Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Real Talk: Estate Sale Rip-Off Edition

Good morning!

Thanks for all the helpful comments and encouragement, both here and on the Facebook page, about what to do with my new living room! I'm excited (and a little bit overwhelmed) by the possibilities for pulling the room together. I'll let you know how it turns out, for sure!

Today, I'm afraid the usually unflaggingly flattering tone of this blog will have to be tamped down to a minimum, because I need to tell you a sad, sad tale. I state as a disclaimer that I have never been in the retail side of estate sales, I've never done any vintage selling except for the most brief and cursory Craigslist listings, and this is purely a consumer-side-of-the-situation rant. Ok. Let's start at the beginning. 

Picture your humble narrator as she was last Wednesday, sitting at work, combing through the listings on EstateSales.net for the purpose of planning a Friday estate sale run. The headline "Civil War Era Home on the National Registry of Historic Places Moving Sale" immediately catches the eye, and I click forward to read this:
Don't miss this sale! The house we are liquidating is an historic home in Lebanon that has been in the same family for 5 generations. Lots of treasures from this 6,000 square foot home will be sold. They include Civil War Items, Vintage clothing, table and 6 chairs, paintings, pictures, decor, antique twin bed , other furniture, bedding, rocking chairs, Kimball piano, mirrors, lots of vintage books, costume jewelry, linens, dishes, lots of cast iron, andirons, advertising, antique tools, crocks and churns, trunk, fruit jars, oil lamps, old radios, old fans, lights, vintage frames, trays, postage stamp jewelry, spinning wheel, old postcards, quilts, electronics, and many more items. 5/28 Added Victorian couch, platform rocker, school desk, piano stool, chair, child's chair, Magnavox stereo and cabinet, double stack round table, telephone table, 3' by 4' mirror, 12 pound cannon ball, mini balls,    New Old Stock 1940's postcards (300 +), lots of vintage frames. 
If that wasn't enough to pique your interest, please examine the following photos:

Can you actually hear my tiny heart beating like a bird's wings against my chest? We were just talking the other day about how I'm a little on the crazy side about antique clothing, and look at this! WE ARE TALKING SOME STRAIGHT UP ZELDA FITZGERALD STUFF HERE.

The bylines warned people that some of the dresses were in fragile condition, but that the red beauty in the upper left hand corner, and the black piece at the bottom right were both wearable. Since the sale started on Thursday at 7 am (??), I made plans to get down to Lebanon (which is about 30 minutes outside of Nashville) with a goodly amount of folding money in case either of these could be had for under a hundred dollars. It's an estate sale, I figured. Under a hundred dollars might be possible IF someone else in the area hadn't beat me to it on Thursday morning, but odds were with me that maybe ONE of the dresses would be left on the second day of the sale. Besides, look at all the other stuff, using this photo as a reference. Six thousand square feet sale? Inside a historic house? I figure if worse came to worse, it would be neat just to see the interior.

Can you see the wallpaper? Vintage circus animals. *dies*
Again, a conversation with Kelsey, as adapted from Gmail, that I had upon returning home

"My dad and I ran out to lebanon this morning, drive 31.2 miles or whatever out to this "historical register home".... Remember, I sent you the photo of the 1920's dresses? So I get there, and go wtfh--it's in the driveway and 90% of the things in the photo are not there (100% of the cool things). I ask about the dresses
the woman's like "Oh, we sold those this morning to a woman in Georgia. She called yesterday and since they didn't sell yesterday, we called her this morning and said we'd ship them to her."
it's 9 am on the second day of a 3 day sale, which started on a m'f'n thursday. I mean, am I just being a whiny baby about that? I think that's a bait and switch. You shouldn't be able to buy items OVER THE PHONE when you're having an in person sale. And if you do, do that on the third day! Or at the end of the second day! Not at the BEGINNING of the second day."

So, item A: of the many, many preview photos, almost nothing remained. A table full of empty picture frames, a good deal of postcards, and one hanging rack of all seventies' vintage clothes, priced from eight to thirty dollars. And my dresses were gone with the wind....NOT BECAUSE SOMEONE HAD SHARKED ME IN PERSON, BUT OVER THE PHONE. Why wouldn't you just sell on ebay? Why wouldn't you wait until POSSIBLY THE AFTERNOON of the SECOND day? I am grievously wounded by the idea that I drove all the way down to Lebanon, banking on the at least plausible possibility that ONE of those dresses were there, only to be told that ALL of them had been sold OVER THE PHONE before I got there. And again, I was there at 9 AM. If any of you are sellers out there, can you see how that might be an unfair way to get people to come to your sale, but not actually have the items advertised? I felt like the person who camped out  at the car lot to get the $250 brand new car as advertised in the paper, only to have the dealer be like, "Oh, we sold those this morning." I felt hornswoggled, folks!

