Well, for the last few weeks, Jackie & I have been hitting estate sales here in Central and Northern New Jersey. This is a new thing for us as we have never even really hit garage or yard sales since moving to NJ from the Bronx in 1993. We just didn’t think it was what respectable people did.
Well, reality TV changed all that for us. Every pawn shop and antiques reality show had these stories of people finding tremendous deals at estate sales. Even one of our new favorite shows – Kevin Smith’s “Comic Book Men” showed the main characters finding big scores at garage sales and the Collingwood Flea Market. So Jackie and I decided to check out this suburban phenomena. And we lived to tell the tale.
We started our expeditions at the Collingwood Flea Market Mall in Farmingdale, NJ after seeing it on Comic Book Men. The characters on the show said that “the people who went to this mall were not allowed in regular malls” – and that was enough to pique our curiosity. And after asking around, we found it was a “ghetto mall” (which are usually awesome) where you could find “anything” – from brass knuckles, swords, and grappling hooks (seriously), to Nazi paraphernalia (we think – we didnt go in that section as it looked too shady). This is the type of mall where you could find the million-dollar first issue of Superman idly lying on a shelf under a bong lamp. Jackie & I learned a lot about what the “real” NJ Shore was this first weekend.
But alas, we didn’t find anything that we could re-sell to make millions on our trip. So we decided to do some estate sales browsing instead. We found a website with a list of em, and we mapped out about 14 of em spanning two Saturdays and off we went.
And we learned stuff in our estate sales travels… The two separate days we went out, we had two separate types of experiences, so I will split them out
Estate Sales Shopping is a completely new experience for us, so we didn’t know what to expect.
Here’s the rundown of what we learned this first Saturday….
You will feel your own mortality instantly.
Its called an estate sale for a reason – Chances are the owners had died and the family is selling off their crap to make money off stuff that they’d probably throw away or donate otherwise.
One of the first feelings I felt at my first estate sale was that one-day there will be masses of clueless people traipsing thru MY stuff looking to see if there was anything worth anything. And that just depressed the hell out of me – I dont think I believe in the “those with the most toys at the end, wins” philosophy.
But the depression about your mortality will wear off when you hit your next emotion…
You will feel like a vulture picking through people’s stuff.
The depression will be replaced by disgust that you are picking thru deceased people’s stuff. Watch the first minute of this clip of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol to get an idea of what I felt like going thru this stuff…
But after you digest all feelings of disgust, you start to justify what you’re doing… And it does work for a bit..
This is a wonderful experience for an aspiring writer looking for character inspiration.
At any given point, you are walking into the lives of people you have never met and seeing the total accumulation of their life laid out in front of you. And without knowing anything else about the people who owned the house, you can piece together a semblance of their life.
For example, one of the houses, there was a lot of camera equipment, golf equipment, and African and Asian folk art and stuff. Without knowing much more, you start to put together a life profile of these people – They were world-travelers with no kids accustomed to the finer things in life. The husband was a successful businessman who was an avid golfer. The wife was a bored housewife who fancied herself an art collector and photographer. They spent their entire life together except for a short period when the husband strayed with his gold-digging secretary. The wife eventually forgave him, but kept him on a short leash. Eventually the wife developed cancer, and the husband took care of her till the end and passed shortly after. I have no idea if any of the facts are true, but it is for a fictional character, so I’m fine LOL
Another house had tons of watchmaking equipment. This was inspiration for a strict Swiss-German watch repairman in a mall store like Zales who came into work only two days a week. But he was always tinkering at home who was very distant from his wife who drank a lot.
And so on. The sky is the limit on the characters you can come up with.
But eventually, you’ll see something that will depress you again.
One house had paintings of the owners up around the house. They weren’t very good, so I’m thinking it was done by a fledgling artist family member. And the paintings were FOR SALE for like $20. So basically these people had absolutely nobody to leave these personal paintings to. Nobody wanted to remember Mom and Dad (or Grandma and Granddad)… That $20 price tag was one of the saddest things I’d ever seen, and I kinda had to get out of there shortly afterwards.
Well that was weekend #1 where all these new experiences sank in. We decided to go back the next weekend to see if it would be any different now that we knew what to expect… It was…
We became a bit jaded to the emotions experienced last weekend and decided to see if there was any hope of making money
This is more of a list of what we learned with experience to get the most out of your estate sales shopping
If you don’t get there in the first hour. you probably won’t find anything worthwhile.
