All About Estate Sales

A Crash Course & Tips for Newbies

by CATRIN MORRIS | Apartment Therapy | published SEP 14, 2010

Estate sales have always intimidated me. I assumed they were the exclusive domain of antique dealers and collectors—a world of prohibitively pricey Spode china and gilt framed artwork. So last weekend I decided to educate myself.

I consulted with two friends who are self-proclaimed estate sale junkies and as well as the owner of a local estate sale company to find out more about what appears to be a bizarre and fruitful subculture. Most importantly, I actually attended two local Washington, DC estate sales, which were advertised both online and on the street. It was eye-opening, to say the least. Here is what my crash course taught me:

Why do people have estate sales? According to Daniel Sanders of Four Sales, Ltd., which operates throughout the mid-Atlantic, about half of estate sales are held when a homeowner decides to downsize to a smaller home (following divorce or retirement or to pay off debt). The other half occur when someone dies. Because the sales are designed to sell off a large portion of a home’s contents quickly, you can expect prices to be lower than what one would find at a retail store or antique shop (and sometimes even on eBay).