When the entire contents of a home have to be sold after the owner has passed away, moved or downsized, an estate sale is conducted. People are always asking me, “How can I find a bargain at a sale?” and I always have some answers.  

1. Make friends with estate sale coordinators in your area. We want you at these sales; we have email and direct mail lists, but you have to sign up to receive the information about the next sale. Tell us if you collect specific items, and we’ll make a note and call you if we find that item. I have people who are looking for everything from yard art to fine art and everything in between.
2. Educate yourself. Just because it is in an estate sale doesn’t make it particularly  valuable. Condition in antiques is everything, so when you go to these sales, bring a magnifying glass and look for chips, tears, cracks, missing veneer, etc. Ask the organizer about information; often times the owners share interesting stories about the history of their belongings, but we don’t know everything about every item in the sale. Do remember just because something is old doesn’t make it particularly valuable.
3. Don’t hesitate to ask for a discount. If it is the first day of the sale, the organizer usually won’t reduce the item, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you want a bargain, come back a couple of hours before the sale is scheduled to conclude and we just might reduce it up to 75 percent, but if you just have to have it, the best time to buy  is when you see it. If you like something, it’s likely others do too. Looking for a discount is like gambling: Sometimes you win big and sometimes you come away without a thing.
4. Come prepared to buy. Bring some cash in small bills; cash is king and we don’t want to make change for a $2 item out of $100. Bring packing material like blankets for furniture, paper for glassware, and a box or two. Also, at these prices, you have to move the furniture and large items yourself. We’ll hold it for a couple of hours, but we don’t deliver; most important, be ready to make a decision. Tempers flare when a customer runs through a house and gathers a huge mound of items and then takes an eternity to make a decision while other shoppers stand around and wait and wait and wait for him to decide what he is going to buy.
5. Finally, leave bids for items that you would like to purchase. If $300 for a sofa isn’t in your budget, write down what you are willing to pay and be sure to write your name and contact number. Often, the house needs to be cleaned out, and if the sofa doesn’t sell, we might call you and accept your offer. If we do call you back , you do need to make the purchase immediately.

Estate and garage sale shopping is part of our southern heritage, and it really is a “shopper’s high” when you buy that “must have” item at a great price. Hope to see you at the next sale.

[Editor's Note: Check back weekly for Cockrell's blog, "The Weekend Hunt," and information on upcoming sales. Read more about her here and here.]

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