Before the estate sale, you have the relatives going thru the house with first pick at anything. Then you get the company that runs the sale getting second pick… Then they’ll probably bring in antique shops and specialty shops in to see if they can get good prices for other items…
Then the estate sale opens – And there are a LOT of people who go to these sales. And some of these people are professionals who have a second nature of what is valuable and whats not. And they scan the online listings and will go to ONE (maybe two) sales per weekend and get there before it opens on the first day and grab the good stuff.
So if you get there later, its already been scavenged a lot… But don’t fret there is some hope..
If you can’t make it in the first hour, try to go the last two hours of the sale.
There will be stuff that the sellers price too high and they’ll be sitting there all throughout the sale. In the last hour or two of the last day, they’ll be willing to make a deal. Being that Jackie and I did hit some sales during the last two hours of the sale, we saw them drop the prices 50% and even 75% automatically. It sounds like its a standard practice across the board, so if you see something expensive, you might want to go back – if its still there…
The prices on the sticker are only a “suggestion”
Still feeling some guilt from last week, Jackie and I didn’t want to insult the memory of the owner by trying to bargain with the sale people. When we asked the price of 25 Matchbox cars from 1979, he told us a dollar a car. We politely declined and were ready to leave. Then he told us we could have all the cars for $10 – which was definitely worth it.
Not all sellers will do this, but give it a shot…
Cash is king, and very few estate sales deliver.
None of the places I went to accepted credit cards or checks… It makes sense I guess, but it wasn’t obvious to me. I wouldn’t take a check from many of the people I ran across during my 2 days there.
Also, only one estate sale was willing to deliver items (for an extra fee). Again, it makes sense, but not obvious to me at first… Especially since theres always a lot of heavy furniture being sold at these auctions, so if you plan to buy anything big, mnake sure you have big burly friends available that day to help you home with stuff…
It looks like many of the sales will let you buy the item and come back that day to pick it up… I’m not 100% sure as I didn’t buy anything big enough to carry, but I saw a lot of SOLD stickers on big items…
Oh yeah, and here’s a big tip that you may not know…
Don’t assume the food is for customers
I had to leave the room during an incident at one of the sales this morning because I was laughing so hard. The seller had a box of cupcakes on their table – presumedly for the people working the sale. One of the customers decided to open the box and take one. The sales person got REALLY nasty with the guy about how bold he was and they started arguing.
I had to leave because these grownups were acting like children in their taunting each other and it was just ridiculous. Personally, I think this was the sellers fault for leaving the box right next to the register. I thought they were for the customers too, but I make it a point in life to not accept free food from random people I don’t know. Call me paranoid, but I don’t even take free samples in a supermarket.
Which brings me to my final point.
People just suck
Not everyone mind you, but you see a lot of clueless jackasses at these sales. Buyers AND sellers… Competition for dead people’s stuff really bring out the worst in people… I’ve seen people complaining loudly that the quality of the merchandise was horrible. I’ve had another buyer get too close to me when I picked up something that looked interesting, and I could hear her breathing start to get labored… When I put it down she picked it right up and realized it wasn’t anything spectacular and make some snorting noise – like it was my fault that she got excited over it. Calm down lady, you’ll have your chance to buy a dead person’s item soon enough…
So thats pretty much it. Jackie and I spent maybe 50 bucks over two weekends on matchbox cars, some dishes and other tsotchkas, but as you just saw, we got an education on estate sales… The bottom line is that I don’t have what it takes to be a good estate sales shopper… And I’m kinda OK with that… There has to be a better way to make some cash tho…
Will we go back? Right now, I’m gonna say no, but if i get a lead on a sale with some comics or 1970’s toys, we’re so there…
Thanks for reading – please leave a comment if you can.
Now for the shameless plugs… I let you read the blog without bugging you, so indulge me on this please?
First off, I wrote a Book last year, called Lost Boys of the Bronx: The Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang. It is about the real-life exploits of the Ducky Boys gang that was so terrifying in the 1979 movie The Wanderers. They also happened to roam the Bronx neighborhood that I grew up in in the early 1960s.
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And the third and final advertisement… I’ve been writing this blog for a while now, and there’s a lot of variation in my topics… There’s quite a few more costuming stories, some Bronx and Ducky Boys stories, reviews of movies, and concerts that I’ve been to, and tips for writers and/or procrastinators… Take a look thru the rest of them – I’m sure you’ll find something that interests you.
See, that wasn’t so bad was it? Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!