Respectful Estate Sale

When browsing the items at an estate sale, it's easy to forget that you aren't at just another secondhand shopping experience.  But it's important to keep in mind that estate sales almost always happen after someone has passed away, and it's a chance for the relatives to see the deceased's things off to new homes.  There may still be grieving around the loss of the owner, and the loss of the property may sadden that process even further.  Being respectful at estate sales is an important part of being a conscientious shopper.

sad family picture

Express your condolences to any family members present.  Don't be insincere about it -- if you can't genuinely bring yourself to feel sorrow at their loss, then don't bother, because it will be obvious you don't actually care.  However, if you can, take a moment to choose something you admire about the house or its contents and express that to the host as a way of honoring their departed loved one.  "Your aunt had amazing taste in wine glasses; she must have had an eye for beauty like no other," you could say, for example.

 Don't push too hard on bargains.  It's already tough to sell away a beloved one's treasures, and it's worse when the shopper refuses to settle on an offered price.  Granted, there will be times when everything is priced way too high, especially if the person running the estate sale has never hosted before, but don't try to haggle too hard.

 Follow the rules on the signs.  Because estate sales take place inside the houses (usually; some may occur out on the lawn, if one exists), the hosts will often put up signs directing you to the rooms you're allowed to enter, and cautioning you against various things -- "Don't Pet the Dog," "Don't Walk in the Flower Beds," or "Careful On the Stairs."  Follow what the signs say -- no trespassing in rooms marked off limits, no matter how interesting they seem.

 If you don't buy anything, thank the host anyway.  As you leave, you should thank the host for his or her efforts and for inviting you in to see the merchandise.  Even if you walk away empty-handed from the estate sale, it's still a way to lift their spirits on what can otherwise by a very depressing day.

 Look for estate and other kinds of sales near you in our free local listings at


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