My Newest Favorite Thing…

I got this Dormeyer electric percolator at an estate sale many months ago, and it’s been sitting there waiting to be listed in my Etsy shop ever since. I ended up bringing it to the antique show I took part in August, where a shopper told me that I would regret it if I didn’t keep it to use because it makes the best pot of coffee.

I’m a total coffee addict, and maybe the reason it never made it onto Etsy is because I subconsciously wanted to keep it all along. I recently decided to try it out (not sure what took so long) and she was right – it does make an amazing pot of coffee. Not only that but it doesn’t require filters, there’s a sliding lever to easily adjust the coffee strength, and it looks nicer than a hunk of plastic sitting in the kitchen. I mean, it fits right in with my 70’s-era gold-flecked laminate countertops :p

Junk Hunting from a Junk Hunter

One time this summer I was talking about some of my great roadside finds when my brother jokingly called me “a picker.” I wasn’t insulted or anything, but the truth is, what I (and the many, many like me) do is far from what you see on American Pickers & the like.  While I would love to be able to go through someone’s house/yard/garage/etc. looking for things to buy and hearing the histories behind any interesting items, my vein of “picking” is basically driving around the suburbs and grabbing things from the curb (it’s come to be known as “junk hunting” at our house.) There’s little in the way of human interaction, although once a very nice man came out with his drill and took apart the  wooden bed he had set on the curb so I could fit it into my car. There was only one other time I actually talked to the person I was “picking” from.

I had seen a craigslist ad for free garage sale leftovers, and it was only a couple blocks away from my house. Funnily, I had actually WENT to the garage sale at that house the day before, but only had $2.00 cash with me so I bought very little. When I showed up, the guy was still bringing boxes of things to the curb. As I started loading up my car, he said “go ahead, take everything you can – I do it too.” I smiled and thanked him, and he kind of hesitated, then continued – “actually, I make a living doing just that.” I stopped loading and said “really?”

He went on to tell me that he earns around $30K a year picking up “junk” and selling it through local auction houses. He’s not a furniture rehabber or DIYer – his key is in the sheer volume of stuff he picks up & sells. He actually gave me some good tips on what neighborhoods to hit on various days of the week, and recommended the best auction company to use should I ever decide to go that route. It was such an interesting and unexpected encounter! (and the guy is practically my neighbor…) I ended up getting the speakers I used to make this piece of cat furniture, along with about 4 boxes of random glassware & Christmas decorations. I’m not really sure why he chose to get rid of this stuff versus auction it off, because it was all clean and in decent condition (but if I had to guess, I’d say he probably had no shortage of things to auction & didn’t want to bother with a few boxes of little stuff that would probably only go for a few bucks.)

Even funnier, a couple of days later I was picking things up from one of the online estate sale places I frequent (that also takes consignments) and in walks this very guy. Turns out he knows the owner well (as do I, by this point) and consigns things through him pretty regularly. He was bringing in this very unique wooden sculpture to consign – which recently turned up – refinished – at the antique mall where I have a booth. It’s a small junkin’ world around here!

Secondhand shopping without leaving home! (online estate sales)

So a couple of weeks ago I decided to look online to find an estate sale to go to – I’ve never been to one –  when I made an amazing discovery: there was no need to wait – I could bid on numerous local estate sales right that very minute!

I’ve since been filling up our house with purchases from online estate auctions.  It’s just so convenient and fun! The deals are amazing, too.

Kady helping me pick up my winnings

So here’s what I brought home yesterday – it cost $41.50 total.  (I feel compelled to add that some of this stuff was purchased in a lot – basically I paid $1-$2 for a big box of unknowns.)

Online Estate Sale Basics

If you’re unfamiliar with online estate sales, they basically work like a simplified version of E-bay. Of course, I can’t speak for every company out there, but it seems that the majority of them use the same (or very similar) software to run their auctions, and it’s really easy to use.

First,  go to the estate liquidator’s website and register for a bidding number. Some of them require a credit card on file but many don’t. It’s a simple form and you’ll be e-mailed a bidding number immediately.

Once you have that, return to the auction and view the list of items (they’ll have at least one picture and a brief description). You’ll be able to see the current bid, and enter your own maximum bid. After bidding, you’ll be told if you have the highest bid or if another bidder had previously entered a higher bid than yours. That’s about it!

I’ve been at this for just under a month, so I’m far from an expert, but here are a few tips that I’ll pass on:

  • Carefully consider the convenience of the auction’s pick-up location and date/time before bidding.  I bid on several things in one of my first auctions, but when it ended, I had only won a $1 vintage tin box. Sure, it was cute, but not really worth driving 45-minutes across town on a Monday afternoon for, and the shipping costs would have been ridiculous. I ended up paying for it and apologizing profusely for not coming to pick it up.
  • Pay attention to any measurements given in an item listing. It can be really hard to tell how big something is without a frame of reference. When I was picking up yesterday, another buyer was stunned when the vintage tea set she had purchased turned out to be doll-sized.
  • When it comes time to pick up, bring your own copy of your invoice, and check each item off to make sure you have everything before you leave. And if you bought several things, bring your own bags and boxes and don’t count on any help carrying things to your car. The auction employees I’ve encountered so far have been super nice, but also super busy.
  • If you start participating in multiple auctions, come up with a system to keep track of the end dates and pick-up times of each one (I just printed a blank calendar page and wrote only auction-related dates on it.) You’ll usually get an e-mail when you’re outbid on something, but it can be hard to remember which were things you just bid on because they were ridiculous-cheap, and which you really really wanted. Make a habit of reviewing an auction shortly before it ends. There seem to be a lot of people who just wait until the last few minutes and then pop in and place a bid.

There really are some amazing deals to be had! Sure, if you’re set on bidding only on Waterford crystal or Tiffany lamps, you’ll spend some bucks. But if you’re a junker/thrifter who’s into fixing things up, you can definitely find some hidden treasures! It’s not at all uncommon to see pieces of furniture going for under $5, and I’ve picked up plenty of things for $1.

I found my local online estate auctions via simple google searches. I definitely encourage you to check out the ones near you – and let me know if you get anything good!