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15 Items to Absolutely Buy at Estate Sales

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Last Updated on May 10, 2022 by lindseymahoney

Vintage items to buy secondhand | Building Bluebird

Going to estate sales is one of my favorite weekend activities! There are a handful of items that I ALWAYS look for and buy at estate sales and I am excited to share them with you today.

I love the thrill of the hunt for beautiful, unique home decor and furniture to fill my home. It’s also a great place to check out the great architecture and stunning properties around your city.

What is an estate sale?

An estate sale (also known as a tag sale) is a way of liquidating all of the items in a home. This type of sale often occurs when the homeowner dies or downsizes their property significantly.

Estate sales are an incredible place to find and buy high-quality pieces at a discounted price, but you have to be quick to snag them before someone else does first!

How to find estate sales near me?

You can find a list of local estate sales through the app estatesales.net. I check the app a few times each week and make note of upcoming estate sales that I want to attend over the weekend.

The app allows you to “like” any images within a sale and your liked images all get sent to the top of the list to easily view together.

If you don’t like using a phone app, keep an eye out for estate sales signs pointing you toward local sales in the area.


15 Items to Absolutely Buy at Estate Sales

Before we hop into the list, I thought it would be helpful to share a few definitions.

  • Vintage: A piece of furniture or item is considered vintage if it is at least 20 years old.
  • Antique: A piece of furniture or item is considered antique if it is over 100 years old.
  • Retro: Retro furniture and items were generally produced from the 1950s to the 1980s.
  • Estate Sale: The sale of someone’s items in their estate, typically after the death of the owner
  • Tag Sale: The sale of someone’s items at a discounted price – many sales that I attend are called “estate sales” but technically qualify as a tag sale

1 | Vintage Furniture

Vintage items to buy secondhand | Building Bluebird

Vintage furniture was built to last. Estate sales are a fantastic place to buy beautiful, solid wood, furniture pieces.

This bentwood chair is from a local estate sale and I just changed the fabric on the seat. I also refurbished the desk that was my mother-in-law’s growing up.

Vintage items to buy and where to find them | Building Bluebird

Another piece of furniture I fell in love with the moment I saw it was this gorgeous piano.

Unfortunately, once it was moved to our living room, the piano tuner told me that a piece was broken inside and it could not be fixed.

When investing in larger musical instruments, I highly recommend having someone check them out before purchasing. It still looks beautiful, though, and now it holds all of my thrifted artwork!

2 | Lamps

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

There are a lot of thrifted items in this image, including the pretty lamp. The chair, yellow picture frame, blue book, and peg rail on the wall are all estate sale finds.

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

I found this boullion lamp and bust at an estate sale whose owners loved Marie Antoinette.

The style and items in this home were very distinct. I love that each piece has a story and I can connect it with an experience.

Here is a lamp that I purchased at a second-hand store and applied plaster to the base for a fresh, new look.

3 | Books

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

I look for a few different categories of books to buy when I go to an estate sale. First, I keep an eye out for vintage, first-edition books that may be valuable as well as beautiful to display.

Second, I look for educational books that interest me. This includes gardening books, decor books, architectural books, etc.

Finally, I look for books in general that I have wanted to read or that my kids will like. I bought most of the Harry Potter hardcover books for my son at a deep discount.

Brand new hardcover books can cost as much as $30 and you can usually purchase them at estate sales for $3-$5.

4 | Baskets

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird
Mudroom Makeover

Estate sales are a great place to find different types of baskets. Living in Ohio, I often find the local basket maker, Longaberger Baskets at these sales.

5 | Picture Frames

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

If you find a beautiful picture frame but don’t love the artwork, remember that you can always switch out the art!

Thinking outside of the box will save you money in your wallet! I reused a brass frame that I found at our local Goodwill and added my son’s original artwork.

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

This original painting was in the discount section of a local consignment shop. The frame was found at an estate sale and I replaced the print with the painting. The frame finish wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I applied Rub N’ Buff to give it an aged finish.

6 | Mirrors

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

You can get a great deal on large or small mirrors at your local estate sales.

I purchased the vintage bow mirror below from a reseller who finds her items at estate sales. The mirror has so much character and a beautiful patina on the glass.

It looks perfect in my daughter’s vintage-inspired bedroom.

7 | Artwork

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

Original artwork is one of my favorite finds at estate sales when I am out hunting!

Peppering unique artwork from estate sales throughout our home gives it that one-of-a-kind look and creates a story.

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

I like to look for signed artwork, oil paintings, watercolor paintings, and drawings.

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

If an art print has numbers on it, for example, 56/100, this means there are only 100 versions of the artwork and this piece is number 56.

Numbered artwork is another item that stands out to me because it symbolizes scarcity and I know not many people will have the exact same thing.

8 | Holiday Decor

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

You can find so much holiday decor at estate sales!

I purchased a box of old green garlands for $10 and used it as the base to decorate our foyer staircase.

I filled the garland with faux flowers/stems, Christmas tree clippings, and red ribbon to complete the look.

Additional holiday decor that I frequently see at estate sales are vintage ribbons, wreaths, ornaments, and faux Christmas trees.

