Simple Tips for Estate Sales and Auctions

On a lazy Saturday, one of my favourite things to do is go to an estate sales or estate auctions. When someone dies, the family removes personal effects and neatens up the house, and then it is partially opened so that people can go in and buy or bid on the items.

Estate sales come in a variety of formats. They can be like yard sales at times, with everything having a fixed price and little room for bargaining. It’s sometimes an auction with an auctioneer. Sometimes it’s a silent auction in which you place bids in a box for each item you want and are notified if you’re the winner.

If you’re looking for auctions near you, search up estate auctions near me, and you’ll find online auctions near you.

In the past, I’ve returned from estate auctions and sales with a variety of unusual items. A large portion of my homebrewing equipment, as well as many of my older tabletop RPG books, came from an estate sale. At an estate sale, I purchased some very sturdy gardening equipment, the majority of which is still in use around our property. I’ve also flipped a few estate sale finds, including some vintage records and magazines that no one seemed to want that I got for pennies.

In any case, the purpose of any estate sale, from the buyer’s perspective, is to find bargains, and there are a few strategies that work well regardless of the style of the sale. Here are some of the things I always do when I go to look at one.

Make a budget before you go, and bring enough money to pay for the items you win. This way, you can be certain that you are not spending more than you can afford in the heat of the moment. My plan is to simply bring cash to an estate auction. I’m not usually looking to buy extremely expensive items, so a reasonable sum of money is usually more than enough for the few items on which I may bid. Furthermore, having cash on hand means that I can easily handle the transaction.

If I don’t spend the money I set aside for the estate sale, I simply deposit it into my bank account the next time I’m near a bank or an ATM.

Arrive as early as possible to inspect the items and get first dibs. Be present as soon as people are permitted to view the items, if not earlier. Get in line if you arrive early.

If there is a sale, the first people through the door get first dibs on the items for sale. If you arrive late, the items are frequently snatched up, with some of the best items already sold.

If the event is an auction, arriving early allows you more time to inspect the items before bidding begins. This gives you a little more time to do some research on your phone and come up with a bid.

Determine which items you may have a personal interest in and which you are confident you can flip, and disregard everything else. If it’s not something you personally want to own and you’re not certain you can quickly flip for a profit, just ignore it. Pretend it isn’t there.

You might come across a great deal on a riding lawnmower, but if you don’t need one and don’t think you’ll be able to resell it quickly, pass on it.

The key to buying things for yourself is to make sure you really need the item or if it’s just “more stuff.” The key to buying items to flip is to have a strong belief that you will be able to sell them quickly and profitably.

Set a “target number” for each item that represents your maximum bid, write it down, and stick to it if it’s an auction. When I’m checking out items before an estate auction, I make a note of any items that pique my interest, as well as my maximum bid for that item.

The thing is, I’m not going to pay a lot of money for something at an estate sale where all sales are final. When I buy something for my own use, I recognise that it is used and that it would be ridiculous to pay more for it than I could find it elsewhere used. If I’m going to buy something to flip, it has to be really easy to flip and secure a significant profit margin for my efforts, so I’ll set a low target number here as well.

Make that target number irregular. This appears to be an unusual strategy, but it frequently works. Many people set their goal at a very even number, such as $50 or something. I frequently settle on an uneven target number, such as $53 or $46. As a result, I frequently outbid people who make very even bids by a small margin.

This strategy works best at silent auctions, where people frequently submit round number bids. During silent auctions, I almost always bid $11 and $21 because that extra $1 is often the deciding factor, netting me the item for only $1 more than someone else’s bid.

Crowds should not be feared. Sometimes only a few people attend estate sales. There will be a large number of people at times. In any case, don’t worry about it.

The most important thing to remember is that you should not change your “target number” for items simply because there are a lot of people there. Don’t spend more just because you believe there will be more competition for the item you want. Stop if you reach your limit. There will always be another chance to obtain that item.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the crowds aren’t always looking for the same things you are. I once went to an estate auction where several people were bidding furiously on old signs, but when other items came up, you could hear a pin drop. Because I didn’t inflate my target prices due to crowds, I walked away with multiple bargains from that auction.

Don’t get swept up in the excitement of the moment! Maintain your course of action! During an auction, it can be tempting to get caught up in the moment and try to win rather than stick to your game plan. Don’t allow that to happen.

The truth is that if you continue to bid after exceeding your starting price, you’ve already lost. You’re paying more than you intended for an item that you can probably find elsewhere, or you’re eating directly into your flip profit margin and reducing the value of your time invested in flipping that item. It’s not a good idea. Only regret awaits you down that road.

Don’t buy anything that you won’t be able to thoroughly clean before bringing it into your home. If I buy something at an estate sale, I want to be able to thoroughly clean it before bringing it home, especially if it’s made of cloth. Clothes, linens, curtains, and other cloth items can frequently harbour bugs and other unwanted elements, so I don’t bid if I can’t easily wash the item before taking it home.

The last thing you want is to bring bedbugs or other unwanted items into your home as a result of an estate sale “bargain.” Just don’t bring anything home that could be harbouring such things.

Inquire about items in other areas such as sheds, barns, or outbuildings. Estate sales are sometimes split up, with items spread out across the property. Most items are usually found in the house, but there are frequently many items for sale in sheds, barns, cellars, outbuildings, and other places.

It never hurts to ask the person in charge of the sale if there are any items that can be found elsewhere on the property. Is there anything in the barn? What about the shed? Worst-case scenario: they say, “Nope, everything for sale is right here.” On the other hand, you may be directed to a treasure trove of items that other buyers have completely overlooked.

Estate sales are a great place to find a great deal on something you can resell or something you actually need. The items are usually much more diverse than at a typical garage sale. Plus, it’s an interesting way to spend a lazy Saturday, if nothing else.