the limit I wanted to spend.

Some items I didn’t expect to buy at an estate sale were toiletries and food. I bought toothpaste and deodorant (unopened of course!) for $1 each and got a pricey brand of natural peanut butter for $1 as well. I met a couple who were shopping for their college-bound son. Instead of paying for cheap kitchen supplies and furniture they scoped out estate sales that often had better quality items that cost less. I personally think their son should have gone with them to learn the art of finding deals but it was a great idea for the parents to think outside the box and not drop a paycheck at Bed Bath and Beyond.

If you haven’t checked out an estate sale I recommend it; it makes for an interesting outing. I won’t be seeking out estate sales for no reason but if one comes up when I’m looking for a specific item I’ll be sure to head there before buying new at a store. Attending an estate sale can save you hundreds on items you were already planning to purchase, but you’ll have to be willing to wait for a great sale to come up in your area.

Have you been to an estate sale? If so, what deals did you find?

This post has been written by Jessica from

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My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. We go to estate sales from time to time. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, estate sales here in silicon valley tend to either be fake – garage sales claiming to be estate sales – or expensive with few bargains to be found.

    I’ve had better luck going to auctions. Assuming what you’re looking for isn’t rare or expensive there’s often little competition and you can still get a decent deal for a quality item.

    • That’s too bad Jack! In my area estate sales are definitely real and have some CHEAP items! I can’t wait to be retired so I can check them out more often!

    • There are some wealthy parts of town so we can get some really great estate sales in Southeast Michigan as well. I’ve never been to an auction; it sounds stressful having to act under pressure!

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