We visit a lot of estate sales. Usually they are well run, orderly and pretty routine. The estate rep’s job is to get as much money as possible for the client. My job is to select the day(s) we visit, seeking the widest selection at the lowest prices. It’s a dance. Sometimes a slow waltz, occasionally a fluid tango, and rarely a manic tarantella.
This weekend was crazy, so I thought I’d share our challenges and triumphs. Part 1 begins on a Thursday.
We entered the wrought-iron gates of a lavish, Moorish mini-fortress. A family crest with swords hung above the gates. Beyond lay two oversized oaken gates. This residence, stretching on forever, seemed more like a castle than a sleepy suburban home.
Such an intriguing structure ensured a mob of rabid shoppers who surged with first-day, first-hour passion. Opening day, by the way, offers no discounts.
Along with many others, I had pored over the photos posted on http://www.estatesales.net and knew we’d find this home brimming with treasures. Religious icons from around the globe: a replica Russian synagogue, Byzantine icons, crucifixes, rosaries. And antlers, masks, Spanish furniture, metal works, sculptures and paintings — just a few of items that drew eager shoppers from other states.
Usually an estate sale company provides holding pens of some kind. As shoppers select items, they place them in a plastic container or on a clearly designated table. Everybody respects the holding pen, typically located very close to the cashier.
Picture the press of people, too numerous to allow any coherent flow of traffic, bumping and jostling while continuously repeating “Excuse me” with little sincerity.
Among this crush of humanity — and a full room away from the cashier — I caught sight of something underneath a card table filled with merchandise. Wading though a sea of frantic people, I bent down and pulled out deer antlers.
This innocent act brought immediate wrath from a nearby shopper who quickly shoved her way next to me and angrily declared all of the items off limits.
“Somebody’s already claimed everything down there.”
She turned to another woman, “Didn’t that man say he wanted those?”
Her friend immediately picked up the refrain, “Yes, I’m pretty sure he said they’re his.”
Turning back to me, she explained, “Because I’m was interested in the one you’re holding but that man has already claimed it.”
That’s ridiculous and I don’t like hearsay. I need primary sources. These ladies were loud, pushy and utterly confident in their assessment. Like a fool, I set down my antlers and in two steps found a sales rep. Nope, she said, those aren’t being held for anybody.
I spun around to see the first lady holding my deer antlers — and with no interest in surrendering them. “Well, I wanted them first,” she said, matter-of-factly.
I kept mouth shut and pulled out another set: ram’s horns and pretty cool looking. I think they may be upside down in my photo.
The steep prices prevented us from buying much, but here’s what we walked away with:
This next one was a private sale, open to all, but the family had chosen to forego a professional estate-sale company. They were on their own. I don’t like private sales because things can go wrong quickly.
My dislike of private sales was further cemented after David and I found a small, beat-up Kittinger chest with numerous problems. A couple decorations were missing, but we found them in a drawer. OK, they could be reattached. The molding presented a bigger problem: an important corner piece was missing. David would have to create his own mold, fashion a replica and seamlessly attach it.
We debated for 20 minutes. The sticky-backed tag read “$75 — As Is.” The family member sitting in the room — the homeowner’s mother — acknowledged that it was a good price for that poor piece.
I took the tag to the cashier’s table, intending to ask for a $10 discount.You know, go bold or go home.
“This is for the small chest in the back room.”
“Can you describe it? I’m not sure which one.”
“The small Mediterranean one.”
“I can’t picture it . . . ”
And my BIG mistake: “The Kittinger.” (NEVER admit you know something about a piece.)
As soon as I said the name, the homeowner, sitting next to the cashier, snapped to attention.
“That’s not the right price,” she said, grabbing for the tag. I pulled it close to my chest, unwilling to surrender.
“That’s what it’s marked.”
“It should be $175. Somebody wrote it wrong. I called out the price but they wrote it wrong.”
“Look, I’m willing to pay the amount on this tag. $75. Because that’s what’s marked. I can pay for the piece and walk out with it right now.”
“No. It’s mine and I’m telling you that you can’t have it for that price.”
Defeated and steamed, I waited for David and Michael, our son, to come downstairs. I delivered the news and we knew what to do: leave immediately.
This large, charitable estate sale opened its doors 3 hours before we arrived. Every single piece of antique furniture that I was interested in lacked a price tag. That means somebody had already grabbed the tags and planned to buy the items. The buyer was either in line or still shopping.
Well, it turns out that antiques were unavailable because our State Attorney’s representative, who waited 1.5 hours for the doors to open, was buying in bulk to furnish their new offices in antique style. I just read about an Illinois Representative who found himself in hot water after he had his office decorated in Downtown Abbey’s style (because the decorator donated her services, but it counted as a gift). Is a trend forming in public buildings?
Anyway, this man purchased at least 11 big pieces. Good for him but so sad for me.
But this estate sale wasn’t a complete wash. Michael found a couple pieces of Mid-Century Modern by Dixie and we quickly pulled off their tags. I picked up a wooden cigar box from Honduras just because it looked quirky.
Michael stopped to look at another Mid-Century Modern cabinet but, again, no price tag. After a while, however, it became apparent that nobody was purchasing it. A friendly sales rep scurried to find an answer.
Sold. The man running this sale had purchased it on behalf of his housekeeper and forgotten to affix a Sold sign to the piece. Ewwww. Sorry, Michael. He was discouraged about that, but he’ll still be able to strip and stain his lovely MCM furniture and sell them.
The Estate Sale Weekend . . . continued here.
Thanks for visiting. We hope to see you for Part 2.
Ann Marie and David