10 Tips for Making Out Like a Bandit at Estate Sales

There are deals to be had if you look for the right things.

woman paying money to saleswoman in garage sale outdoor
Updated May 29, 2024
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Estate sales aren’t just dusty occasions where families offload their grandparents’ possessions. Today, these sales are increasing in popularity, especially as secondhand shopping gains a reputation for being sustainable and cool.

You can find everything from solid wood dressers to black-tie clothing and margarita glasses, all at prices that help you get ahead financially. Sometimes, you might even find real treasure.

Ready for the thrill of the hunt? Here are 10 steals to look for the next time you go to an estate sale.

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Look for vintage Legos

Alan Luk/Adobe Lego vintage rally car set

People love vintage toys — the nostalgia of childhood runs deep. Even if you don’t want to keep the Legos you find, there is a strong resale market for these toys.

In fact, it’s possible to get $100 or more on eBay for some vintage lego sets.

Find art to decorate your home

FollowTheFlow/Adobe Scandinavian design living room

It’s unlikely you will find a work of art that is worth thousands of dollars hiding in an estate sale. However, you could find original art that will jazz up your space, and it will cost a fraction of what you would pay in a gallery.

If you hit the estate sale of a prolific hobby artist, you could stumble on a jackpot of original sketches or paintings for just a few dollars each.

Create a retro look with Bakelite jewelry

Cynthia/Adobe stack of vintage bakelite bangle bracelets

They may look like plastic at first, but vintage Bakelite bangles are a favorite of collectors. You will often find these bold bangles at estate sales, since they were popular in the 1920s through the 1940s.

If you find an authentic Bakelite piece, it could fetch anywhere from $20 to well over $100 if you decide to resell it.

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Bring color into your life with Depression glass

Tammy/Adobe Antique glassware American depression china

Depression glass — so named because it was popular during the era of the Great Depression — has become popular in recent years.

If you love the pretty pinks, greens, and other transparent colors of this vintage glass, you should make plans to hit an estate sale ASAP. This is the type of dishware you will often find hiding in cabinets.

Add classic old books to your shelves

Sacher/Adobe brown leather books with eye glasses

It’s hard to know whether you have found an old book that is worth a mint or a tome that is simply dusty. However, you can look up the value of the book on eBay or other websites to learn if you have found a true gem.

Books marked “first edition” on the inside tend to be more valuable. For example, a first-edition copy of “The Great Gatsby” can sell for more than $1,000 on eBay.

Cash in on silver flatware

acrogame/Adobe Vintage silver flatware set

Silver flatware and serving pieces were must-haves for entertaining among members of earlier generations. Today, they often gather dust.

No one is fighting over Grandma’s silver, so these items often end up at the estate sale. But, silver still has value if you want to resell it. Look for a 925 marking to ensure you have a genuine sterling silver piece.

Find bargains on solid wood furniture

oksa_studio/Adobe Oak wood table

Many people maintain that today’s furniture isn’t as well-made as it was in the past. After all, furniture made out of particle board or manufactured wood doesn’t have a lot of staying power.

You will often find older, solid wood furniture for cheap at estate sales.

Add nostalgic charm to your kitchen with CorningWare

vxnaghiyev/Adobe Red cooking pot on clean surface

CorningWare is the charming retro kitchenware that was popular from the 1950s through the 1970s, and it’s having a moment again.

With bright colors and nostalgic patterns, CorningWare makes a statement in the kitchen.

Get into the groove with vinyl records

sonyachny/Adobe miniature snowy village on white table

Vinyl records have maintained a solid fan base over the years, even as they have fallen in and out of popularity. You can pick up vinyl records for cheap at an estate sale.

If you hit the jackpot, you might find an album that is actually worth a lot of money. Look for mint-condition records from big names if you are hoping to uncover a major score.

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Celebrate the holiday spirit with decor

Delphotostock/Adobe Vinyl record with copy space

There always seems to be an abundance of unused holiday decor at estate sales. From Christmas tree ornaments to Halloween diecuts, you could buy enough decor to last you for years.

And you might get it at a rock-bottom price. Sometimes, making out like a bandit isn’t about how much it’s worth, but rather how you save money shopping for something you would have bought anyway.

Bottom line

Maren Winter/Adobe cardboard boxes with used stuff 

Your best friend at an estate sale is Google Lens. If you spot something that you think could be worth major money but want to confirm before buying, snap a picture in Google Lens.

When you do, similar items will come up, including for-sale and recently sold items on eBay and other platforms.

This gives you an idea of whether this item is actually a hidden treasure that you can buy at a price that helps you keep more cash in your wallet.

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Author Details

Heather Bien

Heather Bien is a writer covering personal finance and budgeting and how those relate to life, travel, entertaining, and more. With bylines that include The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, and mindbodygreen, she's covered everything from tax tips for freelancers to budgeting hacks to how to get the highest ROI out of your home renovations.