Making the Most of Estate Sales

Estate sales are like treasure hunts — and if you’re lucky, you’ll need a chest to haul away the loot // Photographs by Erik Howard


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House sales may be the new darling of television, with the airing of such reality shows as HGTV’s Cash and Cari (filmed in metro Detroit), but savvy shoppers like Malo Catherine Villareal have long seen estate sales as a great place to troll for treasure. Villareal, who owns Hydrangea Boutique in Grosse Pointe, has shopped sales from Philadelphia to Florida for more than a decade and says Michigan ranks among the best.

“Grosse Pointe has great sales, probably because of the demographics,” she says. At a recent sale, she came away with a piece of blue-and-white transferware for her personal collection and a few “items with a feminine flair” that she seeks out for her shop.

Once held mainly because of a death or the need to clean out an “estate,” today’s sales, which are usually held Fridays and Saturdays, are just as likely to be the result of a move or a downsizing, says Marcia Wilk, owner of Marcia Wilk Estate Sales and a veteran of 17 years in the business. “When you downsize, often the furniture you have won’t work in the new house or you need to clean out. That’s where we come in.”

The economy has changed what people are looking for, she says. Antiques are still big sellers (about 30 percent of Wilk’s business is dealers looking to resell), but everyday household items and newer furniture are also hot. “People may have been in the store and seen the same sofa for $4,000 that we have tagged $750,” she says.

Isn’t an estate sale just a glorified garage sale? Yes and no. Estate sales offer a few benefits. Because they’re held indoors year-round, there’s no need to brave the elements. Higher-quality merchandise is more likely to be collectibles than castoffs.

Also, if it’s a historic or vintage area, you can indulge your inner voyeur. My one regret about shopping Grosse Pointe estate sales — besides the goods that got away — is that I wasn’t here in the 1970s and early ’80s when the largest estates were being dismantled and sold off before demolition.

Estate sales offer advantages over buying new. Prices are usually better. The merchandise is more unique than what you’ll find at the mall. Recycling and reusing things is good for the environment. And, as Villareal says, it’s just plain fun.

“You never know what you’re going to find,” she says. “That keeps me coming back.”

 


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