The Southern Gail

All Things Estate Sales

March 1, 2022

I wanted to talk this week all things estate sales. I asked on Instagram what questions you had, and you had some good ones! Here were the most common: 1. How do you find them? 2. Is the price negotiable and do you know the price ahead of time? 3. Should you go early? 4. What items should I look for? So let’s jump into it!

This oversized framed oil painting was $250 the last day of the sale. It was placed in a dark library and looked very dark on display. I asked them to get it down and brought it in a brighter room. A steal for a painting this large. Had it been placed in a brighter area, someone would have snagged it much sooner.

One misconception that I had about estate sales was that the people died and the family hired a company to sell everything. I’m sure that happens a lot. But in most cases, people are moving, (upsizing or downsizing) and selling everything that will not fit or they no longer want. Some estate sales are held with multiple family members items or items from several of their homes. I’ve seen sales that had 15 or 20 sets of fine china and later found out that person sold several homes that they owned around the country and had one large sale. 

The dining room table, 8 chairs, and 3 case pieces with faux bamboo was $1200 (negotiated down for $2,000). I had the cushions recovered using Ballard Designs Sunbrella Fabric in Idol Frost. These Blanc De Chine Topiary Lamps were another estate sale score from a local interior designer selling her home.

How to find them. Of course there is chance you can find something good if you just happen to drive by on a weekend and see an estate sale sign. But, I have found it much more successful to have a plan in place. Mid week or towards the end of the week, if I remember, I get on type in my ZIP Code and see what estate sales are in my area. It’s always good to click through all the pictures because sometimes THE item is buried on picture 200.

This was a rare find, a 12 place setting Wedgwood Queensware set of china. It was not a very good estate sale, not very many good pictures but I stopped mid scroll when I saw this china (buried deep in the photos) and immediately drove to the sale and luckily it was still there! The very best item they had was not even prominently featured in their pictures. I paid $650 for the set, an amazing deal – go ahead and google the value on this! Not pictured are the platters and teacups.

How it works and pricing. Typically, estate sales are two or three days. On the first day, everything is full price and not much room for negotiation. You do not know the prices ahead of time. On the second day, typically things are anywhere from 15 to 25% off. And on the third day, 30 to 50% off. However, most companies have a bid system in place that allows you to make an offer on an item and they will review the bids every night or at the end of the sale and let you know if you have won the item. Some companies have predetermined percentages off for the next day. For example, they may do 15% every single time for the second day of a sale. Other companies see how much has sold and then make a decision the next day. So if you can get the company to tell you how much the percentage is going to be off the following day, and you bid slightly higher than that number, you are likely to win that item. For example, if the item is $100 and tomorrow is 25% off, the item will be $75 and you (very strategically) bid $80, they will hold it for you and you can come and pick it up the next day (for $80 not $75). You can use this strategy to win an item that you like but you don’t want to pay full price for. This also works for items on the last day of the sale. Maybe the item is marked 50% off but you still don’t want to pay that price, you can leave a bid for a lower price and they may take your bid.

When to arrive. The next thing I’d like to discuss is timing. It’s always best to arrive as early as possible no matter the day. If you just want what’s left over at the most discounted prices, go at the end of the last day. But to snag the best items of a sale you will need to potentially visit the sale multiple times and go when the doors open each day. One funny story about the fender, I got a DM on Instagram after revealing the photos and a follower told me that she was going to the sale to get that item and that I beat her there! 

I took these 2 plug in sconces that were flaking paint and gave them a navy paint job and my handyman hard wired them in the office. the perfect sconces for this room! $60 for 2 sconces and they are my favorite!

What items to look for (and how to negotiate). For larger items, take measurements and go to the sale prepared. Estate sales are a great place to buy quality, wood furniture. For smaller decorative items, don’t buy junk. Look for materials that will last – professionally framed art, copper kettles, silver, brass sconces and candle holders, china, etc. Sure, buy the Christmas wreath and the ceramic Santa if it speaks to you, but look for items to style your shelves and would match your style now and in 20 years. Essentially, buy the timeless pieces. Let’s discuss negotiating. Sometimes, there is none. Sometimes there is, and you’ll know almost right away. Typically my line would be (quietly so not other shoppers hear, they will automatically say no if other people can hear) “This art is marked $80, can you do $65?”. My most recent sale that I attended was the second day of a three day sale. The percentage was 15% off. The first item was the train art marked $80 so it was $68 (with the 15% day 2 discount). The 5 framed sailboats were marked $50 each so the total was $212.50 (with the 15% day 2 discount). I asked if they could do $200 if I got all 5, they said yes. Then the prized piece, the Scully and Scully fireplace fender. I’ve looked at buying this exact item but I just never pulled the trigger because of the price. This retails for $3,950 plus tax and shipping would be $4,643.50 to buy new. It was marked $2,000 so with the 15% that day, it would be $1,700. I put in a bid for $1,500 but I just couldn’t leave without it. I added up what my total would be and set a hard limit for myself if they said no, I would walk away and leave my bid.

$1,700 (fender) + $200 (sailboats) + $68 (train art) = $1,968. I offered $1,900 and they accepted, essentially making the train art free. So even though the sale was at 15% off, I negotiated an additional $80.50 off ($68 + $12.50). Still following? The more you buy, the more leverage you have. The larger sales have a lot of people and less room for negotiating typically. Your best bet in that scenario is to buy the item at the price they have it listed for to ensure that YOU get it, or submit a bid. You can shop other fenders here.

Every picture included in this post is something I snagged at an estate sale! Some for dirt cheap, others fairly priced. All, make me happy. I have found, not only do you find really cool items, but for typically much less expensive than you could buy at a resale shop or a site like Chairish or 1st Dibs. A few other items that I love to look for are St. John knitted blazers. They retail for over $1,500 and I’ve picked up several for around $80 and it’s my go to outfit with jeans or spanx leggings. I’ve found 2 really pretty designer belts too. I hope this has been informative and inspires you to look out for estate sales in your area!

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  1. Tammy Roberts says:

    So helpful! Thank you so much!!

  2. Brumby says:

    Very helpful. Thank you

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