Estate sales: An Atlanta how-to guide on winning big

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Estate sales: An Atlanta how-to guide on winning big

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Sarah Buehrle
Annette Whaley, looking for deals at a Mountain Park estate sale Friday, June 17, says estate sale shopping is both a hobby and a way to price for her church rummage sales.

Estate sales were once the the highfalutin stepsister of yard sales, but now they are the inviting, congenial sister you always wanted.

At least that's what the numbers say.

In 2015, there were a total of 1,949 estate sales in metro Atlanta conducted on EstateSales.net, an estate sales website and app that aggregates estate sales by zip code and allows the user to select sales by items for sale and driving distance. 

Beyond the joy of finding a treasure trove of home decor, mastering the estate sale can result in major bank.

"During my best year, I did $150,000 on eBay," said Marietta's Danielle Musolf, who shopped local estate sales before co-founding A New Leaf Estate Sales in 2010. "It was a lot of work though."

To lighten your workload, here are some tips before undertaking your own picking in Metro Atlanta:

Treasure Maps

  • The top cities to peruse estates sales, according to EstateSales.net, are Atlanta, where residents listed 659 sales last year, Marietta, with 260 sales, followed by Alpharetta's 231 sales and Roswell's 186 sales in 2015.
  • EstateSales.NET
  • Search in the top cities for estates sales, which, according to EstateSales.net, are Atlanta, where residents listed 659 sales last year, Marietta clocked 260 sales, followed by Alpharetta's 231 and Roswell's 186.
  • Follow the signs that pop up curbside each week, but know that a sale may be labeled an "estate sale" to class it up. A true estate sale will usually display the organizing company's logo.
  • Once inside a sale, sign up for the organizer's private email list for a direct line to upcoming sales.  

How to get in

  • If you show up when the sale starts, you'll likely be last in line. Camping out for sales offering highly collectible items is common.
  • Companies may hand out entry numbers up to an hour in advance of start time. Others will offer a sign up sheet.
  • At small sales venues such as a house, companies may only let in small groups of people.

Insider's tip: Musolf said to just go with it if a waiting crowd starts a self-numbering system. Many of the buyers already know each other from previous camp outs and numbers will be honored.

What to bring

  • Bring your own bags, boxes or dolly to carry things. Not every sale will allow these things, but it's better to have them than to be caught up short.
  • You could be walking through basements, attics or barns. Bring a flashlight and sensible shoes.
  • Bring a fat wallet: Some places will accept approved checks and credit cards, but most only accept cash.
  • Have your own "sold" stickers, address labels or post-it notes to slap on large items while you find a sales assistant.

Insider's tip: Musolf said A New Leaf Estate Sales does not ban self-made "sold" stickers and address labels, but if a person puts a note on an item, her company asks they then buy it.

How to snag the good stuff

Jewelry, books, Native American and audiophiles were the top Atlanta buyer searches on EstateSales.NET. If your goal is one of those highly sought-after items, your best bet for success is to do your homework:

  • Develop an area of expertise to know how to spot defects or imitations.
  • Knowledge also means you have a better chance of keeping your cool during a crowded sale.
  • Don't call ahead and offer a credit card to purchase something before the sale starts. Most professionals won't allow it.

Insider's tip: McQuade said people look at sale ad photos before the sale, trying to figure out where the lot is inside the home to maneuver through a crowd quickly. "Use the context clues," McQuade said.

How to bargain

  • Look for comparable items on eBay – if you know what things sell for, then you know what you want to pay.
  • If what you want is not highly collectible but more unique to your tastes, then it might be better to wait until the second day or last day to make an offer.
  • Some companies will accept a stated percentage of the sticker price on large items, and ask that you put a bid in with earnest money.

Insider's tip: "There's a way you can ask nicely and a way you can not ask nicely. 'Are discounts going on yet? Is there a time discounts start? Would you consider taking less?'" said McQuade. "I know a lot of estate sale companies hate it when you say, 'I'll give you $100.' It's that whole just being polite."

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