How to score a deal at an estate sale

amy estate sale platter

Amy got this crystal platter for $4 at a recent estate sale.

By Amy Brozio-Andrews

Estate sales used to intimidate me. Just the name "estate" made me think of precious antiques and family heirlooms far beyond my budget or appreciation. Little did I know, an estate sale is more akin to an indoor garage sale than a fancy auction house sale.

So what kind of stuff can you get at an estate sale?

Just about anything goes, really. You could pick up a full set of china or bona fide antiques and collectibles, like Waterford crystal or mint-condition Barbie dolls. Or you could get cookie cutters, framed art, kitschy knickknacks, cook books, curtains, jigsaw puzzles, holiday decorations, furniture, luggage, towels, bedding, glassware, mirrors, jewelry, tools, exercise equipment, clothing, postcards and just about anything else you can think of.

And, much like a garage sale, you can often score a deal on these items.

Here are a few tips and local resources.

Nancy Toomer of House of Rose Antiques in Niskayuna ran the last estate sale I went to. She's got about fifteen years' experience, so I asked her a few questions. While other estate sales may be run differently, House of Rose Antiques's sales usually run two days and start off with a sign up sheet posted on the first day. Estate sale shoppers generally arrive early and put their names on the sign up sheet; first come, first in. The second day, there's no sign up sheet, just show up and come on in.

In general, there's usually no negotiating price on the first day. On the second day of the sale, you can negotiate, and by the end of the sale, the prices on many things have been reduced.

amy estate sale tableclothHere are some of Nancy's tips for good estate sale shopping:

+ The early bird really does get the worm. If you want the best selection, be there first.

+ Be selective! Don't buy just to clutter up your own home. There's always the next sale.

+ Linens are usually a really good deal; buy them and then use them. You can always replace them at another sale.

To which I'll add a bit of my own:

+ Have a good idea of the sizes of your tables and windows before you go, that way you don't need to waffle over curtains or a tablecloth, wondering if it's the right size (everything's final sale).

+ Bring a tape measure in case things like curtains and tablecloths aren't labeled with sizes so that you can measure them yourself.

+ Go to your first sale on the second day of the sale. There will probably be less people, and you're less likely to feel rushed or stressed out.

+ Be aware that if you take them along, your kids may be totally freaked out by estate sale shopping; mine were. You're walking through someone else's house like you own the place, touching things that don't belong to you.

+ Bring a bag or cardboard box to carry home your purchases in case you end up buying more than you can carry comfortably.

+ Find out what company is running the sale and get on their mailing list; you'll get first notice of upcoming sales so you can plan ahead.

At the last sale I went to, I bought a crystal platter for $4 and a gorgeous white linen damask tablecloth for $7 (photo on the right). Now I'll have a pretty Thanksgiving table and money left over for the antacid I'll need after the family dinner.

If you're looking for something to do next weekend, you can hit House of Rose Antiques' next sale next weekend, December 4 and 5 in Schenectady (check out the link to see what's available for sale, like Ethan Allen bookcases and Noritake china).

A few local resources:

House of Rose Antiques (get first notice of new sales on the mailing list

Estate sale listings at the Times Union

The Daily Gazette's classifieds (choose category garage/estate sales)

Local estate sales listed on Craigslist


It's sorta like shopping on the NYS ebay site!

Okay, so the $7 tablecloth worked out really well. I didn't stress over the coffee or the gravy stains. But I'm stumped on how to get off the candle wax. Anyone have experience with this before I wing it and risk ruining my tablecloth?

Great post! I've seen people getting great buys at estate sales on HGTV and always wondered how it all works.

I've heard the best way to remove candle wax from your tablecloth is to first freeze it to make it brittle, then chip it off with a butter knife. This will still leave a thin film of wax on your tablecloth, so grab a rag and place it beneath the wax-side of your tablecloth as you iron over it. The leftover wax should melt and transfer to the rag with pressure. (If it was colored wax, then you'll also need to treat the area before washing to remove the stain). Good luck!

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