Why Estate Sales? Eight Great Reasons to Hold an Estate Sale

Estate Sale Today!

Let’s just start of by saying that we love estate sales.  (Okay, I admit we’re a little biased here at Exceptional Estate Sales.)  Admittedly, they’re not for everyone, but here are eight reasons you might want to consider holding an estate sale in the future.

1. No worries!

Whether you’re moving, downsizing or settling the estate of a loved one, odds are you have enough on your plate already without trying to figure out how to dispose of each individual item in your house.  By hiring an estate sale company to run a sale for you, you can eliminate that worry.  Sit back and let someone with expertise in the area unpack, organize, stage, identify, price, market and sell your items for you!

2. Time is NOT on your side…

Sometimes time is a huge factor.  Maybe your home sold more quickly than expected or you’re being pressured by heirs to sell the contents of an estate quickly or you need to clean out before putting your house on the market, but you start work in another state next month.  Whatever the reason, we generally require only 2 weeks to 30 days lead time to plan your sale and most of our estate sales are one day, occasionally two.  At the end of that, the majority of your items will have been taken care of and you’ll usually receive a check within 2 weeks of the sale.  Contrast that with auction houses and consignment stores, which often take several months to sell items.

3. Convenience.

Logistically speaking, estate sales are the most convenient way to sell your items.  Because the sale is run on site, out of your home, nothing needs to be moved or packed.  You won’t need to rent a truck or hire movers, buy boxes and bubble wrap or contact multiple vendors to see if they’ll take your items.  And if something doesn’t sell, you won’t have to go back to pick it up.

4. We sell the big items AND all the little things…

With a very few exceptions (like firearms or alcohol in Massachusetts) estate sale companies sell everything.  This means that not only will we sell your furniture, art, antiques, jewelry and electronics, we’ll sell your exercise equipment, paper goods, books, clothing and pots and pans.  We’ll even sell your car or (if the house is a tear down) your kitchen sink! Auction houses and consignment stores will only take specific items  and even donation centers will limit the type of items they accept, which leaves you stuck with a bunch of items that may end up in a dumpster (with added expense to you), rather than with someone who needs and wants them.

5. Hire a pro for less.

Estate sale companies generally charge a commission in the 25-40% range.  (Our rate averages 30%.)  Consignment stores usually take a higher 50% commission and will lower the price of your item over time if it doesn’t sell.  Auction houses take a lower commission – generally 10-20% – from the seller, but also charge a percentage to the buyer, meaning they have to take into account the added amount of money they will pay the auction house when deciding what to bid.

6. House not sold yet? Clean it out and generate interest!

If your house hasn’t sold yet, an estate sale can act as a de facto open house.  Most of our sales draw a crowd of several hundred people over the course of the day and we’re frequently asked at sales if a house is still on the market.  If it is, home owners and real estate agents can choose to leave a card or brochure for potential buyers to pick up as they look around the home.

7.  Don’t break your back.

At Exceptional Estate Sales we always have at least two movers on site for each sale.  That means that when the armoire in the upstairs bedroom or the giant sectional sofa in your basement rec room sells, there is someone on hand to get it out of your house without banging into walls or scratching the floors and you don’t need to lift a finger.  Isn’t that better than wrestling it out on your own or paying a professional mover to do it for you?

8. It’s fun!

We love what we do and we hope that our clients do to! It can be an eye opener to see your home rearranged and staged and it’s interesting to learn about newly discovered treasures and hidden heirlooms.  Sometimes an old friend you’d completely forgotten about reemerges from a box in the attic or basement.  On the day of the sale, you’re free to take the day off and homeowners often go out to eat, shop, visit friends or arrange a special outing for the day.  Regardless, our goal is for you to enjoy the estate sale process as much as we do!

Want to share an estate sale experience of your own?  Please feel free to leave a comment below!

Let’s Make a Deal: Some strategies for bargaining at estate sales

Making offers and bargaining for better deals can be one of the most fun parts of shopping an estate sale.  There are few things as satisfying as coming home with a unique and treasured find that was also a great bargain.  As someone who has been on both sides of estate sale negotiations, I thought I’d offer some advice for the beginning bargain hunter below.

Be Brave!

