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The Top 5 Ways to Score Big at an Estate Sale

We all love a great find. Estate sales (aka tag sales and auctions)are an amazing way to buy desinger housewares, linen furniture, artwork, and even clothes and jewlery. Right now, I have a mere 6 months to furnish an enitre vacation rental. From every piece of furniture to every individual spoon, fork and knife... I have to fill 3,500 square feet of space with furiture and accessories tht will keep my guests coming back and provide my family a comfortable place to retreat to on the weekends. And, I dont' want to pay retial, of course!

My solution? Craigslist, hotel furniture resellers, rental furniture resellers, outlets, and estate sales! What's my estate sale strategy? It's simple. I follow these 5 ways to score big at estate sales:

1 - Make a shopping list - I'm not an impulse shopper. I shop purposefully. There will always be things that I buy that were not on my original list, but when I shop I have a specific item or suite of items in mind. So, my first recommendation is not to go to estate sales or bid online aimlessly. Make a list of what you need. Be flexible because you might not find a perfect match.

2 - Set your price - One of the main reasons why people shop an estate sale is to get a good price! So, don't overpay. Take your shopping list and research both new and resale prices to ensure that you know the price range and what you should pay based on the condition of the item. This works well both online and in person. If you are onsite at a sale, don't be shy about whipping out your phone to do some real-time research.

3- Subscribe to estate sale websites - In addition to Craigslist, there are a host of websites that advertise online and physical estate sales. The websites include the type of sale, items available, and location (online or a physical address). Some sites, like Everything But the House, allow you to search and follow specific brand names or types of items. They will notify you when they have auctions featuring your desired item. Very cool!

Here are a few sites to get you started.

4 - Bid early OR late - The early bird can certainly get the worm at a physical estate sale. Early shoppers get the pick of the litter. It provides an opportunity to score the most coveted items at good prices. However, estate sale prices typically drop each day so by the 3rd sale day, you could enjoy 20%-40% off. Some items might even be free! Lots of people shop estate sales twice for this reason. Online auctions allow you to bid early and set a high offer. This can enable you to bid without having to constantly watch your auction items. However, there are lots of last second (literally) buyers who wait out auctions to bid at the very last few minutes. If there is an item that you really want, this is the best strategy. And, be careful! I've bid on items where the auction host has extended the time due to low bids. So, even though you might be the high bidder at the end of the auction, you could still lose the item to another high bidder if the time to bid is extended so watch carefully.

5 - Befriend your fellow shoppers and the auction host - There are some auction houses that host regular estate sales. Get to know the owner or sales associates. Let them know what you are in the market to buy and give them a way to reach you. You might be able to secure certain items before they hit the auction floor. Your fellow estate sale shoppers are often experienced at spotting great deals. Often there are interior decorators, architects, and a wide variety of other creative people onsite so ask questions, get a second opinion, inquire about similar sales. The community of estate sale shoppers are a great bunch who are willing to help. This strategy is a bit more difficult to replicate for online auctions, but there are interested groups online for everything so leverage social media and meet ups to expand your network.

Bonus Tip - What happens to items that do not sell at auction? Some sellers donate them to charity, keep them or sell them at a deep discount. If you are interested in an item that did not sell or interested more generally in unsold items, let the auction host know. Bid low and you could get some amazing deals!

What are your tips for scoring big at estate sales?

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