5 Tips for Successful Estate Sale Shopping

Melissa Arnold of Succor Estate Sales reveals how to get the most out of Los Angeles' fabulous sales.

Melissa Arnold of Succor Estate Sales

Melissa Arnold of Succor Estate Sales

Photo By: Succor Estate Sales

Succor Estate Sales

Melissa Arnold of Succor Estate Sales opened her own business about four years ago, after learning the ropes from a similar company. She says L.A. is a great place to find vintage designer items and show business paraphernalia.

By: Lisa Johnson Mandell

You’ve seen the signs – either on a street corner or online: Estate Sale, Friday-Sunday. It sounds so much more elegant – and interesting – than "Garage Sale," "Yard Sale" or "Tag Sale," doesn’t it? But what exactly distinguishes an “Estate Sale” from all the others?

If you're thinking all estate sale are tinged with sorrow because the homeowner has passed on and their belongings are being liquidated, you’re not completely right. Melissa Arnold of Succor Estate Sales, based in Malibu, says there are a variety of reasons people hold estate sales – not just because of a death in the family.

“They could be moving, or, particularly popular here in the Los Angeles area, they could be completely redecorating or remodeling their home, and want to start fresh.” Downsizing and divorce are also common causes of estate sales.

No matter what the reason for the event, estate sales are usually bigger in size, scale and inventory than your basic yard sale, and the best ones are professionally done by a company like Melissa’s. She takes great pride in converting the home into a boutique, with lighting, displays and pricing that make everyone feel like they’re getting a treasure for a fair price. Her services usually cost 30% of the revenue, and although she makes a good living, she says the best part of her job is the surprises she inevitably finds.

Some of the more interesting items she’s dealt with include a Tang Dynasty horse sculpture, a late 17th Century Werlitzer Harp, a David Hockney painting, a sofa made from the back half of a VW Beetle and a glass-topped coffee table with a Lotus engine for a base. Vintage and big name designer handbags, clothes, shoes and jewelry are old hat.

From a shopper’s perspective, Melissa says you’ll have the best experience and get the greatest deals if you follow these five simple tips:

1. Do your research. Most of the better Estate Sale organizers list their events on EstateSales.net and EstateSales.org. They often have photos and descriptions of items to be offered. You can compare prices on eBay. Also, check out parking restrictions in the neighborhoods where the sales occur, so you're not surprised by a parking ticket.

2. Know the pricing procedures. Traditionally an estate sale lasts three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, items sell for the prices marked. On Saturday, they’re usually 25% off. On Sunday, they’re just trying to clear it all out, so everything is pretty much half off. Know that the best pieces go first, however, and probably won’t last until Sunday.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Very few of the prices are set in stone, and the people running the sale have no personal investment in the items, so they won’t be offended by your offer – unless it’s ridiculously low and you're wasting their time.

4. Feel free to make an offer on items that aren’t priced. Melissa says she’s had offers on things like mops and cans of Comet, which she will gladly sell at a bargain price, just to clear out the house.

5. Don’t carry a large handbag or purse. A small clutch or wallet is best, since you might be required to check your oversized handbag at the door. Melissa regrets this, but says in many instances, theft is a real issue. If you have a hard time leaving your credit cards, cash, keys and identity with a perfect stranger, it’s best to put them in your pocket and not worry about them being checked.

So with all these opportunities to get great deals on hidden treasures, you might wonder if Melissa’s house is, shall we say, brimming with irresistible finds. “I grew up in a cluttered home,” she laughs, “and while I have my share of beautiful things I’ve found at estate sales, I’ve made it a policy not to bring too much home.” She leaves the vast majority of the best for the rest of us.

Fab Finds From Succor Estate Sales:

VW Bug Sofa

VW Bug Sofa

Photo By: Succor Estate Sales

Succor Estate Sales

VW Bug Sofa

This sofa, one of the more interesting items Succor has handled, was made from the backseat of a VW Beetle. It sold from a Malibu estate for around $800.

Tang Dynasty Horse Sculpture

Tang Dynasty Horse Sculpture

Photo By: Succor Estate Sales

Succor Estate Sales

Tang Dynasty Horse Sculpture

This authentic Tang Dynasty horse statue is one of Succor Estate Sale's more valuable finds. 

Typical Designer Shoes and Handbags Found at L.A. Estate Sales

Typical Designer Shoes and Handbags Found at L.A. Estate Sales

Photo By: Succor Estate Sales

Succor Estate Sales

Designer Shoes and Handbags

Very lightly – if ever – worn designer shoes and handbags, like these Louis Vuittons, Doc Martens and Louboutins, are common finds at Los Angeles area estate sales.  

Estate Sales Antique Liquor Decanter Set

Estate Sales Antique Liquor Decanter Set

Photo By: Succor Estate Sales

Succor Estate Sales

Antique Liquor Decanter Set

This 18th-century French liquor decanter set was a steal at about $250 -- one of the many pleasant surprised found at a Los Angeles estate sale.

Estate Sale Find: David Hockney Art

Estate Sale Find: David Hockney Art

Photo By: Succor Estate Sales

Succor Estate Sales

David Hockney Art

Melissa says that estate sales are great places to find contemporary art at prices that don't include the hefty extra fees you'd pay at auctions. 

Living Room at an Estate Sale

Living Room at an Estate Sale

Photo By: Succor Estate Sales

Succor Estate Sales

Living Room Decor

At a typical L.A. estate sale, you'd be able to purchase every item in the room, including the pictures and frames. Melissa advises shoppers not to be afraid to make offers on items that aren't priced.

Estate Sale Contemporary Custom Furniture

Estate Sale Contemporary Custom Furniture

Photo By: Succor Estate Sales

Succor Estate Sales

Contemporary Custom Furniture

In addition to vintage pieces and antiques, custom contemporary furniture is a common find at estate sales in Los Angeles, where reinventing yourself is a way of life, and homeowners often hire estate sellers like Succor to go out with the old and in with the new.

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