Yes, asking for a better deal can be intimidating.  If you weren’t graced with the gift of gab (I know I wasn’t!) talking to strangers is tough enough, without feeling like you’re asking for special treatment.  The important thing to keep in mind is that sales associates at professionally-run estate sales expect you to ask for a deal.  They’re used to it.  Besides, the worst they can do is say “no,” in which case you can still buy the item for full price.

Be Polite

Estate sale workers are people too.  This may seem obvious to some, but you should never begin a negotiation on a negative note.  Don’t criticize the pricing, don’t disparage the item for sale and don’t threaten the person you’re bargaining with or the organization or individual they’re working for.  All you will do is ensure that the person you are working with doesn’t want to help you out.  At all.

Pay Attention to the Time

At any estate sale, the goal is to earn as much money as possible for the owner of the items for sale, but also to clear out the house.  At the beginning of a sale prices will be very firm, since there is a lot of time left to sell the item and still a lot of potential buyers to see it.  When a multi-day sale reaches its final day or a one-day sale hits the afternoon, prices tend to become more flexible as sellers turn their focus to selling through the remaining items.  That’s your opportunity to bargain for a better deal.

Consider “Bundling”

You’ve seen those annoying cable/phone/internet ads.  “Bundle and save!”  It can apply to estate sales too.  For example, if you’re interested in buying a coffee table and you like the matching end tables too, let the person you’re bargaining with know.  They may be able to offer you a better deal in order to sell all three pieces instead of just one.

Think in Percentages

I know – high school math.  Yuck.

That said, thinking in terms of percentages can be a helpful tool.  At Exceptional Estate Sales, percentage discounts off the sticker price are a big part of how we communicate what bargains the sales associates may allow and also what kind of bargaining our client – who after all OWNS all of the items for sale – will allow.  If you consider the item, the time of day and what you consider to be a reasonable discount, it may help you get inside the head of the person you’re bargaining with.

What to Do If the Answer Is “No”

It’s going to happen.  Sorry, but no matter how reasonable and time sensitive your offer, no matter how politely you make it, sometimes the answer will still be “no.”  Which brings us to the next point.

Don’t take it personally

There are a lot of reasons that sales associates have to say no to offers.  None of them are because we don’t like you.  Your offer may be below a minimum price set by the home-owner or an offer that was already rejected by them.  Or we could be waiting to hear back from someone with a higher offer.  It may be early in the day and we’re pretty sure that we can still get a better price.  Whatever the reason, please do not be offended or upset if your offer is turned down.

Make a counter offer

If the sales associate couldn’t take $50, maybe they can take $75.  If it’s in your budget to make a higher offer and the object in question is worth it to you, try raising your offer.  It can’t hurt, right?  After all, you’ve already heard “no” once.  If that still doesn’t work, ask the person you’re bargaining with what the least they can take is.  If it’s more than you’re hoping, now it’s your turn to say “no.”

Ask to leave an offer

If it’s early in the day and you will be able to come back later or the next day, consider leaving an offer along with your name and phone number.  Not all estate sale companies will take offers, but if they do, and no higher offers are made, they may call and accept your offer if the object hasn’t sold after a few more hours.

Keep looking

If there’s one thing I’ve realized from shopping and working so many estate sales, it’s that very few items (with the possible exception of artwork) are completely unique.  If you are willing to keep an eye peeled and have a little patience, you may find your treasure at another estate sale weeks or even months later.  Plus every estate sale is different.  Prices and minimums may be higher or lower depending on the house, the neighborhood, the type of sale, the number of items for sale and the homeowner.  With a little persistence and luck, you can find what you’re looking for again.

7 Things NOT to Throw Out Before Your Estate Sale

I’ve often heard estate sale clients say they need to sort things and throw stuff out before an estate sale, after which I always ask them not to throw anything away.  Just because it has limited value to you, doesn’t mean someone else can’t find a use for it.  The old adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has never been more true.  Plus, even with items of lower value, why should you go through the headache of packing them up or the expense of hiring a dumpster or clean out company, when you’re already holding an estate sale and someone may pay you for that item you can no longer use.  You can always throw it out later.

So without further ado, here are seven common items – in no particular order – that you should never throw out before an estate sale.

