Valuable Items to Buy at Estate Sales

Vintage Finds

Dee & Tula Monstah/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

It's no news that buying second-hand can be a great budget booster. Estate sales can offer an entire house filled with goods ranging from gently used vintage to new-in-the-box everything imaginable.

Sure, you have to stand in line to get in for the first shot at the deals, and haggling for a better price isn't quite as easy as garage sale shopping. But estate sales offer the potential for finding lots of great stuff you can either use in your home or sell for a profit.

  • 01 of 06

    Art Prints and Paintings

    “Vintage Painting of Mission” by lacasavictoria

    lacasavictoria/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Whether you’re fond of oil paintings or art prints, this is one area that offers tons of options at estate sales. With each sale you visit, comes a unique selection of art. This ranges from regional favorites, like landscapes reflecting the Hudson River School or Texas wildflower paintings, to art prints of well-known classics.

    Buying for your own use is easy, basically choosing what you like to compliment your décor. Buying art to flip means purchasing to meet current demands. Stay abreast on themes most popular with collectors such as Art Deco and Mid-Century modern. Keeping tabs on which illustrators are currently bringing the most cash at auction and looking for their work at estate sales can also pay off big. 

  • 02 of 06

    Kitchenware

    Vintage Pyrex Horizon Blue Pattern

    Grannies Kitchen/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    This is a broad field with tons of options. From kitchen tools you can never have enough of, like spatulas and serving spoons, to vintage pyrex and saucepans, you can easily outfit an entire kitchen on a budget through estate sale shopping. Many of the items will be brand new, or nearly new, only needing a freshening clean-up before you put them to good use.

    Don’t forget the kitchen collectibles as well. Things like ice cream scoops and cookie cutters can be priced reasonably at sales. Look for unusual versions and out-of-the-ordinary shapes if you’re planning to flip them. Those will be worth the most to a collector. Bigger items like cast iron pans and cookie jars draw interest as well. Basically, if it belongs in a kitchen and it’s kitschy or has a nostalgic look, there’s probably someone out there who will take it off your hands at a profit if you buy at the right price. 

  • 03 of 06

    Small Appliances

    “Vintage Ad #1,412: Nickel-Chrome Appliances Are So Right For Modern Living”

    Jamie/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    As an extension of the kitchenware category, most everyone has an appliance graveyard filled with gifts and impulse buys that seemed like a good idea at the time. If you’ve always wanted to try dehydrating your own food or making your own frozen yogurt, look for these new-in-the-box items at estate sales for a fraction of what you would pay for them new. Even if they end up in your own stash of kitchen castoffs, the amount you spent to give them a go will be much more affordable.

    Old kitchen appliances can be of interest as well if they are in good working order and the cords are not frayed. All handy small appliances from days gone by hold some value, but avid collectors of vintage electric mixers, toasters, and blenders look for rare models most often. Having an original box can add to the value, too, especially if it has appealing graphics from another era.

  • 04 of 06

    Books

    Vintage books lined up

    Plum Leaves/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Many estate sales feature huge bookcases filled with titles ranging from non-fiction coffee table books to classic novels. These can be a treasure trove for the avid reader, with more common hardcover books as well as paperbacks selling for pennies on the dollar. You can literally buy books for less than it would cost to drive to the library. Some of them, however, can be worth quite a bit more than their original price. This extends to children’s books as well.

    Most people are familiar with the term “first edition.” If you find the first-ever printing of a book, and it is priced as an ordinary used book, it can be a real score. This does happen from time to time when large volumes of books are included in an estate sale. Don’t overlook second editions either, because some of them are worth much more than you’d expect. Even some coffee table titles can be a picker’s dream if they feature celebrities or pop culture topics in current demand.

    Of course, there are also stories of folks getting an estate sale book home and noticing money that was tucked inside by the original owner. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s certainly a possibility so be sure to check your buys carefully before stowing them away on a shelf.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Jewelry

    Vintage Trigere Turtle Brooch from Ann Miller Estate

    Jay B. Siegel/Chic Antiques 

    No matter what you’re seeking—a little vintage bauble for yourself or designer pieces you can sell—jewelry features prominently at many estate sales. Prices can vary from super deals on gold and diamonds, to quite high for designer goods and rare vintage costume jewelry pieces.

    One caveat is that you’re often taking the proprietor of the sale’s word for the quality of karat gold, gemstone, and pearl jewelry. You may have to decide about whether something is a great deal on the fly, so buyer beware. There are also usually many people clamoring for these pieces, so you may have to stand in line and knock elbows to see them as they are shown one at a time from a showcase.

    Costume jewelry, if it’s of the high-end variety, can be sold in the same way as gold and diamond jewelry because the prices can be comparable. If you’re lucky though, all the pieces will be bagged separately so you can go through them on your own looking for designer treasures. 

  • 06 of 06

    Conversation Pieces

    Thai Dancer Statue Seen at an Estate Sale

    Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    The most fun you’ll have visiting estate sales comes with viewing all the curiosities that people have collected during a lifetime. Many of these are travel souvenirs, others are just everyday items from another era.

    Like all things Asian? You might find a hefty Buddha statue to accent your home or garden. Decorating a study? A vintage typewriter or map of your hometown might do the trick. You’ll never cease to be amazed at the varied discoveries unearthed at a good sale. Many offer online previews now, so you can get an idea about the items you’ll want to seek out first when the doors open. 

    If you’re willing to gamble that no one else is going to pay full price for your heart's desire, come back later in the sale. Many estate sale proprietors drop prices by 25 percent the second day, and 50 percent on the last day. Sometimes things that were priced way too high to begin with will be more reasonable if you swing back by for a second look.