Updated Feb. 18, 2011
How big are estate sales? Big enough for two reality television shows.
TruTV, a network specializing in real-life stories, introduces "Big Brian: The Fortune Seller" at 9 p.m. March 22. The show follows estate sale supervisor Brian Elenson and crew.
Last month, Cari Cucksey made her debut as host of HGTV's "Cash & Cari," which airs at 9 p.m. Mondays and follows Cucksey to estate sales, flea markets and home sales. Cucksey also refurbishes and renovates goods at her resale shop, RePurpose, in Northville, Mich.
Cucksey said organizing estate sales is a mixed bag. She explains her business as one-third living estate sales, in which the owners are headed to some kind of assisted living; one-third downsizing, for people who want to clear the clutter; and one-third traditional estate sale, in which the household is liquidated entirely.
She offered these tips on how to shop an estate sale:
• Buyers should keep in mind that the family is trying to raise money. If a professional isn't handling the sale, realize that the sellers have an emotional attachment to the items and will likely price them according to that attachment.
• The question to ask is, "Is this your best price?" Don't ask how low they will go. "You don't want to insult anyone with your offer."
• Asking about a best price is also a good tool for nervous negotiators. Think about how much you'd be happy to pay for the item, and see if you can find a compromise somewhere in the middle. This way, everyone comes away from the deal happy.
• Do your research. A lot of estate sale organizers post their goods in a newspaper ad or online with photographs. Know the value of the items that interest you.
• You'll get better bargains on the last day of the sale, when organizers are anxious to clear out the house.
Some other details to know for estate sales:
• Get there early. Almost every sale has a sign-up sheet, so buyers arrive early to sign up to be among the first with access to the goods inside. Some sign up and sleep in their car. Others go out to breakfast and return for the opening.
• Different companies have different methods. Laura's Collectibles holds two-day sales. If buyers see something they like but don't want to pay the marked price, they're free to make a bid to pay at least 60% of the listed price. Remaining items are sold for half price on the second day of the sale. Open House routinely holds sales over three days, and merchandise is marked down to half-price on the third day.