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The Estate Sale Appeal

Kristen Hamilton contemplated plowing through many elderly estate sale attendees that stood between her and her discounted 12-piece Corningware Cornflower Blue Kitchenware. She waited from Friday to Sunday, hoping the set wouldn’t be purchased and she could receive the Sunday price, half off. She celebrated when she saw the set right where she left it. 

“I got in there, and the plates were still there. So, I bought them for $60 instead of $120. I literally stood there and started crying,” she said.

Hamilton is one of many who fanatically track estate sales and sort through tons of items searching for treasure amongst what many consider worthless.

An estate sale is held when a property will soon be sold, and the owners wish to sell the items inside. According to a survey by estatesales.net in 2020, forty-nine percent of estate sales are a result of the previous owner’s death, and forty-six percent are a result of downsizing. 

Many estate sales are run by third-party organizations. In 2021, the survey found that the average gross sales for an estate sale is $19,584.

Hamilton tracked this exact estate sale as soon as it was posted on estatesales.net with pictures of a Corningware set, a group of dishes she has enjoyed collecting since childhood.

“It was very popular back in the 70s, into the 80s. I remember my mother having it from when I was a child,” she said. “My husband doesn’t like to buy kitchenware stuff. I just think that all have our memories from childhood and mine revolve around the kitchen. I can remember every piece that my mother had.”

Hamilton has several tricks that allow her to get the best items for the best price at estate sales. Either show up early to beat the crowd or come on Sunday to get half off everything.

After realizing the price was out of her budget, she left dejected, pondering whether she made the right choice. On that Sunday, knowing that many estate sales reduce prices by 50% on the last day, she wrestled with the idea of returning, and her decision to come back paid off.

Diamond Moorehead is another estate sale attendee who thrives off the rush obtained when collecting items for fractions of their original price. Moorehead said many of her favorite moments as a kid included wandering around estate sales with her mother, and she loves seeing other families have similar opportunities.

“It’s something me and my mom liked to do together,” Moorehead said. “I see a lot of couples or parents and kids come together, and I think it’s a pretty cool experience for families.” 

Daaniya Rana, a sophomore at UNC-CH said she went on many fun trips to estate sales with her mother, who enjoyed finding antiques, specifically used books.

“My mom and I would go on walks through the older neighborhoods in Charlotte, and there were a lot of cute houses that were really old and historic,” Rana said. “Sometimes we’d find a house that was having an estate sale and my mom is a big sucker for antiques, so we’d go.”

Moorehead and Hamilton’s homes feature many items they stumbled upon during estate sales. Moorehead’s first apartment featured a set of furniture bought for dirt cheap at a sale. and Hamilton drove over two hours for a table she now uses as a desk.

“It’s small, and it’s uncomfortable. But it is stunning,” she said.

The items at estate sales can range from cheap quality vintage sets of furniture to weird collections of strange objects. 

“I took my daughter with me one time that she’s 23,” Hamilton said. “We found a sex book from the 70s and it really hurt the eyes. She bought it for $1 and then wrapped it and gave it to her grandmother for Christmas.”

While the items at estate sales can provide people with items they’ll enjoy and cherish for many years to come, many people feel weird about buying items that once belonged to someone who is now deceased.

“I have glasses that I have purchased over the years and my husband would not drink out of them because he said they’re dead people glasses,” Hamilton said. “It’s kind of creepy. But at the same time, we are helping that family out of a bad situation and they’re helping me with my little habit.”

While the concept may seem odd to some, others such as Rana find it interesting to learn about others through what they owned.

“There’s this like, eerie, creepy, sense of intimacy, and you also get a very intimate picture of someone’s life too,” Rana said. “Like when we’re going through the books, there’s one book that was like ‘living with Parkinson’s’. So, you can see clues from someone’s life story.”

Whether the items are bought by others or not, the owner of the property very rarely keeps them for themselves. Items left over after estate sales are often dealt with by the third-party organization running the sale. Seventy four percent of the organizations donate the items to charities.

Buying second-hand items has increased in popularity over the past several years. According to a thredUP survey, it is expected that the secondhand market will reach $82 billion by 2026, more than doubling. 

Along with this new popularity brings problems such as rising prices and increasing competition.

Mindy Flow is a one-time estate sale attendee who still has a bad taste in her mouth after being unable to purchase a table she found due to another man offering more than her.

“That was the last estate sale I went to. It was 40 years ago,” she said.

A growing trend is the resale of items bought at thrift store, estate sales, and other secondhand avenues. Many different opinions emerge regarding whether this is an ethical practice or if resellers are causing the markets rising price and unaffordability. 

Hamilton said that while she dislikes resellers, she knows it is due to her own sense of competition and wish to find the items herself.

“I despise that their business is to solely go to get items to resell at their own stand, and it just chews on my last nerve,” Hamilton said. “But I mean I feel that way because they’re looking for something that that I want.”

Moorehead disagrees and is supportive of those who chose to resell items if they do so at a reasonable scale.

“I believe in the saying of your trash is someone else’s treasure,” she said.

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