You want to get rid of your unwanted items. Or maybe you’ve become a believer in second hand shopping. But in either case, the question remains: what exactly is an estate sale? Is it just a fancy garage sale? Yes. And No. I will tell you 15 differences of garage sale vs estate sales.
What are Some Main Differences of Garage Sales vs Estate Sales?
Whether you’re deciding between holding a garage sale or estate sale or you’re trying to figure out what different types of sales is best to shop, I’ve outlined a few of the key differences on the kinds of sales below.
|Liquidate entire household
|No sales tax
|Possible sales tax (paid by sale company)
|Usually cash only
|ash, check, credit card, sometimes Venmo
|Flexible opening times
|Strict time/days open
|Owner has unsold leftovers
|No leftovers for owners
|No bartering; discount days offered
What is My Experience with Garage and Estate Sales?
I am a professional garage saler. Yes, they exist. And, yes, the job is awesome. That means that most of the year, I’m out every week shopping garage sales and estate sales to find the most awesome things I can to resell online. I’ve been going to garage and estate sales professionally for ten years. But I’ve led a garage sale lifestyle for my whole life (seriously, my mom took me out since I was a wee tot and was scouring boxes for those coveted Nancy Drew books.)
Below I will go in depth on the 15 differences of garage sale vs estate sales so you know which one to choose to get rid of your items or to go shopping yourself. And if you’re unfamiliar with how to shop estate sales, check out my post on 16 Estate Sale Shopping Tips to Find the Best Vintage Items.
1. What is the Purpose of a Garage Sale vs an Estate Sale?
To start this list of 15 differences between garage sale vs estate sales, it’s important to know the purpose of each type.
Garage sales (aka yard sale, tag sale, moving sale or rummage sales) are generally to declutter your home while making extra money on items you no longer need. Sometimes the sale is caused by a move (aka a “moving sale”). But, still, in this case, you are still clearing out a portion of your possessions.
Estate sales are often as the result of someone’s death, and they are selling all the owner’s possessions. The family members have already taken what they want, and the estate sale professionals are liquidating the rest of the lifelong accumulation of possessions.
Like a garage sale, estate sales can be the result of a move where an older person is downsizing to a smaller home. There are also a few other reasons like divorce. But the goal remains the same for estate sales: liquidate the large majority of the owner’s possessions because of a big transition. Many times, the house is also listed for sale.
2. Do I Need a Permit for Garage Sales and Estate Sales?
Garage sales sometimes need permits depending on your city. In my experience, I know very few people who get garage sale permits except in the case of city wide garage sales. If you’re holding a sale during your town’s city wide, you should get a permit, if required.
Estate sale companies will handle all permits if they are necessary. If a sale is run by a company, they may be required to have a business license or permit.
3. Do You Pay Taxes Garage Sales vs Estate Sales?
Just so good ol’ Uncle Sam doesn’t give me the hairy eyeball, I have to say that I am not a tax professional. These are guidelines from what I’ve found, but you should research and make your own decisions.
Garage sales do not charge sales tax to the buyer. And sellers are most likely are not responsible for paying taxes on their garage sale proceeds. Why? Because moooooost likely, overall you’re selling your items at a loss and therefore are not “making” any money. Technically, if you sell an item for more than you paid for it, you pay capital gains tax. But total up everything you sell, and you’re still most likely at a loss. I don’t know anyone who worries about capital gains tax from a garage sale.
Now, if you are selling at garage sales as a business and making money at it, then you are considered…a business. I will leave it to your own business practices, but I’ll just say that businesses pay taxes.
One more thing, when you donate leftover sale items to a thrift store like Goodwill or DAV, you can get a receipt from them to write off as a charitable deduction the value of your items.
Estate sales do not charge sales tax to the buyer. But do they have to pay sales tax out of their proceeds? Well, that depends on your state. But the beautiful thing about estate sales is that the right estate sale company knows the tax implications and will tell you. If you are an owner, be clear with the company you hire up front about the tax laws and who is paying (if paying is necessary). Estate sale companies are businesses, so they would pay regular business taxes outside of sales tax.
