I met my friend Raina nearly eight years ago through work and she remains one of my closest girlfriends in the world (not to mention her daughter, Sunny, was born just a couple weeks after Sloan, so they’re built-in buds). She’s a total rockstar when it comes to her career – and she co-founded a successful talent agency – but she also has an incredible eye for interior design. Raina combines two of her favorite pursuits – shopping and competition – and has found countless gems at estate sales around the world. Here are her tips for navigating estate sales and coming home with fantastic finds.
1. Start with the web. I start by using a site called estatesales.net to find the sales I want to hit each weekend. You can narrow down by state, and city, even as specific as zip codes and create settings on to alert you to sales happening in your area. Many of the listings include photos of what is being sold, so I scan them quickly to see if there’s anything that catches my eye. You really have to pay attention to the photos and the descriptions. If you see photos of the garage and random tables full of old DVDs and tools, it’s probably not a sale where you’ll find great pieces. Keep an eye out for photos of intact rooms – you’ll find the best pieces at homes that are being liquidated in their entirety. If you love modern design you’re not going to find anything at a Victorian sale. If you’re looking for vintage clothes look closely at the images for the kinds of brands they’re featuring. The devil is in the details. If you can’t find the time to physically attend an estate sale or want to shop outside your city I like Everything But the House.
2. Do your research and set a budget. Knowing the value of an item takes research: Spend some time looking at the photos for each sale and identify pieces you want in advance. Do a quick search on sites like 1dibs, eBay or Etsy to give you a sense of cost and scarcity and then come up with the max amount you’re willing to pay. The beauty of estate sales is finding rare or one-of-a-kind pieces, but you have to know what you are willing to pay for those pieces. Don’t forget to factor in additional costs. There’s nothing better than finding the perfect chair and seeing its potential once you strip off the hideous floral fabric, but before you take it home, think about the new fabric you’ll have to buy, the reupholstering, staining or whatever else needs to be done and then re-assess if it’s still a good purchase.
3. Have resources you trust. Speaking of reupholstering and staining, it’s also really important to have vendors you trust who you know can do good work. That way, you don’t buy something that just ends up sitting in your garage. My mover and upholsterer are at my house so frequently they’ve met my child before some of my friends.
4. Phone a friend. Have someone you can text a picture to for a second opinion. Its easy to get caught up in the moment and since estate sales are for a limited time you don’t have the luxury of deliberating over a purchase – a voice of reason whose taste you respect to help you with a decision. My mother has an amazing eye and is super discerning so she’s my go-to.
5. Keep focused. To be honest, I have a storage space filled with things I promise my husband we’ll need someday. Estate sales can be amazing resources for great furniture and other things you truly need for your home. Though it’s fine to pick up things here and there just because, I'd recommend keeping a list of items you genuinely need and stay focused on finding them.