30 Before 30: Buy a Piece of Furniture at an Estate Sale

#24 from my 30 Before 30 list: Buy a piece of furniture at an estate sale

I’ll consider this one… “close enough.” It started out as a failure, but in the end I found what I was looking for.

My goal was to go to an estate sale, which is basically like a garage/yard/tag sale where you can buy pretty much anything inside the house, and find a piece of furniture for my apartment. Lately I’ve been wanting to get a coffee table for my living room. I used estatesales.net to locate local sales and signed up for their email alerts. Earlier this week, I received a notification about a two-day estate sale in Lancaster, which is about an hour from where I live. The photos showed an antique steamer trunk and a vintage toy chest, either of which could make for a good coffee table. When I called at the end of the sale’s first day, the estate sale company assured me that both pieces were still available.

Antique steamer trunk - $75. Vintage toy chest - $20. Both 50% on the second day of the sale.

Antique steamer trunk – $75. Vintage toy chest – $20.

I had my alarm set for 6:30 AM – far too early for a Saturday morning. I arrived at the estate sale a little before the doors opened at 8:30. The street was lined with cars, and there were people already waiting to get inside. As soon as I walked through the front door, I asked where I could find the toy chest. They directed me toward the kitchen, where one of the estate sale workers helped me clear off the towels that were sitting on top and remove the random assortment of toys that were inside. It would make a perfect coffee table. I got in line, made sure they accepted checks, and told the cashier what I wanted to purchase. She told me the toy chest would only cost $10, because everything is 50% off on the second day. Wonderful, I thought.

And then someone said, “Wait!” Standing with the worker who helped me move the towels and toys was another customer, who apparently had already claimed the toy chest. She entered the house before I did, so she had first dibs. The worker offered me the steamer trunk for $20, but it smelled like a wet basement. Pass. As I walked around the house to see if there was anything else worth buying, I heard the customer call out to her husband, “Hey, honey! I got the toy chest!” Yep. You did.

Waiting in line to enter the estate sale

Waiting in line to enter the estate sale

I left the estate sale empty handed and a little bitter. The cashier apologized but said their new consignment shop sometimes gets other toy chests and trunks. She took down my phone number so she could call if something came in. I drove away but didn’t turn on my GPS. I just headed in the general direction of home, wandering around Lancaster County in a post-sale rage. Maybe not rage… but I was not happy. I eventually ended up on a familiar highway and decided to see if Salvation Army or Community Aid had a coffee table for me instead. Both were a bust.

It was now 10 AM, and I still did not have a coffee table. I was pretty determined to find something – anything! – so that the trip did not feel like a total waste. According to a paper I picked up at the estate sale, the company’s consignment shop (Diamond Estate Sales Consignment Gallery) had just opened for the day, and since it was just in the center of town, I decided to give it a shot.

I couldn’t find the shop at first. It was located in a small office complex, but their entrance was on the side of the building rather than through the main doors. The shop contains several rooms filled with ceramics, trinkets, jewelry, furniture, and other odds and ends. I found someone’s marriage certificate – on sale for 25 cents. In one room, I found two potential coffee tables. One was a small wooden table with sides that folded up, converting the round tabletop into a square one. The other had a glass surface that rested upon two large dolphins. No thanks. I looked through all the other rooms in the store but didn’t find anything until I reached the last room. Tucked away in the corner behind old suitcases and a set of bar stools was a wooden coffee table with a glass top. Perfect.

The table was marked $20, but all furniture was 25% off. The cashier also offered me whatever vinyl records I wanted for 5 cents each. In total, I left the shop with a coffee table and stack of records for less than $17. On one hand, I was disappointed and frustrated that I had driven to the estate sale and back – two hours of travel – only to find what I wanted just five minutes from my apartment. On the other hand, I did find a pretty sweet coffee table for an excellent deal.

Lesson learned: Estate sales aren’t for me. I’ve experienced it once, and that was enough. I just prefer my bargains without the competition.

My new coffee table!

My new coffee table!

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