The Number One Preparation Tip For Hassle-Free Estate Sale Shopping

For thrifters and second-hand bargain hunters, the unbeatable prices of an estate sale can sometimes be their white whale. Perusing the home of a stranger, gleaning glimpses into their life clad in dollar sign stickers, you may find an invaluable treasure. There are all kinds of valuable things to look out for at estate sales, and that's why they are so popular — though they are sometimes behind in accepting non-cash payments. That's why coming to a sale with the right payment method (and haggling skills) can make all the difference. 

One should never go into these situations unprepared. After all, knowing how to save money on incredible estate sale finds is what separates the pros from the amateurs. With that in mind, it isn't safe to assume that a sale will let you swipe a debit card or accept Venmo — much less do so without a fee – so it's best to have a plan for buying your goodies. And that plan, if done right, will ensure that your great deals actually are great deals. 

For estate sales, cash is (still) king

When you aren't really sure what to expect outside of the hype you've heard, you can be woefully unprepared for an estate sale. Imagine walking in, finding something you've wanted forever, only to find out it's cash only — or that the card processing fees are high enough that the deal is no longer worth it. In other words, it's really worth stopping by that local ATM machine on the way in, and ideally breaking it into smaller bills in case change isn't available. 

As explained by estate sale aficionado Emily Rone Home on her blog, you should always stop to consider payment methods before you drive to an estate sale. "Many companies nowadays accept card, but will often charge a 3% processing fee. Others I have been to are still cash or check only, so make sure you either check before you go, or come prepared with payment options. If you are using, it should provide accepted payment methods on their site." She also adds that you shouldn't be afraid to negotiate at an estate sale, which could help reduce the cost or bring it back down to what you were expecting, even with the processing fee. Just don't try to negotiate after opting to buy it; that's considered gauche. 

Be respectful of the price and the sale

Discussing common estate sale shopping mistakes for Realtor, real estate writer Lisa Kaplan Gordon states that an important part of haggling at an estate sale is how you do it. Certain phrases are better than others, with one particular one she recommends being "Is this the best price?" though she also recommends "Do you negotiate?" – because when it comes to successful haggling at estate sales, it's important to approach the concept with a gentle touch. 

That's not to say haggling isn't great: it's part of the fun. If you've only brought a certain amount of cash along, you want to get the best bang for your buck, after all, and a 3% processing fee adds up if you're getting a bunch of stuff. That means that bargaining a price down based on your using cash — e.g., "If you'll take it for $50, I'll pay it in cash instead of credit" — can be effective. The estate sale folks understand that, even if they are hesitant to negotiate with you. More than that, though, there's a certain point where a "no" truly is a "no." Being too pushy or aggressive can lead to you being forbidden from coming to other estate sales run by the company. 

That alone is a reason to take your time and do things right, whether it comes to bringing cash or haggling gently, because missing out on future estate sales would be a tragedy. And with that in mind, if you really want the absolute best deals of all, consider going on the last day — or even in the last few hours, which is the best time to hit up an estate sale for the lowest prices.