Mistakes to Avoid Making at Estate Sales

woman looking at antique glass at estate sale
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These estate sale mistakes won't get you kicked out of the sale, but they will keep you from getting great finds, great prices, or both. If you're going to go, learn to shop like a pro. Here are 8 mistakes to stop making at estate sales:

Not Looking at Preview Photos Before You Go

Now that so many estate sale photos are posted online in advance, it makes no sense to go without looking at them. 

If you live in a city of any size, numerous estate sales probably take place each weekend. Scrutinizing the preview photos helps you decide which estate sales to attend first. You can plan the order of your stops just as you would with a yard sale route. That's especially crucial if you're looking for something specific.

Not Waiting in Line Before the Estate Sale Starts

Waiting in line before an estate sale begins may seem like a waste of time.

After all, they're not likely to open early. As long as you arrive at the starting time, you should be fine, right?


Because most estate sales are held in residential settings with limited space, organizers often limit the number of shoppers allowed inside at one time. If you want to be among the first allowed inside, you have to get there early and wait in line.

Not Checking the Rules in Advance

Estate sale rules and policies vary according to which company is organizing the sale. Some take credit cards and checks. Some insist on cash. Some have people on hand to help you load large items. At others, you're on your own. 

Some estate sale companies won't let you in if you're carrying a big purse. If you have to tote it back to the car, you'll probably have to go back to the end of the line and won't get to enter with the first group. That means shoppers who knew the policy may be buying what you wanted while you're still waiting to go inside. 

Starting at the Front and Working Your Way Back

It's easy to tell the casual (or new) estate sale shoppers from the dealers and resellers. 

Casual shoppers enter at the designated door and start slowly browsing in the first room they come to, usually the living room, even if the living room goods aren't what they're hoping to find.

Dealers and other experienced estate sale shoppers head straight for the rooms with the merchandise types they want. After that, they swing back through the rest to make quick scans for anything they missed.

Do like the dealers. Find what you really want first, and then browse the rest.

Assuming Things Aren't For Sale

At estate sales, it's clear that the furniture, accessories and household goods are for sale. And, if the apparel and appliances are up for grabs, they're usually marked. But, some of the available items aren't as obvious.

The light fixtures and window treatments are treatments for sale, even if they're still installed. Sometimes even fireplace mantels and bathroom vanities with price tags. Outdoors, the flower pots, urns, and garden ornaments may be available too.

If you see something you like, ask if you can buy it, even if it's something that would stay with the house in a real estate deal. Don't just assume you can't.

Assuming No Haggling Means No Discounts

At an estate sale, being told no when you ask for a discount doesn't mean you're stuck paying the price on the tag. It just means you might have to wait.

Professional estate sale organizers typically have a schedule of discounts based on the day of the sale, or even on the hour during the final day. They might, for example, take 25 percent off on the second day of the sale and 50 percent or more off on the third.

Occasionally, if they know you as a regular shopper, they might even let you have the next day's discount early if they're about to lock the doors for the day. And, if the final day's discount doesn't discount something enough, go ahead and make an offer when the sale is about to end. You have nothing to lose.

You may have better luck making offers at owner-organized estate sales. Even then, some won't haggle (though some will) on the first day of the sale – or at least not during the morning hours. 

At both types of estate sales, the closer the sale is to ending, the deeper the discounts. 

Not Looking in Out-of-the-Way Areas

Though estate sales are typically held inside the home being liquidated, sale merchandise is frequently located in other areas too. 

Some of the best sale finds are located in garages and storage sheds. Hello, vintage Christmas ornaments! The garden furniture and tools in backyards and carports are frequently for sale as well.

When there's tons of merchandise and limited space, organizers frequently display goods in closets, cabinets, and bathrooms. Unless the doors are otherwise marked, peek inside all of them just in case. Other shoppers often close them out of habit.

Finally, find out if attics and basements contain sale merchandise. They often do, but the doors aren't always marked. If you can't tell, just ask.

Attending Only One Day of the Estate Sale

As with most limited-time secondhand sales, the selection is better on the first day of an estate sale, and the prices are lowest on the last. But, you should try to make it to both.

Estate sale pricing varies by item, the person organizing the event, and what's hot in your area. Some first-day prices are about what you'd find in an antique mall. Others are a fraction of what you'd pay on eBay. And you might encounter both at the same estate sale.

In the latter case above, attending only for the deep discounts on the last day means missing out on some good pieces that were already priced unbelievably low.

On the other hand, if you only attend an estate sale on opening day, you'll probably miss some bargains that weren't bargains when you first went.

Consider a $200 chair you didn't buy because it needed new fabric, for example. If you can snag that chair for $50 on the final day, it might be worth paying an upholsterer.