Fare thee well, 1920's dancing shoes. Sonofagun, I was heartbroken.
So, ok, let's cut our losses on not being able to see the interior of the house, and having maybe 30 seconds worth of stuff to even look at in the course of this sale. And the fact that I was cheated out of even the opportunity to SEE these dresses. It gets better. Again, as adapted from Gmail as I told my woeful tale to Kelsey:

"The following conversation ensues, after I bite my tongue about being upset re: dresses sold over phone:

Sales lady: If you're interested in vintage clothing, my business partner's coming with some clothes in a minute, if you want to wait and you like vintage clothes
Me: Oh, ok!
(waits 15 minutes, woman arrives with at least 5 armloads of clothes, she has to go back and forth to the car five times)
2nd woman: Hi, were you the girl here who wanted to see the clothes?
Me ((brightly)) Yeah!
2nd woman: Now, some of these I've already promised to another dealer, so give me a minute and I'll sort them out.
Me: Ok!
(15 more minutes, as I watch her taking all the actually vintage clothes in one pile, and putting a bunch of goodwill style 1980's-90's dresses in another pile)
2nd woman: Ok, you can look at some of these now. Isn't this cute? (picks up not-particularly-cute modern dress)
You can GUESS which pile she was saving for this mysterious "other person"
(One falls in the wrong pile, it's obviously out of place due to the fact that it looks like something a vintage collector would be even vaguely interested in)
Me: What about this one?
2nd woman: Well, that was one i was saving for the other person, but i guess it's fair game.
Me: How much did you want on it? (50's black eyelet sun dress, with matching little cape, but a lot of sun damage)
She: ((without looking up from sorting her "good pile")) Thirty dollars.

Fair value on this dress is between I'd say $8-$30
with eight being, well it's retail, so I guess I can't expect everything to be a dollar

So I spent thirty minutes being treated like poor relations at this sale, in LEBANON. What's the point in even having a sale if you're going to ship everything to a mystery buyer out of state? And i've been to sales before where there's a guy going "Where are the tools you advertised?" And the people are like "Oh, an uncle of mine decided to keep all of those"
That I can ALMOST understand, but you'd better be SUPER apologetic when i drive out of COUNTY to see something you lied about being available (even in that case, through no fault of your own)"

Why did she even bring the clothes to the sale if she wasn't going to sell them? It wasn't like I was looking over her shoulder at home as she went through her closet and greedily snatching at things. These, in a normal setting, all would have been fair game. Why did her partner tell me to wait if all I was going to get were scraps off the table from this person to whom she'd "promised" every single good dress in the batch?

Now, any of this behavior would have maybe been less offensive or less outright heart-rending if it had been in an antique-dealer setting. If those items were in an antique booth, or an Ebay store, or any other non-estate sale place of business, I can almost understand what went down as simply good business on the part of the dealer. However, as the fact of the matter was that I was going to AN ESTATE SALE, it seems like they played this really, really poorly. Estate sales are supposed to be egalitarian! You can't be setting aside stuff or putting stuff for friends or yourself or anybody else! As a customer, I had a terrible experience and they could have a freaking Debbie Reynolds's MGM archive auction like bounty of vintage clothes at their next sale and I wouldn't look at the listing twice. Or I might, but I would be cussing the entire time. And I wouldn't go to the sale itself if it was across the street from my own house. What was with this!

I felt like a Keane painting by the end of this exchange (source)
What do you think, was this an inappropriate response based on my own personal emotional investment in the dresses? Imagine that none of the tone of any of this was rude, the women were as nice as they could be, but what they were saying was just rank and wrong. I felt gypped to have come all the way down from Nashville. And though I bought a seventies' dress and a large photo (this was before I was told about the 20's dresses OR totally shut-out on the vintage dresses that were to come), I was so mad by the time I left that I almost wanted to ask for my money back on those! 

Have you had any horrible customer service moments lately? Had glory snatched right out of your hands by unfair dealer tactics? Am I the whiniest person in creation or do you agree with me that the whole setup was wrong at this sale?

That's all the bellyaching for today-- I promise to tell you something positive tomorrow! See you back here then.


