Vintage Pro Melissa Sands Offers 5 Tips for Shopping Estate Sales

Captain Dapper is a big fan of buying vintage. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only way to shop. I mean, let's face i - old stuff is just better. Vintage pieces, whether clothing, furniture or household goods, are usually higher quality, have inherent history and interesting back stsories and can usually be scooped up cheaper than buying new.

While I've hit my fair share of flea markets and thrift stores, I've been wanting to try my hand at estate sales. From what I've heard, that's where the bargains can be found. That makes sense, right? The folks at flea markets and antique stores are often re-selling items they've picked up for cheap at estate sales. The only thing that was holding me back from hitting estate sales was my fear of the unknown. As a total amateur, I felt uneasy about barging into an estate sale solo. So I reached out to my friend, vintage collector Melissa Sands, to see if she'd let me tag along on one of her estate sale trips. Even though she's in the throes of final preparations for this weekend's Vintage Garage, Melissa agreed to show me the ropes. She also set me up with these five important tips for estate sale newbies.

1. Get there early. How early? It all depends on the sale. Some estate sales start a list the night before the sale starts. Some sales hand out number an hour before the start time. Check the sale details for any information about sign-up sheets or numbers. If there listing doesn't give any information, it might be worth driving by the sale the night before. Check the front door for a sign up sheet or, if they're setting up for the sale, inquire with one of the estate sale reps about getting a number. If nothing else, you'll be familiar with the location of the sale.

2. Take your time. Once you're inside the sale, take your time and look around. At first glance you might think that all the good stuff has already been claimed but look a little closer. On my maiden estate sale date with Melissa, I totally passed over an amazing mid-century piece that was hidden behind a shelf full of games and stuffed animals. When I saw Melissa with it later, I was kicking myself for not looking closer.

3. Be nice. Like everything in life, a little kindness goes a long way. Get friendly with the estate sale reps and they may return the favor by cutting your deals or giving you heads up about future sales.

4. It never hurts to ask. The price may not always be negotiable but it never hurts to ask. After I paid the sticker price for a vintage bow tie at the estate sale this morning, I overheard another buyer bargaining. D'oh! As one of the reps said at the sale this morning, there's nothing offensive about asking nicely to find out whether the price is flexible. That said, if you know an item is already under-priced, don't get greedy.

5. Don't be intimidated. This was exactly the advice I needed to hear from Melissa. When you're walking through a sale with seasoned pros, it's easy to feel like you have no business being there. Hogwash. These sales are public and everyone is welcome. If another shopper tried to intimidate you, ignore them.

After visiting my first two estate sales with Melissa, I'm feeling more confident about shopping them on my own. I also feel like there was nothing to be worried about in the first place. At both of the sales we attended this morning, people were friendly helpful.

If you're in Chicago this weekend, be sure to visit Vintage Garage. This is the final show of the season so drop by on Sunday, October 10th to shop the collections of 100+ vintage sellers.

Image: Jason Loper


  1. Great post!!! I just moved to a new city from a small town and have no idea how to even find them, but now I'm inspired because I'm missing out on the fun!

    1. Yes, Amber, once you hit one estate sale you'll be hooked. A great resource for finding sales in your area is estatesales.net. It's a national sale locator so it should cover your area. Happy shopping!

  2. Don't forget- CASH is king..... always ask for a "cash price", Many take credit but that includes a card fee the estate people have to pay, so they love the green stuff and are more willing to wheel and deal. Also, try to buy in bulk. Make a pile if you are finding several goodies at one location, the price always gets better when you are taking a larger quantity of stuff off their hands. Just a few more friendly tips!

    1. Great tips, Richard. Thanks for chiming in!

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