When antiques dealers aren’t at their stores, they’re often scouring estate sales for treasures they can turn around and mark up for resale. At an estate sale, everything must go—quickly—so it’s often the place to find the best deals on valuable furniture, décor, vintage fashion, and more. Estate sales are like time capsules—the trick is to find the era that fits your style. Because they shop so much, our panel of pros tends to get tipped off when a good sale is coming up. You can be a part of that club, too. “The reality is that if you are a consistent buyer, the people that run the sales will reach out to you,” Robb Whittlef says. Here’s more expert advice:
1. Know your neighborhoods. Go to sales in areas that mirror your taste—Golden Valley for midcentury, Edina for traditional, north Minneapolis for urban vintage. For Downton Abbey fans who desire Edwardian opulence, Whittlef points to Kenwood, Summit Avenue in St. Paul, and Wayzata’s Ferndale Road/Fox Street area.
2. Follow estate companies. Dennis Hagen (dennishagenestatesales.com) has been known to conduct sales for some of the more prominent families in town. H&B (handbgallery.com) has a reputation for good sales, and Willmatt Hill (willmatthill.com) is another good resource. Scanning the newspaper for sales is a weekly ritual for Gwen Leeds, who also subscribes to mailing lists for local auction and estate companies, which notify her when a sale is coming up. At estatesales.net, you can narrow your search by city and view pictures of featured items for sale.
3. Timing is everything. Go early or don’t bother. That’s generally the strategy of serious shoppers like Denny Kemp. But Whittlef suggests shopping late for big pieces, which sometimes do not sell as quickly as the items that fit in your trunk. As closing time approaches, you might be able to negotiate a lower price.
4. Know the system. At big sales, numbers are handed out to potential buyers an hour before start. But dealers and early-birds adhere to a pre-numbering system that determines the order of the line to get those “official” numbers. The first one to arrive posts the pre-numbers on his or her driver’s side window, and takes No. 1. To get in line, find that car, take your number, and return to your car to wait. No driving away. If you leave, you lose your place.
5. Strategize. Leeds is always on the prowl for vintage fashion, so she heads directly to the bedrooms at an estate sale. Next step: She finds a spot with good lighting where she can give garments a quick but thorough inspection before buying. The thing about estate sales: There are no returns.