Estate sales are known for being treasure troves of wonderful (and sometimes weird) pre-loved goods with pocket-friendly prices. For thriftsters hoping to find a baseball card or that record player they’ve always wanted but never been able to afford, estate sales can fulfill those shopping dreams.
This is why estate sales are wildly popular and have been called ‘garage sales on steroids.’
But estate sales are very different from garage sales in terms of what is sold. They tend to be a lot more niche because the people who frequent them are often only interested in certain items. Books may be a hit at a garage sale, but shoppers may not even spare them a glimpse at an estate sale.
In this guide, we take a look at what does and doesn’t sell well at estate sales. We also offer up some advice about what to do with the items that can’t be sold.
What sells well at estate sales
Although what sells well can vary from state to state and between different demographics, certain items always do better than others.
These are some of those items:
Furniture in general is always a top seller at estate sales, but the mid-century modern stuff is particularly popular. These are items that emerged between 1935 and 1965 and were mostly crafted from solid woods like teak, beech, rosewood, and elm.
Good quality mid-century modern furniture does exceptionally well at estate sales for several reasons. First, the classic yet sleek aesthetics of mid-century modern furniture is an incredibly popular and longstanding trend in interior design. Second, the quality of many mid-century modern pieces is undeniable, especially in the wake of "fast furniture" offered by large retailers. The popularity and outstanding quality of mid-century modern furniture leads us into our final reason — mid-century modern furniture has tremendous resale value. If you buy a gorgeous couch in this style but decide a year later that it isn't for you, you'll likely be able to sell it for what you originally paid if it's still in more or less the same condition.
Although ‘china’ has become a catchall word for any nice ceramic dinnerware that is reserved for special occasions, nothing beats the real deal. Unfortunately, finding authentic china dinnerware that is reasonably priced is not easy.
Good china sets sell really well because they are highly coveted among homemakers and collectors and can be bought for a fraction of their actual value.
The first Pyrex dish made its debut in 1916 and has since become one of the most beloved kitchen brands in homes all around the world. It is famous for its durability and versatility, which is why it doesn’t take long for shoppers to scoop it up when they spot it at an estate sale.
Some vintage patterned Pyrex is also extremely valuable as a collector’s item.
Although people who go to estate sales are often looking for great bargains on functional items, finding unique items is often a hope too.
Things that aren’t easy to find otherwise, like steampunk lamps, Tibetan hand-knotted rugs, and vintage Louis Vuitton handbags, are dream items, so they sell quickly.
High-quality, timeless brands
As the world changes and new generations step forward, it’s only natural that ideas around what is valuable and desirable will change too. That isn’t the case with enduring high-quality brands.
Whether it’s clothing or furniture, these kinds of items will always be wanted by shoppers.
What doesn’t sell well at estate sales?
There is no definitive list of what does not sell at estate sales because everyone is different. What one person may consider trash could be a treasure to someone else.
That being said, these are some of the things that generally just don’t sell well at estate sales.
Niche collectible items
Collectibles like Hummels and Lladros were all the rage back in the day, but many people won’t even know what they are now. Some collectible artwork needs to be properly assessed before placing for sale at an estate sale.
Although there may be a market for them, they are a bit too niche for estate sales and will most likely go unnoticed. Items like these are better off being sold by the estate sale manager online or directly to collectors in the estate sale manager's database of buyers.
Unless it’s a slick flat-screen TV going for significantly less than what it’s worth, tube and projection TVs most likely won’t sell for but a fraction of the purchase price.
With the demand for tube and projection televisions taking a nosedive, it’s not surprising that the demand for the cabinets that house them is falling too.
While some furniture sells exceptionally well, some furniture does not. If it was mass-produced or it is traditional in style, it probably won’t capture the attention of shoppers.
It is well known that mass-produced furniture doesn’t retain its value, so shoppers aren’t really interested in spending their money on things that aren’t valuable or special.
Pianos were once a status symbol, but as homes have gotten smaller and electronic keyboards have become more widely available, pianos have lost value and are being relegated to the history books.
The high cost of moving and maintaining a piano is also likely to discourage potential buyers.
Can't sell it at an estate sale? Here are your options:
Fortunately, even if you can’t sell some of your things at an estate sale, there are several alternative options. Here are 5 other ways you can sell your unsold items:
Some estate sale companies, like Serendipity, offer the option of selling items on consignment. This involves letting the company take possession of the items and sell them on your behalf.
This could be done from a showroom, through a website, or both.
List on art collectors websites
For collectible artwork that needs a very specific audience, listing it on art collectors' websites is the best way to get it in front of the right people and increase your chances of getting good value for it.
Upcycle/flip it so it’s more desirable
If possible, take the items that don’t sell and make them better or resell (flip) them on another website. Just because it didn’t sell at the estate sale, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a buyer out there somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding them by reaching a wider audience.
List on eBay, Craigslist, Facebook buy-sell groups
There are several great websites that you can list unsold items on and give them a second chance at finding a new home. The audiences on these websites also tend to be a lot more diverse, so there’s a greater chance of selling even your most obscure items.
Donate or give it away for free
If nothing works and you’re still left with items you can’t seem to sell, donating them to a charity or giving them away to someone who you think might appreciate it is always an option too.
Need help planning an estate sale?
Our Metro Atlanta estate sale specialists can help. Get in touch with us today to get started.