9 | Vintage China

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

If you want fine china for the occasional formal dinner, but don’t want to spend $1,000+ on a brand-new set, estate sales are the place for you!

I have seen dozens of gorgeous formal china and plenty of vintage silverware sets. I always keep an eye out for holiday place settings, but they usually sell fast at an estate sale.

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird
Red and Gold Christmas Decor Ideas

Here are a few brands/patterns that I look for at estate sales:

  • Spode
  • Holiday by Lenox
  • Wedgwood
  • Delft
  • Johnson Brothers

10 | Garden Decor / Outdoor Furniture

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

Garden planters and clay pots are frequent items available at estate sales. You can also find unique items to use as outdoor planters, like copper bins.

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

A few years ago we planted an English garden and we added an iron arbor that we found on the side of the road and a decorative blue sphere from a friend decluttering her garage.

11 | Vases & Plant Containers

Items to absolutely buy at estate sales | Building Bluebird

Containers that can be used for flower arrangements or candles are always available at estate sales. I purchased these copper urns and used them as the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving tablescape.

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

Small bowls like this Delft pot are great for small plants.

12 | Table Linens and Cloth Napkins

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

I am always a fan of simple eco-friendly changes, like switching to cloth napkins.

Cloth napkin sets and table linens are easy finds at local estate sales. I have bought many casual cloth napkins since you really can’t have too many if you use napkins at every meal!

13 | Clothing & Jewelry

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

I have a friend who almost exclusively wears vintage and secondhand clothing and jewelry. I

love attending estate sales with her and learning what she looks for in vintage clothing, but I still struggle with how I will style certain items.

My goal is to get to a point where I can easily spot great vintage clothing at estate sales, but I am not there yet!

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

Until then, I will support small businesses, like The Weekender Vintage, who do the hard work for me by finding, cleaning, and styling beautiful vintage clothing and jewelry!

14 | Rugs

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird

Well-made rugs are always a great item to look for at estate sales.

I generally look for wool rugs to buy at estate sales because I know they will hold up over time. A quick trip to the carpet cleaners and a once old rug will look and smell as good as new.

15 | Vinyl Records

15 items to absolutely buy at an estate sale | Building Bluebird
Music Sheet Cabinet Makeover

Growing your vinyl record collection is very easy when you shop at estate sales.

You can always find a box of old records for sale in a basement or office at a sale.


Where Else Can I Find Unique Vintage Home Decor?

  • Facebook marketplace
  • Garage sales
  • Thrift stores like Goodwill & ReStore
  • Antique stores – search for “antique stores nearby” on your phone
  • Flea markets
  • Local consignment stores
  • Roadside Items – Big trash day or items left for garbage pickup
  • Etsy – type “vintage [item you want]” in the search bar and you will get a list of items sold from small shops
  • Craigslist
  • Ebay
  • Chairish
  • Live auctioneers
  • Resellers online – I follow many resellers on Instagram (ex: @thebrasslamp)who do live sales in their stories

There are so many benefits to shopping at estate sales. You can find high-quality items at deep discount prices and save a ton of money.

Purchasing secondhand items is also eco-friendly by keeping perfectly good items out of a landfill.

You are also preserving a piece of history and creating a unique style in your home that has a story.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of things are sold at an estate sale?

EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING!

Estate sales are filled with every item you can imagine. This includes furniture, clothing, household items, fine china, artwork, appliances, and even cars. Estate sales are often where antique dealers buy items that are then sold at their booths.

What are the best-selling items at estate sales?

Antique furniture sells quickly at estate sales.

Vintage decor and collectible items are also quick to sell on the first day of an estate sale. The better the deal, the faster the items sell. In my experience, whenever I want a high-quality piece of furniture or a nice set of china, I have to be one of the first buyers in the door to have a chance at getting the item I want.

How do you get what you want at an estate sale?

If there is an item you really want at an estate sale, I recommend getting your name on the sign-in sheet as early as possible on the first day of the sale.

When there is a lot of interest in a particular sale, they will limit the number of people inside the home – usually around 15 people at a time. You want to be in the first batch of buyers if possible.

If the price of an item is too high, don’t be afraid to ask for a lower price.

People haggle at estate sales all the time. On the first day of the sale, the company is pretty firm on the list price, however, they become more flexible on the second and third days.

Why You Shouldn’t Sleep on Estate Sales – EP 341 – The Frugal Friends Podcast

Friday 29th of September 2023

[…] article from Building Bluebird lists the best items you should be looking for in estate […]

Laurie McLay

Sunday 20th of August 2023

Enjoyed reading about Estate Sales

My mom had an Antique Store in Boston growing up. Always Learning after 57 years.

JUST LOVE IT

lindseymahoney

Monday 21st of August 2023

Thank you!

William

Saturday 4th of February 2023

Great description of an estate sale.

lindseymahoney

Sunday 5th of February 2023

Thank you!

Gloria Schukman

Thursday 10th of November 2022

This is fabulous information! I loved it.

lindseymahoney

Friday 11th of November 2022

Thank you!