8 tips for shopping at estate sales - and my fave find from this weekend's trip

I never used to go to estate sales. I heard they could be awesome!, but I was totally intimidated about how to be successful at them. It wasn't until I started taking ambitious Saturday morning marathon estate sale-ing trips with my friend Erika that I realized how fun, easy, and sometimes fruitful shopping estate sales can be!

And then, last year while Erika was pregnant and wasn't up for exploring homes with unfamiliar smells, I learned to put together estate sale trips myself using her pro methods.

But last weekend, I had a great estate sale-ing trip with Erika (of A Tiny Rocket) and our friend Yvonne (of Dress this Nest) and realized I really ought to put together some tips to share with you!

Here are 8 things I've learned based on Erika's excellent methods for route logic, competitive but fair shopping, and picking the right spots. Plus a few tried and true estate sale-ing methodologies that have worked well for me!

8 tips for awesome estate sale-ing

  1. Bring cash. Some professional sales take cards or checks, but plan to bring cash for the family-run ones. And even at the bigger sales, the lines can be insane!!, so you may be able to skip to a cash-only line if you have enough cash.
  2. Look to the suburbs. Especially in the Portland area, vintage/thrifted goods and estate sale-ing is very trendy, so the sales in the trendier parts of town are usually very busy and higher priced. We've had the best luck in the Portland area in Beaverton and Hillsboro, usually at old ranch houses where the people had lived there for 40 years. I went to an amazing one way out in the country once, too, and one in a small town another 10 miles out (see here, here, and here). Sometimes you have to drive a ways, but it can really be worth it!
  3. Plan your route the day before. Sales often aren't listed until the week or a few days before, so you can't plan too far ahead. Erika uses Craigslist as well as Estate Sale Finder, a local website of professionally run sales. If you Google "[city name] estate sale search" or something similar, you may be able to find the same kind of listing. EstateSale.net may have listings in your area, too. Craigslist usually has a mix of sales, family-run (some garage sales mixed in, we avoid those) as well as professionally run. The other website has only professionally run sales. Select the sales you want to go to, then put together a Google Maps route of your loop. You can even email it to yourself and follow the same points on your phone the day of the sale.
  4. Keep a contingency option. Some sales are in-out in 5 minutes. It's hard to tell from the listings how much of the stuff you'll be interested in. We like to have at least 6 sales on the map, maybe an extra just in case one or two are duds.
  5. Get there early. We start around 8:30 AM and can usually fit in 5 or 6 sales before noon. The best selection is on the first day of the sale (Friday or Saturday). However, very often everything will be 50% off on the last day of the sale (i.e. Sunday), so you can also try hitting the route early Sunday morning.
  6. Carry it around if you're not sure. Even among friends, the rule is, whoever touches it first gets it. Especially at some of the busier sales, if you see something you're considering, grab it right away just in case! You can always put it back later.
  7. If there's no price label, ask. That applies to anything, including curtains, light fixtures, mounted shelves, etc. It's a massive effort to price everything so just because there's no sign or sticker doesn't mean it's not for sale. In fact, unless it has a "not for sale" sign on it, it's probably among the stuff to be liquidated!
  8. Haggle politely. Especially if you're buying lots of items, sellers are often happy to negotiate on the total when you check out. (Often, they have to get rid of whatever they don't sell that weekend.) For example, if my handful includes a $2 item, a $4 item, a $10 item, and a handful of $0.25 items, I could easily ask if they'd take $15 for all of it.

Favorite things to look for at estate sales

So far my favorite estate sale find was a vintage model of this Le Creuset enameled frying pan, found at the first estate sale I ever went to with Erika. It was $1.50 (here's mine). But I bought a handful of stuff and paid less than the total, so it was actually less than $1.50. We use it ALL. THE. TIME. and my eggs never stick to it!

But that was a random estate sale in a small ranch house in an old part of a Portland suburb, and we didn't have a lot of competition that Saturday morning. I kind of doubt it's easy to find Le Creuset at estate sales most of the time.

But, there are a few things I see a lot, and you can keep an eye out for next time you go!
  • Pyrex bowls and bakeware (like pretty pastels)
  • Polaroid cameras
  • Camera lenses that will fit a modern digital camera
  • Really great furniture, including matching cafe chairs! (And if you're feeling crafty, lots of potential with some estate furniture, which is sometimes better cared for than thrift store stuff.)
  • Random cute, useful kitchen stuff (like this great vintage scale I got and have since fixed up)
  • Weight sets (I've found dumbbell sets and a small barbell with weights)
  • Vintage purses
  • Fabric!!!! Again, this estate sale.
  • Zippers, etc.
  • Vintage patterns if you need any more of them (I sure don't)
  • Big framed mirrors. I love big mirrors.
  • Vintage house keeping and cook books! And all kinds of books.


