Last Updated on March 31, 2023 by Dave Farquhar
The Internet changed the estate sale business dramatically over the last 20 years, but I’ll argue it’s mostly for the better. Let’s look at how to find estate sales and how to find out about estate sales, but perhaps more importantly, how to find the right estate sales.
Where you look for estate sales in your area makes a difference. Estate sales are a great place to find bargains, but that doesn’t help you if you can’t find the sales first.
How to find out about estate sales
The estate sale game has changed in some ways over the last couple of decades, but a lot about it has stayed the same. There are better ways to find out about estate sales now than there were 20 years ago, but some of the old tricks still work as well as they ever did.
Remember newspapers? Twenty years ago, this was the only game in town. Online advertising took a big toll on classified ads, so newspapers aren’t the only place to look anymore. In some cities and towns, it’s possible you just don’t find estate sales at all in newspapers anymore. But that’s not always the case. A couple of the smaller, locally owned newspapers near me still have good classified ad sections, with good estate sale listings.
Newspaper ads are only a few lines long with no pictures, so that’s a disadvantage. But if it lists the kind of thing you look for, and it’s in the right area to find good stuff, go.
Here’s why this is important. Many estate sales get advertised in multiple venues. Occasionally a good one will only turn up in one venue. A good sale can become a great sale if not enough people know about it. That’s why it’s worth checking to see if your local papers still have a decent classified ad section. Finding a sale nobody else knows about may only happen once a year, but it may very well be your best sale that year.
Craigslist can be a mixed bag, and I find it better for yard sales or moving sales than estate sales, but that could easily be due to my locale. Checking Craigslist for sales is important, though, for the reason I outlined above. Craigslist is another venue some people overlook. And since Craigslist ads can have pictures, you’ll have a better idea what the sale offers.
Be sure to examine all the pictures. Sometimes the item you’ll be most interested in is barely in the frame. That’s probably my best estate sale tip, but I have a good dozen more tips if you’re interested.
The first and last word in how to find estate sales is estatesales.net, an online classified ad service specializing in estate sales. Most estate sale companies advertise here. The smart ones advertise elsewhere too, but if you want a one-stop shop, this is the one to pick. Estatesales.net lets you filter between estate liquidations, estate sales auctions, and even, in some cases, online auctions. The best listings here will have 100 or more pictures in addition to long text descriptions, so each sale won’t be much of a mystery. You’ll go in with a pretty good idea of what you’re going to find.
From other estate sales
This is my second favorite source of estate sale information. If you really like a particular sale, there’s a good chance whoever ran that sale will have another similar one at some point in the future. When you check out, they will have a way to sign up for their mailing list, so they will e-mail you about their future sales. Sometimes the e-mail will tell you things they don’t tell everyone on estatesales.net.
And when you frequent their sales, they’ll tell you things from time to time. Especially if you’re pleasant to deal with, because unfortunately, some estate sale regulars are not very pleasant to deal with. They assume you like their sales if they see you practically every weekend, but it’s always nice to hear it.
Also, when you’re standing in line, listen to the other people standing in line. Make conversation yourself if you’re comfortable doing that, but even if you’re an introvert like me, you can learn a ton just from listening to everyone else chitchatting. They’ll talk about the other sales going on that day, any rumors they’ve heard about upcoming sales, and frankly, some people spill way too much. I’ve heard people talk about specific neighborhoods and what you’ll find in those neighborhoods.
What to do with your listings
Here’s my biggest secret. When I put together a list of sales for the week, I note what venues they advertised in. If I find a promising sale that only advertised in the more obscure venues, I make a point to get to those sales fairly early. This practice has served me well over the decades. I’ve had sales net me three times as much as I expected, simply because the sale drew a smaller crowd and I was the only one there looking for those things.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.