You can find many cherished belongings at estate sales, and cherished belongings are often valuable belongings as well.
Finding such items involves a careful mix of skills and tricks, as many other people are visiting the same estate sales to find the same hidden treasures as you. To develop the ability to spot the hidden treasures when you come upon them, educate yourself in the items you are viewing. Of course, items you have an affinity for will naturally avail you of at least a cursory knowledge. Being interested in certain items will make the learning process more fun as you decide to add to collection.
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Learn about how certain valuable items are manufactured, handled and stored. This helps teach you how to identify authentic items and distinguish them from reproductions and frauds. Learn how valuable items are valued, and what makes an item of a particular type more or less valuable than others like it. Learn what is truly rare and what you can find easily if you know where to look. This helps you learn how to fairly value the items you encounter independently of their quoted prices. Most of all, visit as many estate sales, auctions and antique fairs as you can to expose yourself to as many items in as many conditions and prices as you can find.
Research in Advance
Before you go to an estate sale, research the items being offered there. Oftentimes, estate sales post photos and item descriptions online. Review these closely to spot a possible treasure to investigate further. If you find an item you are interested in, call the contact number given to inquire more about it. Ask questions that help you determine whether the item is truly the treasure you suspect it to be. Also ask if the item comes complete with all of its essential parts. Even estate sales that do not publish photos and item descriptions online often name certain key items or list the types of items being sold there. If you collect a particular type of item, like silverware or watches, note whether it is available in a given sale’s inventory.
Know Where to Look
Many would-be treasure hunters travel across the nation to the most widely publicized estate sales of groups or particularly famous individuals and families. That makes the competition for the hidden treasures to be found there at its absolute highest. Not only are the number of people present looking for the same treasures as you are at its highest, so too is the propensity among sellers to set the highest asking prices. Meanwhile, many hidden treasures just as valuable are lurking unnoticed in smaller, local settings and individual estate sales of lesser-known individuals and families. Do not be afraid to visit these more remote and less publicized sales, as you may have a better edge acquiring a choice item for reasonable cost in such an environment. Search as well the estate sales in cities known for their transient population. These locations feature new sellers constantly cropping up, with the pool of potential buyers constantly cycling through. Someone with the ability to consistently scour the sales in a given city is more likely to discern the hidden treasures among all the rest of the chaff when they appear.
Arrive Early…or Late
The real deals at estate sales take place early, as they tend to be picked up fast by people who know what they are looking for and how to spot it when they come across it. Be the first person there when the estate sale starts and you get first pickings. If you wait too long, all the hidden treasures may be gone by the time you arrive at the sale. By the same token, however, there is also an advantage showing at the estate sale last instead of first. If you are less specific about the types of treasures you seek and merely seek the right bargains on the right items, showing up after everyone else has picked through the offerings gives you a greater chance of negotiating a better deal on the remaining items.
Be Alert for Buzzwords
To help steer potential buyers to items worth looking at, sellers at estate sales often use certain tactics, including using common buzzwords to describe items. A phrase you may see a lot in estate sale ads is: “Fresh to the market.” Items fresh to the market are those that have been hidden away in someone’s personal belongings or in storage for many years. When you see this in an estate sale ad or note items at a sale with this description, pay extra attention, as hidden treasures may be present.
Buy What You Like
Objective value is only one factor that makes an object a treasure. Personal passion and appreciation for an object is another. Unless you are planning on locking an item away in a safe, chances are you live with and regularly see the items you buy at an estate sale. Therefore, one of the first marks of a treasure from many collectors’ standpoints is their own love for the item. If you see something at an estate sale that speaks to you and that you absolutely love, then it does not matter how objectively valuable it may be. Its value to you is immense. Plus, the more you trust your tastes and instincts to steer you to items worth buying, the more your tastes and instincts may hone in on the finer, rarer and more objectively valuable items to own.
Oftentimes, the people running estate sales are too busy ringing up sales to answer too many questions. Moreover, many people holding sales do not honestly know the background or value of the items they are selling. Nevertheless, it does not hurt to ask. Among the questions to ask a seller about an item you suspect may be a hidden treasure include the following:
- What is the item’s provenance?
- How much did they originally pay for it, if they purchased the item?
- Have any professional appraisers or other experts examined it?
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