1. Books

Personally, I never like to see books thrown out.  Period.  There is always a school, library, crafter or used book store who will take them, even if they don’t go home with someone during your estate sale.  That said, books are very popular at estate sales.  I’ve seen avid readers buy bags and boxes of books and once had a crafter buy over a hundred books at once to build a secret door disguised as a bookshelf.  Even at $1 a piece, books can add up quickly and add a nice bit of extra profit to your sale.

2. Clothes and Shoes

Surely you weren’t thinking about throwing away name brand and designer clothes, those adorable heels, your grown daughter’s prom dress, the neck ties you’re no longer required to wear for work or last year’s winter coat!  These are some of the clothing items that sell at every estate sale.

3. That Sofa

You know the sofa I mean.  It’s in your basement rec room or maybe the upstairs room your teenagers used to hang out in and play video games.  The upholstery has that outdated pastel pink and gray geometric pattern from the 80’s or maybe a hunter green plaid that’s pilled at the edges.  It’s faded, it sags, someone spilled coffee on it and the cat has been scratching the arms.

Nonetheless, to a broke college student or first time apartment renter, this may be their chance to get a comfy piece of – otherwise very expensive – furniture.  All it needs is a slip cover, and it’ll be perfect.  Again, you’re not going to get a lot of money for that couch, but isn’t it better than paying someone to haul it away or throwing out your back wrestling it out of the basement?

4. Old Appliances and Outdated Electronics

There are several reasons customers buy these items.  For starters, the price is right.  If you can have a 10 year old DVD player that works fine for a quarter of the price of a new one, why wouldn’t you?  Also someone may have had an older model of something, liked it, and now want to replace it.  Even items that don’t work, as long as they are marked as “not working” can sometimes be sold to DIY-ers for parts.

5. Costume Jewelry

Maybe it’s not made of gold, and maybe it has crystals instead of diamonds, but that doesn’t mean your costume jewelry is worthless.  Attractive jewelry pieces are always in demand.  Plus as an added bonus, your estate sale organizer will probably go through the jewelry to double check that no precious metals end up under priced.

6. Cleaning Products (Yes, even the open ones!)

It may seem hard to believe, but someone will probably buy your half empty (or half full!) bottle of laundry detergent, glass cleaner or even weed killer.  Considering a full bottle of these products is $5 and up, paying $1 for that half a bottle is actually a really good deal for estate sale customers.  Plus you are not paying to dispose of hazardous chemical and those chemicals are not going into a landfill or the environment.

7. Music and Movies

While you may be streaming your movies and music, listening to iPods and watching TV and podcasts on phones and tablets, there are still plenty of people out there watching DVD’s and blurays and listening to CD’s.  We recently sold an entire box of VHS tapes to an older gentleman who is still using his VCR.  Records have become collectibles, and even audio cassettes sell on occasion.  The demise of physical formats has been exaggerated – plenty of people are still buying their movies and music this way and we sell them at almost every sale.

Is there something you were surprised to sell at a sale?  Something you’re thinking about throwing out and want a second opinion?  Let us know in the comments!

Recognizing and Identifying Prints

Estate sales can be a fantastic source to find unexpected, original and beautiful artwork.  If you’re interested in purchasing artwork it can be helpful – but not always easy – to be able to tell the difference between prints and paintings or drawings or even to identify different kinds of prints.  Below we have some ideas on how to do just that.

But first, a note…

Just because a piece of art is a print, does not mean it’s bad!  Many well-respected artists, including Edouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, Albrecht Durer, Marc Chagall and Andy Warhol (to name just a few) have done extensive work with printmaking.  Printmaking is a viable medium all its own with a varied history and some intriguing styles.  (Think about Japanese woodblock prints!) Yes, prints tend to be less valuable, because there are more copies, but that also means they are more affordable for those of us without museum-size budgets.  I know I will probably never own a Manet oil painting, but a lithograph by this great artist is definitely within my reach.

Basic Types of Prints

Before we get into tricks for identifying prints, it can help to have a basic understanding of printmaking methods.  Most art prints fall into one of 4 major categories.

