Normally, going to a stranger’s home and rifling through their worldly possessions is a bit taboo — unless it’s at an estate sale, in which case it’s just called shopping.
And while it may sound a bit macabre, those with inside knowledge of the estate sale world say it’s a fairly popular pastime for shoppers seeking a bargain.
One such shopper is Sandy Applebaum, owner of Around Again, a consignment furniture store on Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville. She said estate sales benefit the owner more than the buyer.
“People (who) come through there know ‘I need to buy it today or it’s probably gone,’” Applebaum said. “It’s fun for them to go. And they might find something that they want and they’re willing to pay the big price, because if they don’t pay it, the guy behind them is going to pay it.”
Of course, sometimes the buyer’s find may prove lucrative. And Pat Litchfield, owner and operator of the Gainesville Antique Mall, knows of such a tale.
The business woman — who frequents estate sales, garage sales and other consignment opportunities as a hobby as well as for her business — bought a nature print from an estate sale and placed it in her store’s bathroom. She thought no one would want the “ugly” piece of artwork.
“(A man we knew) bought the thing from me and took it to the High Museum to have it appraised,” Litchfield said. “It was worth $10,000.”
That is an extreme example. But regular estate sales clients — collectors, antique dealers, furniture consignment store owners and private buyers looking for a good deal — know the tricks of the trade.
Individuals who bundle several items for a single payment will receive the better price.
“If you make a pile, we’ll make you a deal,” said Doug Davisson, co-owner and operator of Crabapple Estate Sales, an Atlanta estate sale company.
Items typically available at estate sales range from clothes and housewares to furniture and electronics. All is displayed in an individual’s home, and sale hours can be a few hours or a few days.
“Most of the time we see pretty big crowds,” said Davisson, who has been operating in the Atlanta area for more than 15 years. “Most of the sales we have that are in Gainesville, Alpharetta or Roswell, those areas are very successful.”
Davisson said most individuals who sell their possessions via an estate sale do so because of major lifestyle changes.
“Sometimes they’ve died. Sometimes they’re being moved into assisted living,” the 70-year-old business owner said. “And sometimes they’re downsizing and moving to Florida.”
At a recent estate sale in Dahlonega run by Crabapple, the homeowners experienced both. The husband had died and the wife was being moved into assisted living.
Items from furniture to dish towels to old records were displayed on tables inside the living room of the Lumpkin County home. And many people busily sifted through odds and ends, seeking a treasure, collectible or something more unique.
“It’s just fun to see what they have,” Litchfield said. “The only drawback is you need to be the first one there.”
An advantage to estate sale shopping is individuals never know what they will find.
“The irony of these sales is in every sale (my wife) and I bet on what’s going to sell first and what’s going to sell last,” Davisson said. “And we’ve never, ever picked it right.”
Litchfield actually purchased something she never thought she would find at an estate sale.
“The most unique thing I ever bought at an estate sale was a pony,” Litchfield said.
She purchased the pony for $25. As she didn’t have a truck to transport the animal, one of her daughters held the reins while Litchfield drove two miles to their home, where the pony lived in their backyard.
“It was really fun,” Litchfield said. “We kept (the pony) for a long time.”