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Estate sales are an expanded version of yard sales — except that virtually everything in the house is for sale. If you're looking for a good secondhand bicycle, lawn mower or toaster, an estate sale is for you.
Of course, some items are hotter than others. China sets? Not so much. “We're more casual in the way we entertain and enjoy friends,” says Jacquie Denny, founder of Everything But the House, an online company that runs estate sales. “My mom would set up china and polish silver, and never enjoy any of it because she was so worried about presentation and cleaning up,” Denny says. “When my friends come over, we're going to sit on the deck, probably have a few beers, and use paper plates."
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However, some items are in great demand. And whether you plan to resell the stuff you buy or just pick up good things on the cheap, an estate sale is the place to go. And many times, the things you can buy secondhand are sturdier and better built than the things you can get new at the store. Here are 10 things you should look for when you go to an estate sale.
If you have bare walls, estate sales can be a great place to pick up some nicely framed art. “I tend to find a lot of abstract paintings, which I'm interested in just because mid-century Modern is an aesthetic that I like in my own home,” says Kentin Waits, a writer for MoneyTalksNews.com who specializes in second-hand shopping. “Vintage pieces that I find at estate sales are usually signed originals or really nice, low-numbered prints."
Everyone's taste in art varies, but if you find a painting you like, you'll probably also find that the owners put it in a nice frame. You might even dislike the art but like the frame — and repurposing the frame for your own art can save you considerable amounts in framing costs.
Sadly, books are not in demand — unless they're first editions. Is it worth checking? Absolutely. A first edition of The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, is currently on sale for $100,000. A first edition of The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is selling for $85,000.
It's not easy to spot first editions, but if the date on the copyright page matches the date on the title page, you've probably found one. Sometimes the words “first edition” are on the copyright page, though you'll generally need to get that verified by an expert. Even so, taking a flier on a book for a quarter is probably a better bet than the lottery, and you can still read it — even if it's a 10th edition.
Nobody collects boxes of Tide, but if you're looking to get detergent, mops and other cleaning equipment, an estate sale is the place to get it. “It's a convenient way to avoid paying retail,” Waits says. “It's a good way to pick up a lot of stuff I know I'll need at some point for 50 cents or a few dollars."