4. How to Barter and Get Discounts at a Garage Sale vs Estate Sale?
Garage sales have a culture of bartering to get that good deal. Yes, you will find sellers who may seem annoyed at you asking $2.00 less for an item. But as a rule, you need to expect bartering. That doesn’t mean a seller HAS to come down on the price; it just means that people will often ask, and the seller gets to decide whether to counter offer, accept the offer or say no.
Estate sale companies DO NOT barter. They even have signs saying so. Unless you run across an estate sale that is run by the family, don’t even ask. But estate sales offer discount days. The longer the sale runs, the higher the sale discount (ie second day = 25% off, third day = 50% off, fourth or final day sometimes = 75% off). Exception to the rule: you can often make lower offers on single or bulk items at the end of the day on the final day when companies are just trying to empty the house.
Another the best way to get a lower price at an estate sale is the Bid Box. All professional estate sale companies have them. This is where you write down the item, the price you want to pay and your phone number. If your bid is accepted, they will call you that evening or sometime during the sale. (KEY: make your bid slightly higher than the next day’s discount. That way the company will sell it to you for a few more dollars before they have to discount it further.)
5. Who Runs a Garage Sale vs an Estate Sale?
Garage sales are almost always run by the owner of the items, aka YOU. Yes, you can go in with friends and family to have a “multi-family sale.” (A very good idea, I might add). From a garage sale, you will keep 100% of the profit.
Estate sales are run by estate sale companies most of the time. Companies will perform the following tasks:
- Price items
- Advertise with street signs, online and with their loyal followers through email lists and social media
- Run the sale and deal with customers
- Get rid of the unsold leftovers
For all this hard work, they will take a percentage of the sales, usually 30 – 40%. And let me tell you, a good estate sale company will earn every penny of it. Sales will take companies weeks to prepare for and run. If you are overwhelmed by an entire house full of items and just don’t have the time, professional estate sale organizers are the way to go. Be mindful though, there are good estate sale companies and bad estate sale companies. Do your research!
With that said, estate sale can also be run by individuals such as family members of the owner. This is somewhat common. In the case of family run estate sales, they operate much like a garage sale.
6. What Is Sold at a Garage Sale vs Estate Sale?
One of the keys to knowing the 15 differences between garage sale vs estate sales, is knowing what kinds of items each type of sale has available!
Garage sales can sell any personal items under the sun…and I mean anything! My mom was known to have bought one of our family cars at a garage sale. From brand new items to the dregs of someone’s basement, farm supplies, garden supplies, adult and children’s clothing (of course), baby gear. Almost anything you can buy in a store you can buy at a garage sale – it’s just more random.
Estate sales sell personal belongings just like garage sales but without quite so much randomness. Just think about people’s homes and then think about what it would be like to go in and just shop everything there. There are items that every household has; and then there are items that are unique to each home according to the owner’s interest. The decorating style varies, but the basic items sold remain pretty much the same. Below are some lists of items you most generally find at an estate sale and a list of unique items that I have found.
General items found at estate sales
- Dishes, silverware, drinking glasses
- Kitchen utensils, pots and pans, bowls, spices, and disposable items such as paper plates, Ziploc bags, etc (pretty much anything you find in a kitchen)
- Tools, garden supplies and anything you find in a garage
- Furniture from whole house – bedroom, living room, dining room, etc. It can be fairly new or antique furniture
- Bath towels and wash cloths, sheets, kitchen towels (buying these up cheap make great rags!)
- General decorations such as baskets, candlesticks, lamps
- Office supplies, books, DVDs
- Cars and house (yes, they are liquidating these at an estate sale as well)
- Vintage and antique home décor and collectibles of every kind
- Vintage clothing and fine jewelry
The list really could go on and on. Think about what every household needs to run, and you have an idea what’s usually at an estate sale.
Unique items found at estate sales
- Farm equipment, farm animal gear, fencing
- High end automotive tools (ie Snapon, Craftsman)
- Every style of vintage home décor (Mid Century Modern, Farmhouse, Rustic, etc)
- European and American antique dealer business liquidation
- Original artwork
7. Where are Garage Sales and Estate Sales Held?
Garage sales are most often held…in the garage, outside on the driveway an on front lawns. Yes, I’ve run across indoor sales, especially during colder times, but this is an exception.
