Tips of the Trade: House of Hipsters’ Kyla Herbes on How to Shop an Estate Sale Online
“Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I went to auctions with my father, but I had never heard of an estate sale. Twenty years ago, you really had to hunt around and watch for signs along the roadside! Now, every couple of weeks I tend to scour the internet for listings while laying in my bed before falling asleep. If something catches my eye, I know I’ll have something to do on Saturday morning. My kids are starting to come with me, which is really fun! We have to talk before entering someone else’s home: we must not touch, we must be respectful, only use our eyes. For being so young, they’re really good about it.
An estate sale can be a very personal experience. If you ask about a piece, there’s probably a great story behind it. One gentleman was so excited when I purchased the wallpaper brush he used for countless hours with his father, because he said he never wanted to see it again. It now sits on a shelf in my home. If only he knew.
When it comes to shopping an estate sale online: it’s plain old convenient. I can shop them 24/7; sitting next to my husband while he’s watching television, for example. I can shop multiple estates at a time, or run a search on a specific item. I can shop from my phone while commuting on a train to the city. My weekends are freed up. But the best reason to shop online is no standing in line at 7 am, waiting hours in the rain, and getting through the front door only to find that the one thing you really wanted is gone!"
1. Always check the measurements.
It seems like a no brainer but can be easily forgotten. Size is something that gets me over and over again in person and online. Check the dimensions, not once, but three times a lady. Sometimes I get so excited about a piece’s prettiness that it makes me forget to pull out my measuring tape, but the pink Robbie Kemper artwork I won from EBTH is a great example of why it’s so important: It had to be large enough to hang above my dresser without looking awkward. I once bought a nightstand online and when it showed up, it was teeny weeny. I found a replacement at the flea a week later, but that one was about 3" too wide. On both occasions, I forgot to measure.
2. Set an alarm on your phone and turn notifications on.
You may think you’’ll remember when a sale goes live, or when an auction for an item is ending, but there’s a huge possibility that you won’t. These two white vases were a find at 1 am, while I was jet lagged in the Canary Islands. Remembering to keep tabs on an item is hard enough, but with the time change, a notification was definitely necessary.
3. Research the price and know your final bid number.
Everyone wants a deal, but you also don’t want to overbid. Know what the item is worth.
4. Use the Search tool and check alternative keywords.
For example, if you’re looking for “lucite,” also search under “acrylic.” Sometimes an item can be mislabeled.
5. Zoom in on photos.
Scuffs and marks aren’t as noticeable online. Look carefully for chips, stains and smudges, read the description carefully, and always look for a maker’s mark. These steps came in handy when I was determining how much I was willing to bid on this black and white Royal Haeger vase.
6. A single piece can lead to a treasure trove.
When you find one item that fits your style, keep looking through other items in the sale. The taste tends to be similar and now, you’re shopping a curation.
7. Take a peek at the bidding history.
You may see the price jumps in increments of $5. If that’s the case, try placing a max bid that ends with $7.