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, and 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,


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!