Estate sales are almost always indoors. They will have items in the garage most certainly and in the back yard. But you will be wandering through a person’s home or at a business location owned by the estate sale company.
8. What Days Are Garage Sales vs Estate Sales Open?
Garage sales can be open any day of the week, any time of the day. However, a general rule of thumb for my area in the Midwest is Thursday or Friday through Saturday, 8:00 – 5:00. Yes, this can vary, but a majority of the time, Thursday through Saturday are solid garage sale days.
Estate sales have fairly set days and times though, again, this can vary according to the company. Most will open on Thursday through Saturday. Opening time is usually 7:30 – 9:30 AM; closing time is usually 4:00 – 5:00 PM. Some companies choose to do a soft open on late Wednesday afternoon or early evening. And a few companies like to run Monday through Thursday. But an estate sale company will most often keep consistent hours and days. Once you get to know the estate sale companies in your area, you will get a feel for when they hold their sales.
You can find companies and see upcoming estate sales in your area by going to EstateSales.net or EstateSales.org. Sign up for their emails, and you will get a weekly list of upcoming sales, times and addresses.
9. What Time of Year Are Garage and Estate Sales Held?
Garage sale season is generally spring to fall, following the nice outdoor weather patterns. Rain or bad weather will cause most garage sales to postpone.
Estate sales are held all.year.long. This is nice for shoppers so they can get their “garage sale fix” in the middle of winter. Seriously, most companies take off holiday weeks, but I’ve even seen some sales advertised for December 26. Adverse weather does not affect opening times. I’ve stood in snow and ice storms many times waiting for an estate sale to open.
10. Are Opening and Closing Times Flexible for Garage Sales vs Estate Sales?
Garage sales usually do have set days and hours for when the sale is open. However, often these are guidelines. (Except for the persnickety sellers advertises “no early birds.”) Generally, if a seller is setting up or tearing down outside of their set hours, they will let you shop even if it’s not the technical day of the sale. So get there before “opening time” to get the best items or near or after “closing time” for the best prices.
Estate sales are generally extremely strict on opening days and times. They are a business and run it like a store opening and closing. This is the estate sale culture and is expected by estate sale shoppers. (I say “generally” because there have been rare occasions when companies open early – this is NOT looked on favorably by estate sale shoppers who plan out their days according to sale opening times.) Estate sale shoppers know the drill and will line up outside sometimes hours ahead of time. But that’s ok. They know that right on the dot, the doors will open. (And if you don’t open right on the dot, there WILL be grumbling.)
Estate sales run by family members aren’t always so strict on opening and closing times. They run more like a garage sale.
To learn more about how to have the best chance of snagging the best deals at an estate sale (because competition is fierce), read my post 16 Estate Sale Shopping Tips to Find the Best Vintage Items.
11. How To Advertise for a Garage Sale vs an Estate Sale?
Garage sale advertising is very important and is ENTIRELY up to you as the seller. From sticking signs on street corners to taking photos of items to posting on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist and responding to messages, you have to do it all. And to do it well, it’s a lot of work. Read more about How To Advertise for Your Successful Garage Sale HERE.
Estate sale companies take care of absolutely everything for you. They photograph, post listings on multiple sites (if they’re a good company), set up signs – the works. AND even a bigger difference is that they have a loyal following. Good estate sale companies are known in the area (and even the nation) by pickers, dealers and collectors. And those shoppers will be on email lists or social media, following upcoming sales. These are highly motivated buyers the estate sale company knows and brings to your sale. I’ve been to many estate sales where potential buyers have come from surrounding states due to the great advertising.
12. What Are Prices at a Garage Sale vs an Estate Sale?
Garage sale prices are set by the seller. Maybe the seller knows the value of an item, maybe they don’t. What I often find is that a seller doesn’t know and then overestimates the value just because it’s old or has sentimental value. They then create a scenario where the overpriced item never sells (“because I saw it on Ebay for____”) Just a tangent here, but your sale is NOT Ebay; please don’t price your items like it is Ebay.