Relief prints are prints in which the negative space (the part not appearing on the design) is cut away leaving a raised surface, like a stamp.  Ink is applied to the raised area and then a piece of paper (or whatever is being printed on) is applied to that surface.  The most common example of this is woodblock printing.

Relief Printing

Relief Printing

Intaglio prints are just the opposite – the design is carved or etched into a surface.  The ink or paint is then pushed into the grooves of the design and any excess is wiped away.  When printing with paper, the paper is usually dampened before applying it to the plate, where it absorbs the ink from the plate.  Perhaps the most well known examples of this method are etching, in which the design is created on a wax-covered metal plate and etched into the metal using acid, and engraving, where the design is directly engraved into the plate.

Intaglio Printing

Intaglio Printing

A third type of printing is called planographic. In this case a design is drawn on a specially treated flat surface using fat, oil or wax based materials that repel water.  The negative space holds water, which then repels oil-based inks used to create the print.  This is the theory behind lithography – one of the most popular methods of print making.

Serigraphy or screen printing is another common type of printing.  In this case a stencil is created using a fine mesh screen with an impermeable substance spread in the areas that won’t be printed.  Then the paint or ink is forced through the stencil to create a design.  You may have done this yourself to a T-shirt at some point.

And now…Some tips for identifying prints.

Marks and Signatures

While this may seem obvious to some, a good starting point is always to look for an edition number.  When an artist creates a limited number of prints (or “limited edition”) each print is usually numbered with a fraction.  The first number is the number of this specific print and the latter is the total number of copies in the edition.  Prints may also be marked A/P for “artist’s proof”, one of several early prints in the edition used to check that everything is as the artist wants it.  (Artist’s proofs are not counted in the edition number.)

On prints, edition number, title (if included) and the artist’s signature are usually (but not always!) in pencil.  However, that is also a common practice with watercolors and drawings, so keep in mind that a pencil signature doesn’t always mean a print.

Print marks

L to R: Print number (edition of 100), title, artist’s signature.

Another easy-to-spot giveaway that a picture is a print is a doubled signature.  In this case the artist signed an original work, then reproduced it and signed the print.  The signature will appear both inside the print and in the outer margin, usually in the lower right corner.


The difference in texture between prints and oil or acrylic paintings can be easy to see – especially when an artist piles paint on, uses a palette knife or has strong brush strokes.  It is always important to make sure the lines of the painting match the lines of the “brush strokes.”  Prints are sometimes made onto textured paper or have a textured finish applied over them to create the appearance of layered paint.  Prints may also be hand highlighted (a la Thomas Kinkade) to create a more painterly effect.  Sometimes even straight planographic prints with heavily applied colors can also create a textured, painting-like look.

There are also texture nuances that will help distinguish a print as a print.  Relief and intaglio prints rely on high pressure to create a good impression.  For this reason, the plates will often emboss the paper.  It is not uncommon to see the design of a relief print visible from the back of the paper or a border-like plate mark around the edge of an engraving or etching.

relief printing embossing

Relief printed page, with raised embossing from the reverse side showing through.  You can also see indentation in the red letters at the bottom.

engraving plate mark

Mark left by the edge of an engraving’s plate.

Up Close and Personal

Now comes your chance to breaks out a magnifying glass, jeweler’s loupe or whatever you have handy.  (Even a pair of readers will help!)  By looking at a print under magnification, you can often see artifacts of the printing process.

One of the first things to look for are dots.  You’ve seen them in comic books and newspapers, but even higher quality printing can be made up of tiny, tiny dots.  Below is a picture of oatmeal from a favorite cookbook.  It doesn’t look at all “spotty” until it’s magnified.

magnified print

Magnified print

You’ll also want to examine the edges of lines and shapes for a slight darkening at the borders.  In serigraphs, paint can be pushed against the edge of the stencil, creating a slightly heavier build-up of color.  Similarly, in relief prints, pressure can squeeze the ink or paint to the outer edge of a design, creating a heavier border and lighter center.  This is a subtle variance and can often be difficult to spot, but may help uncover a piece of the artwork’s origins.

