Estate and garage sales are a great way to save money buying everyday household items for yourself or if you’re looking for hidden treasure and valuables to resell to others for a profit. Over the last 7 years, I’ve gone to over 100 estate sales and countless garage sales. Below, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned over the years.
What Is An Estate Sale And How Does It Work?
Estate sales happen when people move out of their homes and leave most of the contents behind. People do this for a variety of reasons, such as moving away, downsizing, going into a senior living center, or sometimes they have died.
Relatives may only want a few items, so estate sale companies are hired to sell everything left in the house. They don’t do this for free however, the average cost of hiring an estate sale liquidation company will cost you on average a commission of 45%.
Shopping at estate sales is a way to find huge bargains, because on these occasions the phrase, “Everything must go!” is actually true.
Garage Sales Are Sometimes Better Than Estate Sales
Depending on where you live, sometimes the bargains at a garage sale can be better than an estate sale. Most of the time a garage sale is managed directly by the owner and you’ll have an easier time getting a deal because the middleman is cut out.
Sometimes though, estate sales will be ran like a garage sale too, if the owners of the estate run the sale themselves (instead of hiring an actual estate sale liquidation company.)
An estate sale ran directly by the owners of the estate are the best ones to attend in my honest opinion, from past experience it’s more of an upscale garage sale.
What Kinds Of People And Buyers Show Up?
Estate and garage sales will attract many types of buyers.
- Some buyers are just looking for bargains on everyday household items.
- Others will be collectors and re-sellers looking to flip things on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, a local junk store, or at the local flea market.
- And… Sometimes you just have collectors looking for antiques, mink stoles, video games, music and movie collectibles, vintage household goods, and treasures.
What Are The Best Things To Buy? For A Bargain Or To Flip And Profit
Maybe online re-sellers and deal makers will have great luck finding the following items.
Candles retail for hugely different amounts, from $50+ for those which are large and elaborate to several dollars for smaller versions. Often the candles have never been lit, so they can be used as gifts for friends. Even if they have been used, you can still use them yourself. You’re just going to burn it anyway.
Wrapping paper, which makes presents pretty and festive, is one of those items that can cost plenty when purchased in stores. Instead of paying retail, you can often find never-used wrapping paper and ribbons at estate sales. The paper may not be the exact color you would choose, but the paper will be torn apart and thrown away when your gift is opened.
Other Paper Products
These include paper napkins, paper plates, and plastic ware. Why pay retail when again you can get these things for a tiny percentage? Perhaps a package has been opened; if you’re concerned about germs, throw away the items on top.
Some cleaning products never go bad, so if you can get them for pennies on the dollar, you’ll save plenty. Unless you need something particular, you can use the detergent, glass cleaner and unused sponges, and pay little to acquire them.
Some knives and potato peelers may be so special that you want them new, but you can often get great deals at estate sales.
Glasses and Dishes
You can often find complete, or nearly complete, sets of dishes and glasses. If you are furnishing an apartment or want a few elegant pieces of stemware, an estate sale is a way to pay far less than retail.
Hammers, screwdrivers, nails, lawnmowers, leaf blowers and snow shovels – these are often available at estate sales. Especially if it’s a tool you use infrequently, you might as well buy it cheap. Just make sure it still functions.
Bird feeders, if you hang them outside, are going to be subject to all weathers. If you inspect one and it’s sufficiently robust, the birds will be happy. They only care about your keeping it filled.
Some people want the latest in elliptical machines or exercise bikes. Other people just want to exercise. An estate sale can be an excellent place to pick up exercise equipment for a fraction of the original cost.
Most professional estate sellers are aware of the value of artwork and jewelry, but if you have specialized knowledge, you may spot some other bargain.
DVD’s, VHS Tapes, Cassette Tapes, Music CD’s and Records
If you’re a collector and expert in physical media for movies and music, you’ll have a big advantage finding deals for DVD’s, CD’s, Records, and VHS Tapes. Most of the time they’ll be a box of media for sale with 100’s of items in it for 50 cents to 2 dollar per unit. Buy it all or cherry pick the good ones. Classic Music and Movies, Disney Titles, and any other rare and obscure music or movie titles will be worth the most money!
Books, Comics, And Baseball Or Sports Cards
You’ll find lots of books at estate and garage sales too. Just like with CD’s and DVD’s, if you’re an expert on how to spot rare books or you collect them. You’ll have a huge advantage because you can normally buy them dirt cheap. The same goes for Comic Books, Baseball Cards, or Sports Cards. You just have to do some research.
Vintage Electronics, Computers and Video Game Systems
If you see an old electronic gadget that records such as a pocket tape recorder, reel to reel or VHS / VCR player it’s worth checking out. Other electronics like a small CRT TVs, remote controls, pocket radios, Mac Book computers, wall chargers, Nintendo video game systems, a boombox, or a high-end audio system is also worth looking up on eBay.
Vintage Toys, Board Games, Video Games, And Legos
Toy, Board Game, Video Game, and Lego collecting has become very popular in recent years. If you can remember old toys, board games and video games from when you were a kid, look them up on eBay and see what might be worth some money. Then when you see them out at the sales, you’ll know if you found a treasure. Lego’s are especially known for being worth a small fortune, but most plain Lego bricks are not worth much. Nintendo video games from the 80’s and 90’s such as the NES, SNES, N64, and GameCube are extremely hot collectibles right now. Not all Nintendo games are worth the money though. You have to do your research.
How To Find An Estate Or Garage Sale Near You
Estate sellers, except for those that are unusually exclusive, want their sales to be found. If they exist in your city or town, all you need do is search on Google with the name of your town and the phrase “estate sales” and several possibilities will appear (if they don’t, it’s a great business opportunity). A website will list the date and time and address and often give directions. Some popular websites for finding estate and garage sale listings are Craigslist.org, EstateSales.net, Facebook Marketplace Garage Sale Listings, Yard Sale Treasure Map App.
Some estate sellers post pictures of many items in the house before the sale so that customers can decide whether or not they want to make the trip.
Many estate sellers will put out signs giving directions as you near the house where they’re having a sale. You may encounter one while driving; if you have the time you should stop and look around.
Estate And Garage Sale Tips
Examine your potential purchase thoroughly. Estate sellers often don’t accept returns.
- Shop later. Many estate sales have set hours, starting on Saturday morning and either ending late that day or continuing to Sunday. Prices may go down by 25% at a particular time and down to 50% of the original price later. Of course, many items will be already gone; if you want something particular, you’re taking a chance.
- Negotiate when the house is empty. If you do that, you may be able to negotiate an even lower price with the person in charge. If you wait until near the end, the estate seller may be especially anxious to get rid of everything.
- Know the retail price. If you want something larger, such as a piece of furniture, compare the price at the estate sale to what the item would cost new beforehand (or do it on your smartphone). That will let you know if the offered price is a bargain or not.
- Resist unneeded, undesired items. If you buy things you don’t want, you’ll waste money, clutter your home and force someone in the future to have to provide an estate sale for you.
- Estate sales can help you live better for less. You’ll have the satisfaction, too, of knowing that you’re preventing still-useful items from taking up space in landfills and junkyards. Bargains at estate sales can be good for both your bank account and the environment.
I’ve been to many Estate Sales here in the SF Bay Area. Some have been good. Some have been really horrible with high prices and unfriendly estate sale companies. Garage Sales are very hit or miss in my area too, but are much better than going to a thrift store. I have a flea market down the street from me which is really, really good.
What about where you live? Does one type of sale work out better for you than others? Comment below.