The Things I Always Look for at Estate Sales (They’re Totally Worth Buying)

published May 11, 2024
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Ancient an obsolete objects in Flea market in Madrid (Spain)
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Thrift stores are often the go-to destination for vintage or unique home decor pieces and one-of-a-kind wardrobe finds. Depending on where you live, however, you might be competing against a lot of shoppers with similar shopping goals and your local secondhand shops might at times feel picked over. If that sounds familiar, it might be time to set your sights on estate sales instead.

Estate sales offer the unique opportunity to shop the contents of a person’s entire home, from pantry shelves to walk-in closets and everything in between. As you make your plans to visit the next estate sale in your area, be sure to keep an eye out for these items that experts say always make the best secondhand buys.

Shoes & Clothes

For truly original fashion items, estate styles reign supreme. “You can sometimes find some amazing pieces hidden in the back of a closet,” says Alexandra von Gymnich-Scully, interior designer and owner of Rustic Rooster Interiors. The clothing you typically find at Goodwill or other thrift stores are items previous owners wanted to part with, but oftentimes the clothing and shoes found at estate sales are pieces that they held onto for life, and for good reason.


“Whether you’re setting up your first place or looking for more specialized cooking tools, estate sales are a great way to build out your kitchen,” says Andi Jenkins, a vintage reseller and interior stylist. Kitchenware is a great find because it can easily be cleaned and disinfected to get it looking good as new. “Plates, utensils, and other kitchenware are usually the leftovers at the end of the sale, so if you want to score a bundle deal for your home, shop the last day of the sale for the best price,” Jenkins says.


At estate sales, everything is on sale — even things you might not notice at first, like lamps, light fixtures, and other hardware. “Test the light before you purchase it,” advises von Gynmich-Scully. “If it works, score! If it is something you love, but doesn’t work, you can always have it rewired.”

Original Artwork

“Shopping estate sales is one of the best ways to buy affordable original artwork,” says Jenkins. “Shoppers can score signed, framed pieces at a fraction of what they would cost at a gallery. Just make sure you do a little research before purchasing any high-end pieces at prices that are too good to be true because; you may accidentally buy a dupe or print, rather than an original.” 


“Some of the most beautiful pieces of jewelry can be found at estate sales,” says von Gymnich-Scully. If you’re interested in purchasing fine jewelry secondhand, be sure to research items of interest in advance to ensure you’re not overpaying. High-level items often have signature markings or engravings that can shed some light on what type of jewelry you’re buying and when it was originally made.


“Whether you need a new dresser, bed frame, or dining table, estate sales are the best way to buy high-quality furniture pieces at an affordable price,” Jenkins says. “And if the homeowner had good taste, shoppers may even be able to score valuable antiques or mid-century furniture pieces — you just have to make sure to get to the sale early enough to beat the vintage dealers.”

Sporting Equipment

Want to start playing a new sport? Look no further than estate sales for the best prices on otherwise expensive equipment. “It’s always fun to pick up a new sport without breaking the bank,” says von Gymnich-Scully. “Start used, then you can always splurge later if you become pro.”

Designer Perfume

“Typically I would never advise someone to buy used toiletries — however, designer perfume is the exception,” explains Jenkins. “Fragrances can be very expensive and estate sale shoppers can usually find lots of partially full bottles at estate sales. You just need to do a couple spritzes to make sure the scent hasn’t deteriorated. There’s even a big secondhand market for used perfume on eBay in case anyone is looking for a new category for resale.” 


Whether you’re a brand-new collector or a seasoned pro, estate sales are the perfect place to invest in new china. “Buying your china used can save you tons of money,” says von Gymnich-Scully. “Sometimes you just need a few pieces that you want from a collection. Estate sales have some great one-piece wonders!”


While purchasing fake plants at an estate sale is a no-no, real plants get the green light. “Mature plants are expensive in-store and estate sales are one of the best ways to score large, luscious plants at a fraction of the retail cost,” says Jenkins. “And the best part is that they usually come with a pot, making them even more affordable.”

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: Things You Should Always Buy at Estate Sales, According to the Experts