Estate Sales: A Shopper's Guide

Estate sales can be treasure troves for the bargain hunter. Vintage furniture, barely used items and things you've never seen before can be found at nearly every sale. But many of us have never been to one, and if we went we wouldn't really know how to shop them. Check out our tips beyond the jump.

Do a drive by. A few days before the sale drive by the house. Is it in a neighborhood that seems to have the style you're looking for? Little clues like swing sets in the back yard or a garage full of tools can tell you a lot about what might be inside on sale day.

Know when you want to arrive. There's typically a rush in the beginning of a sale, but those rushes are often made up of people looking to complete collections or for something really specific. If you're just going to browse don't worry about showing up later in the day when the crowd dies down (and the deals may be better!)

Come prepared. Know the measurements of your rooms and spaces you're looking to furnish, toss your fabric and paint swatches into your bag. Bring a tape measure and mini screwdriver along. Show up in your largest vehicle so if you find that treasure you can pack it up easily. Pack a few baby wipes for your hands after you touch dusty items. If you're planning to buy smaller items bring your grocery totes along.

Cash. Bring cash, rarely is any other form of payment accepted. Even if they do take credit cards or checks you are in a better position to ask for a deal with cash.

Check it all out before spending a lot of time in one room. Walk through the entire sale to figure out where everything is. Often the home is rearranged so things you expect to be in the living room might be in the garage, or things from the bedroom are in the backyard. Get your bearings before diving into one spot.

Don't be afraid to dig. Look in the very back of kitchen cabinets. Step over the boxes in the basement to get to that corner. There's usually tons of stuff, so not every great item can be out on display. Find someone else's forgotten treasures with a little digging.

Feel free to bargain. The point of an estate sale is to liquidate everything in the home. Prices are suggestions so get ready to haggle. The more you buy the better deal you'll typically get. Remember, though, that kindness counts. The nicer you are, the better deal you're likely to get.

Set a budget and stick to it. Estate sales are overwhelming. If you walk into a great one everything looks like it's screaming at you to take it home. Know what you're looking for and what you want to spend. That way, when 18 items are calling your name you can hone in on what will really make an impact at your home.

Don't buy it just because it's a deal. Re-nest is all about buying only what you need and love. If it doesn't have a place in your home don't take it from theirs. Even if it's cheap it'll just end up cluttering up your house if you don't have a plan for it.

Estate sales are a great place to buy that investment piece. Estate sales are where other people are selling their treasures. Looking for a womb chair? Have you always wanted a teak platform bed? Estate sales are fantastic places to get quality vintage pieces for much, much less. But make sure you know what you're looking at before you shell out the big bucks. Don't take it home to find out you have a cheap knock off. Flip things over, look for manufacturer's marks, quality construction and other signs of genuine craftsmanship.

Related Posts: AT: All About Estate Sales: A Crash Course & Tips for Newbies

(Image: Flickr Member Carl M licensed for use under Creative Commons. Originally published 2010-10-04)