Estate Sales I've Known and Loved
By Julia Wilkinson
A whole roomful of giant dolls for $10 each. Five fully-furnished fancy dollhouses with a value of over $400 for just $45 apiece. New clothing with the tags still attached. These were just some of the items for sale at an estate sale of a "shopping addict" I recently attended in my area.
If you're an eBay and online auction aficionado such as myself, chances are you've stopped by an estate sale in your quest to find quality, low-cost inventory for "flipping" on eBay or another auction site.
I'm a big fan of estate sales, not only because it's a fun adventure and you never know what you're going to find, but also because it's taking a peek into the nooks and crannies of someone's life. What sort of stuff did they collect, or keep around, and why?
Early Birds Get the Worms You may not always find lucrative things to resell, but you can increase your chances by (you guessed it) going early. One tactic that some folks don't think to do is to check the paper on Thursday for sales: some sales actually start Thursday, and run through Saturday. Others start Friday and run through Saturday or Sunday. Obviously, you will get first crack at the best items by getting there the first day of the sale.
If you can, get there shortly before the sale starts in the morning. If the estate sale managers are giving out numbers, you can grab a number early, leave, and come back with your low number so you don't have to wait in line. (This is assuming you dislike waiting in line as much as I do). Or, if you don't mind waiting in line, bring a crossword puzzle, a book, or some work to do so you're not just twiddling your thumbs.
If you can't get there the first day of the sale, try going later in the day the last day of the sale. They usually mark down items then. (Although the "great finds" will no doubt be sparse!)
Now, I'm all for scouting out the good stuff early, but I refuse to be rude. I have seen several professional dealers commandeer a whole corner or section of a room like they already bought it, shoo anyone else away, then proceed to weed through the stuff for what they want! There is usually enough stuff for everyone, or if you don't get to that one piece first, there will be other sales other days. And sometimes the best place to look first is in the nooks that most people don't think of, like the basement. Often you can find some interesting and valuable books and other items down there while everyone else is upstairs sizing up the furniture. I prefer smaller items anyway. They are easier to pack, easier to carry, lower postage.
Finding the Hidden Gems Remember the guy on "Oprah" who bought the inexpensive Titanic painting in a little old London shop? It turned out to contain a genuine menu from the ill-fated ship hidden inside the frame. Guess where you can find similar hidden gems? Try looking inside the books! I found one such gem after I'd already bought several books at one sale. I purchased a large hardback with English flower prints (each page suitable for framing, by the way), and tucked inside was an old magazine page of John F. Kennedy political cartoons, pre-assassination. What an interesting find.
Again, look in the rooms people don't think of first, like the attic or basement. The attic of the "shopping addict" was jammed with all sorts of funky items. The closets I've weeded through usually haven't yielded up much other than some extremely dated gowns that would make great "Jackie O" Halloween costumes. But occasionally, one of those vintage numbers will be worth snapping up, especially if it's something someone might actually wear today, or if it's by an "evergreen" designer such as Chanel or Evan Picone. (Basic black is usually safe).
So go early and often, and have fun. And though it may be tempting to laugh at some of the accumulated stuff, I believe it's important to be respectful of the things accumulated by this person. Imagine if it was your sale people were tromping through. (I don't want to even think about what they'd say about my assortment of black shoes and old computer disks!)
About the author:
Julia Wilkinson is the author of "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006) and "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6). Her free "Yard Salers" newsletter is at available at YardSalers.net where you will also find her latest ebook, Flip It Again.
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