Estate sales aren’t always a bargain.
While it’s normal to keep treasured family heirlooms, it’s a little odd to claim the possessions of dead people you didn’t know. When a friend gave me a nicely broken-in sweatshirt bearing the logo of my alma mater, I was psyched until I learned that this particular garment became available because its owner died. I have to go pretty deep in the laundry roster before I break out the dead-guy hoodie.
And yet, it was inevitable that my cheapskate instincts would eventually lead me to an estate sale. So when I find a weekend sell-off that includes outdoor furniture from Restoration Hardware, we pile into the car to go investigate. I’m no furniture snob, but I’ll risk a haunting to get a good deal on some chaise lounges.
I don’t know much about estate sales, but I figure that you may as well stick to ones where they’re selling rich-people stuff. If you’re going to fight an angry ghost to get yourself a used food processor, it better at least be from Williams-Sonoma. Otherwise, I’ll just go buy a new one at Target that doesn’t come with banshees or phantasms.
We pull up to an imposing edifice that looks like it’s either a vacation house, a barn or some combination of the two. The barn part is clearly designed to accommodate actual horses, which I take as a promising sign. The only danger is that when your horses have a summer house, you’re probably the kind of person who leaves all your good stuff to the horses.
Inside, we find that the Restoration Hardware chaise lounges are still available. The frames are rusty and the cushions moldered, but they might clean up OK. I’m pondering how to fit them in the car when I flip over the price tag and see that these soggy, rusty chairs are ambitiously pegged at $500 each, with the description noting that they cost more than $1,000 new. I guess I really am a rube, but it never occurred to me that a metal frame with a cushion on it might cost more than I once paid for a car. This, it turns out, will not be my last case of sticker shock.
In a side room, I discover a desk that sports a glass top supported completely by antlers. The desk looks like it belongs to Prince Joffrey from Game of Thrones or on the cover of the 2013 catalog for Ted Nugent Office Supplies. Asking price: $2,000. Nearby, a Haier wine fridge wears a $150 price tag, which might be reasonable if you couldn’t buy the same thing for $119 at Wal-Mart.
I’m momentarily excited when, atop a mantle, I spy a three-liter bottle of wine for $10. Reality sets in when I discover that it’s empty. There’s definitely some hubris at work when you presume someone would pay for your recyclables.
After a spin around outside (John Deere lawn tractor, $11,000; assorted scraps of wood, $200), I leave empty-handed. I get the idea that these prices were set by the type of out-of-touch rich people who might go on The Price Is Right and guess that a gallon of milk costs $83.
Back at home, I peruse a few online estate sales to try to figure out if the one I attended was unusual, or if they’re all characterized by an excessively high regard for funky old crap. The first thing I notice is that some estates are more exciting than others. One online sale includes a collection of ugly couches, some ammunition-packing machines and an orange Lamborghini Gallardo. Mommy, was grampa a drug dealer?
Random Lambos notwithstanding, the typical age demographic of the recently deceased means that an estate sale is probably not the place to go looking for, say, a new dirt bike. Underscoring that point, I find one online estate auction offering an album called Songs of the Gay ’90s. The compilation doesn’t include RuPaul’s “Supermodel,” on account of it’s celebrating the 1890s, which were evidently quite gay. But if you’re in the market for disturbing porcelain dolls that look like they come alive at night and stab you in the face, an estate auction might be for you.
So this is what happens to your stuff when you die: Online and in person, strangers file past and make fun of your antler desk and your overpriced lawn chairs. I take a look around my office at my own treasured stuff and realize that most of it is probably only relevant to me. I mean, how much would the auction company ask for the small ceramic Japanese guy who’s bending over and showing you his butt? A friend of mine picked that up somewhere in Asia, and it gives me great pleasure that eventually my kids are going to have to figure out what to do with that. Give me $500 for it, and I won’t even haunt you.