Garage Sales vs. Estate Sales: The Differences In Treasure Hunting

Barnegat resident Nancy Scherer shows off the jazzy top she plans to purchase at a local garage sale. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  SOUTHERN OCEAN COUNTY – Inclement weather led to the postponement of Barnegat’s original townwide garage sale, but it turned out to be a boon for bargain hunters. The rescheduled date coincided with Stafford’s yard sale weekend, creating a double opportunity for shoppers to uncover deals.

  Both communities transformed their lists of participating homes into virtual treasure maps, making it easier for shoppers to plan their routes. Social media lit up with posts offering sales previews to attract buyers searching for hidden gems.

  Garage sales offer a fantastic opportunity for individuals to declutter their homes and make some cash on unwanted items. Unfortunately, while there may be some truth to the old adage that one person’s trash is another’s treasure, that’s not always the case.

Photo by Stephanie Faughnan

  Although both garage sales and estate sales share similarities, they differ in several ways. For one, haggling may be more prevalent at garage sales than estate sales.

  While most homeowners run the show when it comes to garage sales, professionals generally oversee estate sales and take in a share of the profit. Estate sales typically take place when a person has passed away or when they are moving out of their home and wish to sell off the entire contents of the house.

  In the case of estate sales, the value of a family’s treasures may not be what they expected. Take, for example, Grandma’s china or her showcased collection of expensive figurines. It’s not uncommon for these types of items to either be bypassed or sold for a fraction of their original cost.

  Sales of furniture at both garage and estate sales can be unpredictable. Oak, once a highly sought-after wood, has fallen out of favor in recent years. Dining room sets and pianos can be particularly challenging to sell because of lifestyle differences and the cost of moving them.

  Donna Pregler and her sister Christine opted to organize their own estate sale instead of enlisting a professional service. The decision was made after their parents had to leave their Barnegat home due to health concerns and move into a nearby nursing home. The process of going through and selling their parents’ possessions was an emotional one for the sisters.

  Although Donna and Christine set aside items with sentimental value, it was still difficult to see strangers sorting through their belongings. Donna admitted she was somewhat puzzled at things that sold quickly and others that were left behind.

Christine and Donna Pregler take a mental inventory of items that remained unsold from the estate sale they put on at their parents’ home. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  People showed up earlier than scheduled to race to the garage for tools. Others sifted through costume jewelry, pocketbooks, and linens. Very few appeared interested in checking out the family’s book collection. Boxes and boxes of VHS tapes remained untouched.

  As far as furniture, buyers ignored the chance to own a once expensive bedroom set. The only things sold were a bench, a rocking chair, and patio furniture.

  “My parents had this great hutch in the dining room,” shared Donna. “Not one person expressed an interest in the set at all.”

  Donna said she intends to donate what’s left of her parents’ furniture to a woman who helps needy families. She’s hopeful she can do the same with some of the other household items.

  Many of the people who stop into estate sales carry specific lists and are looking for vintage items or antiques. Art pieces sold at estate sales typically have a higher value than those found at garage sales, which tend to feature prints or starving artist reproductions.

  While dishes and glassware aren’t generally top sellers, there are exceptions. Buyers are constantly on the lookout for depression glass, milk glass, carnival glass, and cut crystal. Collectible glassware, such as Fenton or Murano glass, may also bring in sales, as do serving bowls and containers.

Anything goes when it comes to trying to declutter and pass on a treasure. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Not everyone who frequents estate sales or garage sales plans to repurpose their finds for their own use. Professional collectors and amateur resellers are also on the hunt for whatever will bring them the most return for their money.

  Garage sales are typically more affordable than estate sales and appeal more to families of all ages. While clothing doesn’t traditionally sell well at estate sales, it seems to move quickly at garage sales. For boys and girls alone, outfitting kids with barely used clothes gives hand-me-downs a whole new meaning.

  Presentation matters when it comes to any type of sales, including those of the home variety. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that no one really wants to sort through black bags of clothes. Prom dresses and suit jackets get better prices when displayed on racks.

  Toys are another popular item at garage sales. Parents are always looking to save money to keep their children entertained. While it’s usually easy to check if all game pieces are intact before making a purchase, puzzles are a different story. If the price is right, it may well be worth the risk.

  Cesar Alves and his wife, Stefanie took a chance and blocked off a section of their garage on the rainy day of the originally planned Barnegat townwide sale. However, they were shocked when someone rang their doorbell an entire hour before the time listed on the sign in front of their house.

  Within just a few hours, the Aviles couple had some cash to play with and a nearly empty garage.

Dish towels (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  “We sold vintage concert shirts and a table saw,” Stefanie said. “People also bought all sorts of new age books, video games, and kitchen stuff.”

  Books turn out to have more appeal in garage sales than estate sales. People are always looking for good deals, especially for children.

  Tools and electronics are top sellers at many garage sales, provided they’re in working order. Home décor items such as lamps, frames, and decorative pieces can also do well, as can sporting equipment and outdoor gear like fishing equipment and bicycles.

  Both garage sales and estate sales offer the opportunity to discover hidden gems and use them. The idea that one person’s unwanted items can be another’s treasure generates extra cash and contributes to reducing waste in landfills. Recycling and reusing goods can lead to an extension of their lifespan and a reduction in environmental impact.

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at