In conclusion…

We’ve only scratched the surface here.  I know that, but it’s a start.  If you’d like more info or pictures here are a couple of links to check out:

Artsy.net “Nine Types of Printmaking You Need to Know”

Chsopensource.org “Identification of Prints”

If you’re looking for lots of detail, I recommend checking out How to Identify Prints by Bamber Gascoigne, published by Thames & Hudson.  It is well illustrated with tons of examples and draws clear comparisons to help distinguish between different types of printing.

Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to leave comments or tips of your own below!


So What Exactly Is an Estate Sale Anyway?

Since this is our first blog entry, we thought it made sense to start with the basics – and you aren’t alone if you’ve ever asked our title question!


An estate sale is run out of someone’s home in order to sell most or many of the items in the house. Traditionally, estate sales have been associated with the settling of an estate after a death, but modern estate sales are held for a wide variety of reasons, including moving, downsizing and retirement.   Estate sales are convenient for the homeowner, because they clean out the contents of the house quickly with minimal fuss and they are fun for buyers, because they get to shop in a unique setting and frequently go home with a great bargain!


“But isn’t that like yard sale or a garage sale?” you may be asking. Yes and no. Like a yard sale, things are priced ahead of time and sometimes you can negotiate or make offers. Unlike a yard sale, you’ll be inside a house, away from the weather. Plus the items for sale will usually be of a much better quality (think designer clothes and bags, original artwork, antiques and high end furnishings) and there are a greater number and variety of items for sale.


Many people choose to hire an estate sale company to run their sale. In addition to getting the expertise and experience behind a company like Exceptional Estate Sales, hiring a professional takes away the stress of advertising, organizing and pricing your items. We come in advance of the sale to photograph and inventory items and advertise sales through our website and other venues. The week before, we stage the home to best show off the items for sale and price them appropriately.   Then on the day of the sale, we fully staff the event with cashiers, sales associates and movers.


Okay – now you know the basics. Here’s how an estate sales works.


First you have to find a sale you are interested in attending. Estate sales are sometimes advertised in local papers or on Craigslist, but your best bet is to check estatesales.net, estatesales.org and estatesale.com to find upcoming sales. If you are in Massachusetts or the greater New England area and would like to attend one of our estate sales, you can sign up for our email list to be notified of upcoming sales or check our website, www.ExceptionalEstateSales.com.


If you are interested in buying a specific item, you’ll want to arrive early. At Exceptional Estate Sales we give out numbers beginning an hour before the sale and there are often people waiting already when we arrive!  Customers line up before we get there and then numbers are distributed in order of arrival to determine order of entry when the sale begins. At the sale start time, we open the doors and call people in the order of their number. We try to get everyone in as quickly as possible, (especially on cold winter days!) while making sure the house is not too crowded for safety.


Once inside, you can roam the house looking for treasures. Certain rooms may be blocked off with ‘Do Not Enter” signs. These off limits rooms may just be filled with items that are not for sale, but may also be being used by the homeowner or housing a pet during the sale, so it’s important to stay obey the signs.


If you find something you like, it’s best to keep it with you, so someone else doesn’t claim it. Most items will be priced or marked “Not for Sale” or “NFS” – if not just ask a staff member for a price. If you want to buy something larger, like a piece of furniture, talk to a sales associate. At Exceptional Estate Sales, we’ll put the item on hold for you and write the price on a ticket for you to take to the cashier. After you’ve paid, just bring the receipt back and we’ll mark it sold. (Other companies may use different systems – it’s always a good idea to find a staff member and just ask!)   At our sales, we always have a couple of movers to help you get heavy items out to your car, but from there, you’re on your own. 🙂


Part of the fun of estate sales can be negotiating a deal. If you find something you like, but it’s a little out of your price range, it never hurts to ask. Keep in mind that prices will be very firm at the beginning of a sale, but there may be more room for negotiation towards the end. It also helps to have reasonable expectations. No estate sale company will sell you an item marked $100 if you offer $5 – they probably won’t even give you a counter offer. However, if you offer $70, they may be more likely to accept your offer or meet you halfway. If your offer is turned down, don’t take it personally. Remember, the sales associates are working for the homeowner and have to follow their guidelines about minimum prices they’ll accept.


So that’s the estate sale experience in a nutshell. We’ll have detailed tips, ideas, featured estate sale finds and more in the future, so be sure to check back!


Have questions or feedback? Leave us a comment!