How to Hit Estate Sales and Antique Shops Like a Pro This Summer

It’s that time of year when the warm weather makes us want to turn one man’s junk into our very own treasure.

 Tips For The Optimal Antique Shopping Experience

photography by Alice Saunders @FORESTBOUND


If you plan on checking out the variety of estate sales, antique shops, and flea markets happening all around the country this summer, you’ll want to read this. Leila Dunbar, an appraiser from Antiques Roadshow, offers pro tips and tricks so you can score big at the sales and shops.  

What is it about summer that makes people want to start antiquing?
Summer is a time where people want to hop in the car and explore. Antiquing is a great way to do that and also pick up bits of history. Sometimes people have a list of things they want for themselves. Others just like to have an unusual souvenir of their travels, which tend to be more memorable and meaningful than a mug.

What are some tips estate sale seekers should live by?
The first day the prices are usually non-negotiable. There are often lines for the sale, with everyone impatient to get in first. Competition kicks in. Make sure you don't just grab something to beat out someone else. Either you want it because it's a good buy and you can make a profit as a dealer or you want it for yourself and you are comfortable paying the price. The second day you can negotiate much more freely, as now the sellers want to clean out, pack up, and go home. Often you can get great deals; just remember again to buy what you like and are knowledgeable about.

Is there anything you recommend people take with them for a day of antiquing?
If you are going out for the day, bring water, snacks (as you never know what food will be available), comfortable shoes, and a smartphone to take pictures and look up prices!

There are lots of nervous hagglers out there. Any way to do it respectfully so the seller and buyer can be happy?
The best deals are those where both the seller and buyer are happy. Usually the seller has a little wiggle room from their asking prices, somewhere usually between 10%-20%. Be complementary. Don’t be afraid to say, "I really like this piece, but the asking price is a bit more than I am comfortable spending. What would be your best price on this?” Saying something detrimental about the item while you are negotiating is a turnoff to most sellers.

Are there any items you "shouldn't" buy at estate sales?
Dealers are going to look for items they can resell. But, don't just buy something if someone says it's a good deal. Collectors or casual antiquers should look for things that they like as they are going to be the ones living with the items!  

Are there any pieces that are worth the extra elbow grease or a DIY when you find it?
Again, if you are handy and see something you would like to take on for a project, go for it. Remember that most repaired pieces, while better than those in poor shape, will never be as desirable as those in excellent condition.  

Is it better to go armed with a list of things you want or check expectations at the door?
It depends whether you are looking for specific things for your home. If so, then yes! If not, then just go for it and fly by the seat of your pants. Antiquing is fun.

How do you know if an estate sale is a good one? How do you read behind the advertisement lines?
If the sale is being held in the actual home, try to find out the family name and then do some research. Were they a notable or wealthy family in town? Does it appear that they have been there for a long time? If so, then it's a better bet that there might be some interesting treasures.

Any other tips that the pros swear by?
It's important that you educate yourself. Estate sales tend to have a wide variety of objects, so if you have been doing this a long time, you generally can tell the good from the so-so. If you are new, you should go to shops, read, check out sales on eBay, and go to estate sales just to get a sense of how they operate before jumping in. The more you know, the more fun you will have!  

Published on June 09, 2017 - 5:30am EDT

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