Estate Sales and Treasure Hunts

As if I don’t have enough to do—and keeping busy is never a problem—I have added a new item to my schedule: buyer for my daughter’s business. To be honest, this happens mostly on weekends, so it doesn’t take up a lot of my time. And I really enjoy doing it. Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt?

How I Joined the Treasure Hunt

estate sale, treasure huntMy daughter, Simone, has become a reseller of high-end, designer-label clothing. She purchases these items from thrift shops and estate sales, then resells them online for a profit.

She got me interested back in February, when travel was still possible and I was visiting. Simone asked me if I wanted to go to an estate sale and I said sure. Full disclosure: I thought this would be like a yard sale with lots of plastic toys, old desk furniture, and paperback books. Boy, was I wrong.

We went to the house where the estate sale was held and headed up to the bedroom. She selected clothes while I held them and sorted through the racks she hadn’t gotten to yet. When we were done, we took the pile downstairs and she negotiated a bulk rate for our selections.

Exploring Local Estate Sales

I enjoyed this so much, I checked out the local offerings when I returned home. To my surprise, there were lots of estate sales being held all over the area. The variety of goods varied widely, though, and it became clear that I would have to choose carefully which ones I went to.

As with any business, the first rule is location, location, location. I focused on communities that have:

  1. A lot of disposable income
  2. A preference for high-end clothing and accessories.

The two don’t always go together. While the first would seem necessary for the second, it’s perfectly possible to have a lot of money but not spend it on clothing. You wouldn’t believe what some people spend their money on. And wealthy old Yankees have a tendency to wear the same clothes for decades, cleaning and patching as necessary. After all, they didn’t get rich buying designer clothing.

Finding Prime Goods

estate sales, Milton,

My first estate sale

A lot depends on the circumstances of the sale. The first one I attended was in a community that meets both qualifications. The house was being cleared by the children after their last surviving parent had died. That meant the goods for sale tended to be old, although of good quality. I picked up a few things and shipped them off.

After that, I discovered the best items could be found when one or both members of a couple were selling the house to move and/or downsize. That meant they were selling prime goods that were still fashionable. There is little profit to be found in old people who stay home and hang on ‘til the bitter end. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s a fact of business.

The Pandemic Changes Everything

I started this treasure hunt before the pandemic hit. Then, I could just walk into a house, check out the items for sale, and walk out with my purchase. (Or just leave because nothing good was on offer.) Then, the pandemic shut down all the estate sales for months.

When the estate sales opened up again, circumstances had changed.

  • Everyone must wear masks.
  • Only a certain number of people are allowed in the house at once. You take a number and wait to be called.
  • No cash sales.

Sometimes you see an item you wanted walking down the driveway before you can get into the house. If you’re lucky, people ahead of you get impatient and leave, allowing you to get in more quickly.

Focusing the Effort

Because I’m focused on clothing, scarves, shoes and accessories, I don’t waste time going through the house. As my daughter taught me, I head straight for the bedrooms and find the closets. She provided me with a list of the designers that sell well and my friend Janet is teaching me the difference between distinguishing characteristics, such as label colors.

fur coats, estate sales

No one wants the fur coats

Once I have my selections together, I call my daughter and discuss the haul. She tells me what to buy and whether the bulk rate I negotiated is reasonable. I might leave behind something I really like because the asking price is too much or she says it won’t sell. There’s one bag I still regret not buying.

When that’s all done, I head out. Well, okay, not directly. I do check out jewelry, the kitchen, the books and the patio. I force myself to ignore the art books because I want them all but neither need them nor have any room for them (We downsized eight years ago.) And I look at the gardening equipment with an eye to our church garden.

I check out any paintings on offer in the hopes of finding a neglected masterpiece. What have I got to lose? And I always hope to find a trove of books on Boston history to add to my research shelf. So far, no luck on either.

Finding the Right Estate Sales

How do I find the estate sales and decide among them?

On Wednesday or Thursday, I look at Estatesales.net and Estatesales.org for the list of upcoming events. I adjusted the sale perimeter to about 35 miles from my home but I often look well outside that. When I find a listing that looks choice, I check out the photos.

clothing racks, designer labels, designer clothing, estate sales

Racks of clothes

Sometimes there is a large photo gallery, sometimes not so big. But that lets me get a sense of what’s for sale. The estate sale companies don’t do a really good job of highlighting clothes, however, so I often see just racks with the clothes in dry cleaner bags, so I have to make a judgment call. It helps to see the more detailed photos of accessories like bags and scarves to evaluate the quality.

I’m heading out for an estate sale on Wednesday and I have identified a few likely prospects for next weekend. There’s treasure in them thar estate sales, I know there is. And I’m going to find it!

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