An estate sale or estate liquidation is a type of garage sale, yard sale or auction to dispose of a substantial portion of the materials owned by a person who is recently deceased, or who must dispose of his personal property to facilitate a move.Having defined that, the first lesson I've learned in attending estate sales for over 30 years is that MOST "estate sales" do NOT meet this definition. Many people use the terminology to generate interest in their yard or garage sales.
In this blog, I will address those estate sales that are both advertised as such and are professionally (?? - more on that later) handled - there is an estate sale company overseeing the sale; pricing; hours; etc. etc. In most cases, although not all, the actual seller/owner is not present.
In the Atlanta market, there is are a fairly limited number of estate sale companies that handle 90% of the advertised sales (look for sales in newspapers - both print and online and Craigs List). They usually imbed a key phrase in their ad that tells you which company is handling the sale such as:
- GREAT FINDS (one of my favorites although, sadly, the principal has moved away and seldom comes back into town for a sale)
- From A to Z (one of my least favorites)
- Look for the Yellow Tags
The companies generally provide a fairly long listing of what is available at the sale so that buyers with a wide range of interests attend.
These are some of the lessons I've learned:
- The hours are the hours - no exceptions. You can show up as early as you want, and some people do, but you will be standing in line.
- Generally, prices are much higher than yard or garage sales - most companies work on commissions.
- The prices are usually not negotiable on day 1 but may be increasingly more negotiable as time passes - the best prices (of what is left of course) are available toward end of sale.
- Most companies accept bids and will contact you if your bid is successful (meaning no-one has offered to pay more). The integrity of this process is not always sacrosanct. The phrase "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" comes to mind - if they have an onsite willing buyer who offers a similar price, they will probably let him/her have it and not take the chance that you will not honor your bid.
- Look very carefully before buying or bidding - everything is "as is" and the sellers/companies will not necessarily disclose flaws - even if/when they are aware of them.
- Be prepared for a messy and/or smelly setting - some companies take the time to clean up and others leave you to do that - there is a wide range of how well the sales are organized (usually by company who is working the sale).
- If you want something, let the sellers know immediately - this is definitely first come - first serve.
- Most companies accept personal checks but it's good to have cash in case they don't.
- Most companies add sales tax (they are legally obligated to do so).
- Some companies offer on-site help in moving (be sure to tip the helper is such service is offered) but most do not. You may need to come back later with help or beg/plead with fellow buyers to help you (I've had many generous helpers but it is a little tricky).
- Be prepared to remove items immediately or before the selling company leaves the premises - they usually are shielding the real owners/sellers from the sale and do not want them inconvenienced.
Those are the tips that come to mind. I have had a lot of luck with these sales but more often than not find them overpriced and not willing to negotiate to the level I need/want. I've bought enough over the years to know when something is or is not a good value and that is a definite asset.
Good luck and let me know how you've done and if I've missed any important advice!