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You've heard of garage sales and thrift stores, but what exactly is an estate sale? Estate sales take place when the personal belongings of someone who has recently died — or is moving — are sold to the public. The term "estate" typically refers to a person's property and possessions and is usually managed by an executor. These sales can provide a way for the deceased person's family to get rid of their loved one's items and make some money in the process. Estate sales can also be an excellent way to find unique, vintage, or rare items for cheap. 

But how exactly do estate sales work, and where can you find one? Here’s what you need to know. 

What Is an Estate Sale?

An estate sale is a type of sale where someone's personal property is sold off. These sales are usually held after someone has died or is downsizing, moving to a new home, or relocating. The estate sale can be held in the person's home or at a separate location, and everything from furniture, collectibles, and household items to artwork, family heirlooms, and jewelry are fair game. 

Estate sales differ from garage or yard sales in that they are typically run by a professional estate sale company that takes care of all the nitty gritty, from pricing and labeling to organizing and auctioning items during the sale. The estate sale company will then take a percentage of the total sales as payment for their services.

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How Do Estate Sales Work?

Though it's typically easier to hire an estate sale company to take care of all the details of a sale, estate sales can also be organized and held by the family or appointed beneficiary of the deceased person. If you're going with an estate sale company, the first step in the process is to find an estate sale company in your area. The company will visit the home or location where the sale will be held and assess the items that are available for sale; it will then organize, price, and display the items for potential buyers. 

Estate sales are often held over a period of several days (three days being the most common), with each day offering different discounts as the sale progresses. The first day of the sale will often have the highest prices, and prices will be lowered as the sale continues. By the final day, the remaining items may be sold at a significant discount.

During the sale, customers are free to browse the items and make offers. Some estate sales may have a "no haggling" policy, while others may be open to negotiation on certain items, similar to a bidding or auction process. The estate sale company will handle the transactions, and customers can typically pay for items with cash, check, or credit card.

second hand clothes shopPhoto credit: sturti/istockphoto

How To Find Estate Sales Near Me

There are several ways to find estate sales near you. One of the easiest and most popular methods is to use online estate sale directories and databases. Websites like, and allow you to search for estate sales in your area by entering your zip code or city. These sites will often provide detailed information such as dates, times, and locations of the estate sales, as well as photos and descriptions of the items on sale. 

Another way to find estate sales near you is to check local newspapers and classified ads like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Many estate sale companies advertise their upcoming sales through these outlets, and will often provide additional details such as the types of items that will be available and any restrictions on entry or bidding.

You can also check social media for local estate sale groups or pages. These groups often share information about upcoming estate sales and allow members to connect with one another to discuss items, or to figure out logistical details such as transportation and pick-up arrangements. 

Finally, be on the lookout for signs advertising estate sales while driving or walking around your neighborhood, as some may not be advertised online or in print. Many estate sale companies will place signs around the area to draw attention to their sales.

Woman buying item at yard salePhoto credit: David Sacks/istockphoto

Noteworthy Estate Sales 

One of the most noteworthy estate sales was that of Jackie Kennedy Onassis's personal belongings in 1996 to the tune of a whopping $34 million. The former first lady's estate sale drew massive crowds and media attention as people flocked to bid on items from her glitzy life. 

The sale featured everything from designer clothing and jewelry to personal letters and books, with many of the items selling for significantly more than their estimated value. Kennedy’s estate sale was particularly notable because it offered a unique glimpse into the private life of one of America's most beloved first ladies, and gave collectors and history enthusiasts the opportunity to own a piece of her legacy. The event also sparked renewed interest in the Kennedy family and their impact on American politics and culture.

Benefits of Estate Sales

Estate sales can provide several benefits for both sellers and buyers. For sellers, estate sales provide an easy way to get rid of items and make some money in the process. Estate sales are also less time-consuming and stressful than trying to sell items individually or online.

For buyers, estate sales can provide an opportunity to find unique, vintage, or rare items at a fraction of their original cost — similar to scouring brick-and-mortar or online thrift stores. Estate sales can also be a fun and exciting experience that offer buyers a unique glimpse into another person’s life.

Next time you're on the market for a vintage couch or a unique piece of jewelry, consider an estate sale for your shopping needs.

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