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A Beginner’s Guide to Estate Sales

Anni Irish  |  February 4, 2022

Looking to snag some amazing antiques and hidden finds at a bargain, or host a sale yourself? Here’s how to get started.

You’ve probably driven past countless “Estate Sale This Weekend!” signs over the years, and perhaps you’ve even stopped in at a few of them. But have you ever strategically shopped these sales for something you needed for your home? Yes, some estate sales — like the one for famed entertainer Zsa Zsa Gabor where everything in the auction lot went for over $1 million dollars — are extremely high-end. But some of them are really just a basic yard sale, where everything in the home is available for purchase. In other words, you don’t have to be famous to have an estate sale, and they can be chock-full of treasures for those of us who are willing to put in the time and look through the items that are for sale. 

There are a lot of things that people can discover at an estate sale, and whether you’re buying or selling items, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here’s an essential guide on how to approach estate sales. 

What is an estate sale?

An estate sale is one of the most common ways of selling items that belong to an estate or family. There are a number of reasons people have them, ranging from divorce, death, downsizing, moves, or even bankruptcy. Shoppers are able to go inside the home and purchase the items that are priced — sometimes there will be items that are not for sale, so don’t assume that you can buy a piece of furniture just because it’s standing in the corner. “An estate sale is similar to a liquidation sale in which all of a home’s assets are sold for cash to pay off a debt. In both cases, sellers would take inventory of everything in the house, determine the prices, market the estate sale, and organize the sale,” says Cory Tyner, a real estate investor and founder of Buy Yo Dirt.

Generally, estate sales are open to the public and anyone can attend. This means they can often get crowded, and depending on how popular the sale is, they can also be picked over quickly. As a result, shoppers should look to get a head start and go earlier in the day in order to ensure you score the items you are after. 

Speaking of a score, while you may be able to negotiate the prices of some items at an estate sale, remember that not everything is a bargain. “A bargain is only as good as your need for it, or your recognition that it might be undervalued,” says fine art and antiques appraiser Helanie Fendelman. 

How to organize an estate sale

If you’re looking to host an estate sale of your own, you’ll need a crash course in organization, as there are many details to keep track of. First and foremost, make sure the house where the sale is being held is neat and tidy. “Arrange all of the items in the house to appear as if nothing was removed. Make items in the house look tempting but as if they were picked over or merely left behind. Remove all trash, food stuff, papers and junk from the house —  hire a professional if you are unable to determine what is good and what is not,” says Fendelman.

Fendelman and Tyner also offered these 5 tips to keep in mind when putting together an estate sale:

  1. Make an inventory of everything you want to sell, and the price you’d like to charge. 
  2. When pricing, try putting yourself in the buyer’s shoes. What would you be willing to pay for this used item? If you aren’t sure about the value of specific items, turn to eBay, or even hire a professional if it’s in the budget. 
  3. Organize your items in the home and make sure your belongings are arranged and presented to appear as if nothing was removed. “You don’t want the items to look picked over or merely left behind,” says Fendelman. 
  4. Advertise the sale in a variety of sources such as your local newspaper, local news websites, social media, and on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, among other places. Estate sale websites such as and can also be used to advertise your sale.
  5. Donate what’s left. After your estate sale is complete, sort the items that didn’t sell into a donation and throw away piles. You may not have much in the throwaway category because you previously chose what was in good enough condition to sell.


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