I’m often asked the difference between a garage sale and an estate sale. Mainly, people get in their heads that an estate sale is simply a more expensive version of a garage sale. Sure, I’ve been to my fair share of horribly overpriced estate sales, but with the right mind set, a hunter can find some unique and beautiful treasures.
Here are the main difference I have found between the two:
Who is selling?
Estate sale: Although not always, these sales are put on by a third party estate company. The family or homeowner pays the company to sort through the estate, set up the sale and advertise and then run the sale itself. Usually a fee and commission is involved.
Garage sale: Set up and run by homeowners or neighborhood/organization
I found this filing cabinet at an estate sale recently, buried underneath a dresser and a bench.
Estate sale: Because of a third party’s involvement, this does amp up the prices some from a garage or yard sale. You are also more likely to find true antiques and collectibles which require a higher price tag. However, I have found reasonably priced items at practically every estate sale I frequent. The seller knows pickers and resellers come expecting to be able to make a profit on their purchases, so they price accordingly.
Garage sale: Most likely the goal is clearing out the garage. Prices should, and usually do, reflect that goal.
I am hard pressed to find vintage books (at least ones that look interesting and pretty on a shelf!) at anything but estate sales. I have rarely found books I can’t live without at a typical yard sale or thrift store. All of the books pictured above came from an estate sale library or study room.
What is being sold?
Estate sale: Involves the whole estate. Usually the rooms stay intact and stuff from that room are pulled out and displayed in that specific room. Most sales I frequent also allow you into the garage, the basement, the attic and the backyard.
Garage sale: Usually contained to the garage or yard. Sellers pull out only what they want to sell.
I scored a HUGE stack of vintage PNW and Canada post cards at an estate sale in Ballard a few months ago. You never know what you’ll stumble across in someone else’s home!
Goal of sale?
Estate sale: The end goal is to purge the house of the possessions of the prior owner. Many times this means the prior owner has passed on, but not always. Sometimes the owner has moved into another home, has down sized, or is moving cross country and needs to get rid of the majority of their things. This will allow the house to be cleared quickly so it can go on the market to be sold, while making some extra money for the family or owner.
Garage sale: Usually a spring cleaning goal, not an entire purge of the majority of the owner’s possessions.
What will I find?
Estate sale: Many times you are walking into an estate owned by an elderly person. Most likely, this person has either lived in the home or has collected items for many years and antiques will abound.
Garage sale: It is unlikely to find collectibles at a typical garage sale. Usually you have gently used home decor items, appliances, toys, clothes, shoes, etc. for sale.
This tribal print blanket is a great example of a garage sale score. Granted, the lady who was holding the sale used to sell antiques herself, but I never would have known if I hadn’t stopped!
The best finds, for my purposes, are found at estate sales- hands down. I have occasionally scored at a garage or yard sale, but I usually pre-screen what sales I invest my time in by checking photos and descriptions before I set out for a morning of hunting.
Craigslist is also a “go-to” source for me. The map feature also helps me to plot out my course so I can be most time and gas efficient.
What’s your best estate or garage sale find? How do you find your favorite sales?