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Setting the Thanksgiving Table–How to Shop Estate Sales

by Karen on November 15th, 2014
Mad Men style glassware from Culver

Mad Men style glassware from Culver

Estate sale shopping is the best way to find a dining room table and everything you need to cook the meal and set the table. If you start this weekend you might even find a few things you need for this holiday season.

Every photo in this post shows items purchased at estate sales.

Silver, cool Mad Men glassware from Culver, pots and pans, —all purchased at 1/3 of retail or better and all in excellent condition. Dining room tables, chairs, sideboards, linens, you name it there is an estate sale every weekend in your area with high quality discounted items.

Top 10 Estate Sale Shopping Tips

There are a few tricks to finding the best estate sales and negotiating a deal:

1. Subscribe to for your area to receive emails of the sales a few days beforehand. Scan the sales for neighborhoods that might have good stuff and look at the photos posted before heading to the sales. Usually the estate sale company will post the best photos to attract the resellers. Get to know the estate sale companies, many have “friends and family” lists that have early admittance the day before.  Over time you can establish relationships with the estate sale companies to get on these lists.

2. Watch craigslist for estate sales and garage sales.  If they don’t post photos don’t waste your time.  There will always be another sale.

3. Sometimes early-risers find sales in the neighborhood just driving to a soccer game. Some of my very best finds were stumbled upon this way.

copper au gratin, a heavyweight quality piece purchased a few days ago at 1/3 of retail

copper au gratin, a heavyweight quality piece purchased a few days ago at 1/3 of retail

4. If you don’t have time to wait in line to see the goods, go later in the day, you won’t have the first pick but you can always find something you may need –especially if you are just beginning to stock your kitchen or china cabinet.  When shopping kitchen items and china, you aren’t competing for the same collectible items the resellers are looking for anyway. Don’t wait in line it is frustrating!!

china and transferware

china and transferware

5. Wear your contacts or glasses so you can read the stamps on the bottom of china or other tableware. It’s fun to collect a variety of patterns in china, silver, and crystal. And bring a smartphone if you want to research anything on the spot or call a repair person for a bid on a broken item. Take a photo and send it to them for an estimate.

6. Dining room tables are a great find at estate sales.  Every single sale I have ever attended has a dining room table and chairs for sale and usually there is a young couple with children struggling to get the table into their van — they are always excited about the great deal they just negotiated.  Oftentimes the tables have several leaves that expand for special occasions.  Even though you think you may not need such a large table, that is precisely the one to look for because before you know it you will need to seat 14 people or more at some point.

Desert Rose china, silver serving utensils, gravy boat, martini olive picks

Desert Rose china, silver serving utensils, gravy boat, martini olive picks

7. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, sometimes the seller won’t negotiate until later in the day or on the final day but I have worked with many who love the game and can’t help themselves. Before they know it you have worked a deal in your favor.  It helps if you know your prices.  If looking for lamps check to see if they work, if they need fixing know what it costs to fix a socket or repair a broken glass shade.  I have done this on more than one occasion and have purchased lamps worth upwards of a thousand dollars for a few hundred because they were broken (and they were easy fixes of a few hundred).

Old Timed Raisin Filled Cookie on estate sale china

Old Timed Raisin Filled Cookie on estate sale china

8. During the bidding process to represent the sale, estate sale companies tell the owner what they expect to net from the sale.  They know exactly how much latitude they have in negotiating prices on individual items. When negotiating a price be sure you are working with the owner of the estate sale business and it helps if you can do it discreetly. Some estate sale companies are new to the business and don’t know the value of certain items, if you do– you will be three steps ahead and in a great position to negotiate.

9. I like to research items later (and sometimes at the sale, smartphones are awesome) to see what kind of deal I really secured.  You learn something new every time and build upon your knowledge base.

10. Thrift stores and garage sales can sometimes be the very best source for what you seek but you have to sift through more junk to find the good stuff.

Just thought of a few more ideas:

11. Bring a flashlight.  I have paid for and carted a dresser all the way to the car and upon loading it found mold growing underneath.  The seller was a good estate sale company and refunded a fair amount because I decided to keep it and fix it but it would have been better to inspect it from the start.

12. Bring packing paper and a bag for small breakables.

13. Have fun, go with friends.  If you decide to stand in line you will have someone to talk to.

Over the years I have purchased rugs, lamps, furniture, china, artwork, and serving pieces. It’s a great treasure hunt that allows me to gather quality items at a fraction of the cost and gradually build a household of furnishings.

Ready to plan your holiday meal?

For our well-loved recipes for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas,  New Years, and Easter check out Cooking Gluten Free for the Holidays here

It’s an instant download ebook…….and you are ready for all of your holiday meals and treats.


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