How to win at estate sales

21 Jun

IMG_2027 Look, it’s my dining room! Now with 100% more drapes. Ever since we moved into this house (3 years ago), I have been procrastinating about putting up curtains in our dining room. There have been several good reasons for this–the Mister put up blinds when we moved in, so curtains weren’t necessary for privacy. The ceiling is high, and so I needed panels that were 94″ in length, which is longer than most of the easily available panels at big box stores. And…I’m a curtain snob. I wanted lined, pinch-pleated drapes in a nice (not polyester) fabric. Those sort of drapes either have to be ordered from a company like Smith + Noble, or custom-made. And for windows of this size…that’s not cheap. I was looking at $1,400.00 from Smith + Noble…with a coupon! I could have saved money by making them myself, but since each panel takes 6 yards of home décor fabric at $15-20/yard, and I needed 4 panels for this window, plus lining fabric at about $8/yard…I could have saved money, but I was still looking at a big investment. Plus, I would have had to do the work myself, and I really, really hate making window treatments. I mean, haaaaaate. I’ve done it before, and ugh. Awful. So, I did nothing. Well, I complained a lot about the cost of custom drapes and how much I didn’t want to make them myself, and I occasionally looked at fabric websites on the internet, so not nothing, per se…but yeah, pretty much nothing.
IMG_2028 But I do go to estate sales. And when I do, I always check out the window treatments in the home, because they are frequently for sale…especially if the home will be torn down after the sale, which happens a LOT in my neighborhood, where investors are buying older homes and tearing them down like crazy, only to put up two new, ugly faux-Craftsman nouveau bungalows in their place.

Processed with PicsPlay

Processed with PicsPlay

And so the Mister and I happened upon a sale last month in my neighborhood, and I walked into the dining room in the house–which was clearly going to be another tear-down, and I was like, whoa! Those curtains might work! I asked the person running the estate sale if they were for sale, and she said yes…and I held my breath and asked the price for 6 panels (enough for my dining room AND living room). Guess how much, you guys? $30!

I paid $30 for six fully lined, raw silk 94″ pinch-pleated panels (that’s 36 yards of 54″ drapery fabric + liner total, which is a value of about $1,000 in fabric alone). I mean, $30?? That’s like, two weeks of Keurig cups at my house. (Possibly we drink too much coffee.)

So, I had them dry-cleaned ($96–it’s a lot of fabric and I honestly expected it would be more) and the Mister hung them from curtain rods I bought at Target ($25 each, I needed one for the dining room and another for the living room). Because they are pinch pleats, they hang from eyelet rings, which were $15/set for 7 sets of 10, for a total of $105. The grand total for curtains, rods and dry cleaning was $206. It was maybe the best estate sale bargain I have ever found, or may ever find.

You may be reading this and thinking, yeah, that’s great and all but I never find deals like that. Y’all…here’s the truth; it’s just not hard. If it was hard, I wouldn’t do it. Want to know the secrets to finding deals at estate sales?

Here they are:

1. You have to actually go to estate sales. Not garage sales, which are typically hodgepodges of new and cheap stuff (although deals can frequently be found, so don’t count them out entirely!) is a website that lists estate sales in your area, no matter where you live in the U.S., each week. It’s free. Find listings in your area and show up at your local sales. Getting there is half the battle. And no, not all the “good stuff” is gone on the first day–although some things, particularly popular vintage collectables tend to go fast–but you just never know! Finding deals is a bit of a numbers game, and you can’t win if you don’t play. Go to lots of sales, even the ones that don’t look great from their listing.

2. Put a list of things that you are looking for on your phone. This will serve as a reminder, keep you focused and prevent you from making random purchases because you hate to leave a sale empty-handed. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the volume of merchandise at estate sales; if you have an idea in your mind of what you are seeking, you are going to be more likely to find it.

3. Measure. If you are looking for a desk for a small-sized space, measure your space. Measure your windows if you are seeking window treatments. Know your waist measurement if you are looking for 1950’s era circle skirts. Carry a small tape measure with you to sales to see if the item matches your measurements. It’s easier to buy with confidence if you know for sure that the item is the right size for your needs!

4. Be friendly and polite to the estate sale staff. Estate sale staffers tend to (although this is not a guarantee) give slightly better deals to those whom they know, and know to be frequent shoppers/good customers. Not all estate sale companies with bargain with you, but it never hurts to ask, nicely, if the price on the ticket is their best price. If they don’t deal, smile and be friendly anyway–introduce yourself. Maybe the next time you see them, they will remember you as a good customer and will be inclined to give a better price.

5. Be patient. The item you seek is probably not going to turn up at the first sale you go to. Or the first flea market, or the first thrift store. But if you are looking, the odds are in your favor that eventually, you WILL find it!

6. Get over the idea of perfection, and be okay with the patina of age. Secondhand items are likely not in like-new condition–you may have to do a bit of cleaning or repair. Be careful not to underestimate the cost or inconvenience of repair–it can be hard to find people to fix cracks in art pottery, and re-upholstering a couch costs more than you think.  And have a good idea of your own limitations–I’m terrible at removing spots in vintage linens, so I’ve had to quit buying tablecloths thinking I can “fix” them.

7. Take a friend. The Mister is constantly finding things at sales that I didn’t even notice. Sometimes I even want those things!  Plus, if you find something heavy, you’re going to need a buddy to help you haul it to the car, because most estate sale companies have “no lift and load” policy

My daughter came home from a weekend at her dad’s house tonight and took one look at the dining room curtains and said, “Mom, those curtains look royal!”  The look of “royalty” for $206?? I’ll take that. So, what’s on your list? Have you found any incredible bargains recently? I’d love to hear about them…

Happy estate sale shopping and good luck!


Mrs. T


2 Responses to “How to win at estate sales”

  1. rae June 23, 2015 at 12:17 am #

    that is amazing! i’m a big believer in sales! the thing i’m looking for always shows up! one weekend we had gotten a new record player and i wanted a small record cabinet and I found one i loved at the second sale i went to for 10 bucks! estate sales are the best!

  2. Shirley Turcotte June 23, 2015 at 4:25 pm #

    These drapes look similar to the drapes my Mother made me when Mark’s Dad and I moved into our new home on Cook Drive in 1956. They also were fully lined and of a brownish color. They wore like iron.

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