Not from this weekend but a fave DIY project of mine from a vintage chair like I see at estate sales! This one was my grandma's.

My unique find of the weekend!

After you've been to a few estate sales, you may notice things start to look the same... lots of vintage blenders and coffee percolators. And I really don't need a lot more stuff!

So, this find last weekend was so cool and unique, I bought it even though I don't need it, and I wanted to share.

These binders of 1950's and 1960's Oregon State Parks and hunting, fishing, and camping articles are like a snapshot in time as well as an early example of a fellow Oregon-lover's documentation of years of exploration.

Look at these beautiful handouts! The paper is heavy and the colors are still so bright. I love looking at the fonts. And most of these parks are still there! (Except maybe the PGE recreational areas? Portland General Electric had recreational areas??)

At the same sale, there were also a lot of rolled up maps with marked up notes of camping, hunting, and fishing sites; Yvonne got some to frame for her sons' outdoor-themed bedroom. I got some maps in these binders, too.

Since husband and I have recently become interested in hunting and fishing (as he blogged recently) and it's totally new to us, it's fascinating to me to look at how a seasoned hunter (this house had ROOMS full of duck-themed stuff including tons of decoys) kept track of information and kept learning. So many articles clipped and carefully saved.

And so cool to see this skilled hunter/angler's log of what he caught each trip out. I wonder how much it's changed since 1965!

Unique finds like that are unlike anything you see at a run-of-the-mill thrift store, and I feel good about giving them a good home!

Let me know your estate sale tips and faves below!


20 comments

  1. that was such an awesome find! i am fascinated. ben and i hunt when we have access to it and i used to fish with my family so that book looks absolutely fascinating! i personally love old paper items - memories, photos, books, etc. great post! i've never been estate-sale-ing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What great tips! The few times I've been to estate sales have been far more successful than all my garage sale-ing combined! I'm going to share this with the hubs and maybe we'll hit some sales soon!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've never gone to an estate stale, but always been curious, especially since my DH loves going into visit antique and vintage stores. Most of the time it all blurs together because unless it has an obvious use, I don't have ideas of how to repurpose it- your decorative ideas are a good example to think outside the box! Thanks for all your tips!

    ReplyDelete
  4. My favorite estate sale find is the commemorative pint glass from the opening day of the Tacoma Dome! It opened in 1983, and the glass has a nice retro dome design in orange. I've also had sucess getting cute costume jewelry and vintage sewing notions at estate sales (I have a whole tin of wooden spooled thread waiting for the right project).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great tips!! I used to go to estate sales much more often, but haven't as much in recent years. I am hoping that once I buy a house I will get back into the swing of things. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  6. How fun! I've never gone to an estate sale, which is odd considering my love for interior design and projects.

    ReplyDelete
  7. great advice. Fabric and zippers have always been my best finds ever!

    ReplyDelete
  8. My sister owns an estate sale business @vintagemonkeyestatesales in kansas city and she is always selling some of the most amazing things

    ReplyDelete
  9. LOVE this post! Such great tips. I love estate sales and some girlfriends and I stumbled upon a sweet one in the Mt Tabor area after our weekly hike last month. I love the chair DIY you have pictured here too!

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is really great advice! I am going to pin this for future reference. Thank you so much!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've been meaning to go estate sale hunting since we moved into our house. Thanks for these tips! Maybe this weekend will be the one!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ya- What Monica said. Great advice.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I have found such beautiful fabrics and sewing patterns at estate sales. But I had to cut down because my collections were getting out of hand!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks! Yes, SO much better than garage sales!!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Feeling extremely inspired to go to an estate sale now! And PGE definitely still has recreational areas (which is completely random and awesome).

    ReplyDelete
  16. SO much fun! Thanks again for taking me. I am obsessed with my new chairs and dresser!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Estate sales can be a treasure trove for DIY lovers! Very inspiring article. Here is another useful resource for finding high quality estate sales around Portland. http://estatesales.org/portland-oregon-estate-sales

    ReplyDelete
  18. Oh wow! What wonderful, interesting reading you have there!!!

    JJ
    www.dressupnotdown.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete

Leaving a comment is easy, and I love to read them! No annoying word verification required. =)

© Create / Enjoy • Theme by Maira G.