1. Sign up for EstateSales.Net. A couple years back, I was in Montecito with some friends when we passed by a sign advertising an estate sale up in the hills. We all wanted to go, but I wasn't interested in roaming around aimlessly while we tried to track down the location. But within seconds, my friend pulled up not only the exact address on her phone, but a description of everything being sold with accompanying pictures. We got to the sale minutes later and she scored an incredible ottoman for her office and I received an education on how to best prepare for estate sales. I immediately downloaded her app of choice, EstateSales.Net, which allows you to track upcoming sales, create lists of favorites, narrow by location, and filter by object. I also subscribe to their weekly emails so that I'm always in the know about upcoming sales in my area.
2. Show up early. I can only speak for estate sales in Southern California, but they are competitive. At the sale I went to this past weekend, I showed up an hour early (8am), assuming I'd be the first one there only to find I was 49th in line. That obviously isn't the case for every single sale (this one was particularly good and had a ton of impressive art), but be prepared that it can be a bit time consuming. When you arrive, find out if there's a list where you write your name or a physical line in which you have to be present until you're let in. In the case of this last sale, we were able to add our names to the clip board and then come back when our name/number were called (it turned out to be about an hour and a half of waiting, just to set expectations).
3. Be prepared. When I've decided on a sale, I make sure to favorite/heart any photographs of items I'm even slightly considering. It helps create a curated list of things I want to remember to search for since often times the amount of items strewn about can be a bit overwhelming. In the case of the Silver Lake art sale I attended last weekend, there were about ten pieces of art I was considering (I actually left with two of them!) and from there even prioritized which one I loved the most so I could make a split-second decision if need be. Since there are other people attending the sale in search of the same pieces as you are, sometimes making a beeline for your top choice ends up being the best decision.
4. Have a general price you're willing to pay in advance. Like most shopping opportunities, it's easy to get swept up in the moment and overpay for something (especially when there might be other people looking to buy the very piece you're holding). It's part of the thrill I love the most - knowing that you might snag something for an unbelievable price. But on the flip side, there have been just as many times where I'll see something I adore that I decide to walk away from since it's more than I'd like to spend. And while bartering at an estate sale isn't as prevalent as at a flea market, it's okay to ask for a slight discount if you're purchasing several items.
5. Talk to people working at the estate sale. I'm not usually someone who loves lines, but there's a different vibe while waiting to get into an estate sale that feels sort of old-fashioned and quaint. I always end up having great conversations with those around me - what they're looking for, if they live in the area, other sales they've been to, etc. And while I never want to bother the people actually working the sale, often times they're more than willing to help you track something down when you're kind and appreciative. While waiting in line last year, I mentioned to the man working the door that I was really hoping to be able to figure out which room the persimmon painting was in before someone else tracked it down. He excused himself, popped into the house, and came back a few minutes later and told me which room it was in. I ended up getting the painting and made sure to thank him again on my way out for his help. And don't forget to make connections with other people working (they often have their business cards displayed at check out) to find out about upcoming sales.
6. Bring boxes. This isn't something I've actually remembered to do yet, but a lot of estate sale regulars bring large cardboard boxes with them to the sale so they can carry around items while shopping (and then out to their cars). I'm a big fan of searching for smaller tchotchkes at estate sales - things like vases, bowls, figurines, coffee table books, small art, bookends, etc. since a lot of them are one-of-a-kind and add so much character to a home. Other things to consider: wear comfortable shoes, make sure your phone has plenty of batteries (since there's a lot of waiting around involved), and wear a small, cross-body bag.
7. Stay in the know. I've mentioned how you can sign up for weekly emails, but one of my other favorite ways to stay informed is by submitting specific search terms so you get alerted anytime one of them comes up in your desired area. I have an ongoing search for "outdoor dining chairs" since we'd like new ones in our backyard, but I'm not willing to pay full price for a new set just yet. Every time a new sale becomes available with the item(s) in your specified distance, you'll get an email notification.
8. Bid online. There are also ways to take advantage of estate sales, even when you don't live in the area. They'll come up in the regular search functionality, but have something that says, "Bid online." That's how I got the chair in our family room, which I got for $25 and later reupholstered in the coziest, cream-colored fabric. Though I had to pay to have it delivered, I think it's always worth it to spend a bit more on pieces that are special that you won't see anywhere else.