Estate sale companies deal with antique, regular household and unique items every.single.day. They want to sell items because that’s how they make a living, and they have a pulse on what sells for how much. They know where to look up the value of the items sometimes even sell the items online for you. Yes, many companies list high (which is sometimes a frustration to shoppers), but they also offer discount days to get the item moving later.
13. What to Do with Unsold Leftovers at a Garage Sale vs Estate Sale?
Garage sales are, without doubt, a lot of work. And after a couple weeks of preparing and running a sale, you come to the end…with leftovers. You have some options.
- Keep the items for your next sale (not ideal, in my opinion)
- Keep valuable items and list on Ebay or Facebook Marketplace (very successful from my experience)
- Donate the items to a thrift store (very satisfying to be done with it)
Estate sale companies take care of absolutely ever-ry-thing. You want items liquidated, and you’re paying to have things liquidated. All leftover items will be removed either by the professional estate sale company or by another a third party. Regardless of how it’s removed, the fact remains, you will have an empty house.
14. What Form of Payment is Accepted at a Garage Sale vs Estate Sale?
Garage sales are almost always cash only. And many people won’t accept large bills. There may be the occasion where someone might accept a check if you’re local. And on occasion people will accept online payment such as Venmo or Paypal. (If you offer these types of payment at you sale, it’s a good idea to make a sign and post it on the payment table and throughout your garage.)
Estate sales accept cash, check and credit cards. Of course, this is a general rule, but I can’t remember a sale that won’t accept these forms of payment. You might run across a company that accepts online payment from Venmo or Paypal, but it is still pretty rare.
15. What is the Etiquette at a Garage Sale vs Estate Sale?
Finally, on our list of 15 differences between garage sale vs estate sales, we’ll look at the “rules of the game.”
Garage sales are pretty flexible as far as rules of the game (other than general politeness and being a nice person, of course). Generally, at a garage sale, you can expect the following unless it’s posted clearly that you don’t want it:
- Early birds (people showing up before the posted opening time)
- Online messages with questions about items
- Shopper takes items up to the payment table to hold while they’re still shopping (aka: “a pile”)
- Shopper tells seller they want a large item but are still shopping (this holds the item while you’re there)
- Seller helps loading heavy items (not always but very often)
- Holding large paid for items for you to pick up later
Estate sales have more unspoken but very, very known rules. These sales are chock full of dealers, pickers and collectors who are professional estate sal-ers. That means they take this very seriously since it’s often their means of income. To read more in depth about how to shop estate sales, read my post 16 Ways to Find Vintage Items at Estate Sales HERE. A rules overview is the following:
- Opening and closing times are very strictly observed
- Show up early, line up outside, enter according to your place in line
- Once inside, first come first served. Grab the item you want quickly
- For large items, take the price tags to claim and “hold” it
- Set small items on a “hold” table up front
- No bartering, but you can leave a “bid” stating a price you’re willing to pay for an item in the bid box
- NO HELP loading heavy items. BYOM = Bring Your Own Muscle
- Seller will Hold large, paid for items for you to pick up later
Bonus: Gawking At Someone’s House
Ok, to be quite honest, I would probably go to estate sales even if I didn’t buy anything. That’s because I have the chance to wander around a person’s house and gawk. (Garage sales are limited to, well, the boring garage.) I have seen some AMAZING places while shopping estate sales. From Mid Century time capsules to ancient Victorian homes to old school houses turned collector’s haven to train depots. Some of these places are In-CRED-ible!
If you are trying to decide between having a garage or estate sale, I trust that this list of 15 differences of garage sale vs estate sales has been helpful. Details such as the purpose, the times open, taxes, permits, items sold, advertising and prices make a big difference in choosing what kind of sale to hold.
And if you’re a shopper, both garage sales and estate sales are incredibly fun. But as you have seen, there are significant differences that change the way you shop them. Don’t be scared to start if you’ve never been to either one…people are usually very kind at both!
Happy selling and shopping!