How to Shop an Estate Sale

A garage sale is a great place to find bargains, but an estate sale can be even better.

If you’re a savvy consumer looking for excellent deals on everything from dinnerware to fishing trophies, it’s hard to do better than an estate sale.

If you’ve never been to one, imagine the best garage sale you’ve ever attended, with all manner of things for sale — not just piles of clothes, baby toys, and all the other junk people want to get rid of. Then add the best elements of a public auction and flea market, mix thoroughly, and serve.

Everything and More

Some estate sales are limited to collectibles and antiques, while at others, everything in the house is for sale — right down to the pictures on the wall and the Looney Tunes glasses in the kitchen. If you’re looking for real bargains, avoid the former and go for the latter.

There are several ways to find estate sales. One is the standard Drive Around and Look method, which is kind of hit-and-miss. Otherwise, check the local newspaper for ads announcing sales in your area, or visit a website like

The above site tracks estate sales across the entire country; just type in your zip code, hit Enter, and it’ll give you a list of nearby sales. The benefit of such websites (and to some extent the abovementioned ads) is that they list many of the items for sale, which helps you zero in on exactly what you’re after.


Of course, part of the fun of estate sales is going just to browse; you never know quite what you’ll find. Stone artifacts, graduation gowns, diplomas, communion plaques, antique photos, stained glass — I’ve seen ’em all and more. At one sale I attended recently, someone had placed price tags on the garden rocks.

Some folks prefer to haunt sales on the first day, when you have a better selection of items; others prefer to go on the closing day, when everything is drastically discounted. It’s up to you, but be aware that whenever you go, there’s likely to be quite a crowd.

Consider These

A few other tips: take your time while you’re at a sale, and make sure you cover the entire premises. Estate sales generally take place in private homes, and there may be all kinds of nooks and crannies you might easily miss. Don’t forget to check the garage; often, there are great deals on sturdy old garden tools there.

Plus, don’t be afraid to haggle! Sure, there are price tags on everything; but sometimes, the sellers will make you great deals anyway. And here’s a good one: go in with a budget in mind. Sometimes, the sheer selection can overwhelm you… and it’s all too easy to overspend at an estate sale.