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.

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!