  1. I'd be as livid as you. There are certain rules of etiquette when it comes to all kinds of sales and these people really broke them all. It reminded me of my grandparents' estate sale: My uncle and cousin didn't help AT ALL with any of the sorting, and as a consequence had no say in what my parents and I kept and what we put in the 'sell it' stacks. They had ample opportunity (we started sifting the contents of the house, three outbuildings and three businesses in early June and finished right before the sale at the end of August) to get anything they wanted. Did I mention they both lived there for three years after my grandmother died and half the crap we had to sift through was their junk...which we piled in the corner of the den. Because we couldn't get any input from them, we waited until the last two or three weeks to begin picturing specific items in case they might want them. One the NIGHT BEFORE THE SALE at bloody 7;30, they show up to go through their stuff. Mom and Dad would have nothing to do with them and gave the auction flyer to a friend of the family to go in and make sure they weren't taking any of the stuff pictured, as it "wouldn't be fair to people who might be coming to see or buy just that". Like me, she hates false advertising...she's an auction addict from WAAAAAY back and could tell you all kinds of stories similar to your plight at this sale. And it usually turned her off certain companies as well. I mean, they could have at least just said they'd already sold. Even a lie in a case like this is better than ticking off a customer for goodzies.
    As for my experience...which I'm STILL a little ticked about...at my work, we got in the china cabinet that matches my dining room suit. It was being consigned by my boss's family (it had belonged to her uncle). They were asking $200 and when I asked if she would take any less 'for me' I was told that they wouldn't take less than $200, firm. I thought about layaway, but our policy is 25% down, I didn't have the $50 at that exact moment to put down on it. Imagine my rage when I came in, it was marked 'Layaway' and upon checking the books found that not only had she sold it for $180, but that they person who had it on layaway had only put down $20!!!! Colour me enraged!! Of course I've gotten over it now...almost....

    1. UUUUUGH. The pain of being sharked on an item is only worse when you're UNFAIRLY sharkes on an item. :( I would have never gotten over the cabinet thing. I'm still bugged about a woman who (fairly, but I hate her anyway) picked up 10 sixties' square dance dresses for a dollar apiece at a yard sale I went to. We literally got out of our cars at the same time.

      And I'm glad for some backup on the "you don't sell ahead of time, and you sell everything" idea for estate sales. Again, if it was ANY other kind of retail setting, I would have been less ticked off.

  2. I feel your pain! I have been to one too many sales where all of this crap has happened, along with the "I dont care if you spent an hour in my moldy basement finding that stuff, it is not for sale even though I said everything was for sale" routine. I have stopped going to estate sales (and yard sales, they are not above scorn) for the most part because of all the BS. I get my vintage stuff at auctions instead. Everything is for sale at an auction and no one gets to buy before the auction starts. Granted you have to wait around for your stuff to come up for sale, and they do not always have vintage stuff, but its a more pleasant atmosphere for the consumer. You can also leave bids on things and then go home and they call you if you win.

    1. Maybe I should start trying auctions! I've recently lost some of the whole hearted enthusiasm I used to have for estate sales in favor of the flea market. You're never going to get to the flea market and go "There's nothing here!", haha! Vintage-collectors' lives, dude. They're harder than they look!

  3. Ugh, I'm sorry you had that experience!! Badly done indeed on those folks' part! I can't for the life of me figure out why that second women would have brought along spoken-for clothes in the first place; that seems just cruel. We don't have as many estate sales in New England, but I often feel similar when an absentee bidder strikes at the auctions I frequent!! Dealers from around the country will comb the listings for our little rural antique auctions, and while technically I guess it's fair game, I always feel a little cheated when the bidding gets crazy high thanks to wealthy absentee bidders :/

    1. I know there's an upside to having global access to antiques across the world (ie, I can google any search term, no matter how obscure, and usually find someone selling it SOMEWHERE for some price), but it's a bummer when you're standing RIGHT THERE and someone a state away is swooping in on your find with more money than you have. Shouldn't the in-person part of it count for something?

  4. Sorry you had such a bad experience! Regarding phone sales...I recently started working for the owner of the larger estate sale companies here locally, and it's policy to take sales by phone once the sale opens. The challenge for the caller is to actually get someone on the phone because the people running the sales are typically very busy with face-to-face customers. So, use this to your advantage next time! If you can't make a Thursday sale and you really want something, call the number of the estate sale company on Thurs. a.m. and make an offer. Probably you will have to leave a message, and probably nobody will get back to you until the next day...but if it's still around, at the very least you will get a call back. Good luck and I'm sorry about that dresses--that had to be disappointing to waste gas on a bad sale. :(

    1. Man, that stinks. I understand that the sales company (for both their own sake and that of the family they represent) would want to make sure if there's a top dollar offer for an antimacassar that otherwise wouldn't be sold or would have to be sold at a deep discount to clear out the estate, then that is in their best interest. But what about meeeee and myyyy neeeeds? haha

      But you're 100% right, next time I should call ahead about items I absolutely have to have. I hadn't even thought of that, so it's really good advice. It's neat to know someone with an inside scoop! :)



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