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Sound Advice on Shopping Estate Sales

September 25, 1997|JEANNINE STEIN

Maneuvering an estate sale takes practice and skill. This isn't like dropping by a garage sale and poking through boxes. Like the Boy Scouts, you should be prepared. Ralph and Terry Kovel, veterans of countless sales, offer these tips:

* Do your homework. If you're interested in specific periods or items, read books, talk to experts, visit museums and go to antique shows. You'll be competing with dealers at these sales, so educate yourself. To get a sense of prices, peruse a few antique stores.

* If you're buying anything made of china, ceramic, wood or paper, look it over carefully. Sellers won't always mark a piece as damaged. Check for cracks, breaks and mildew, as well as insect infestation. Keep anything made of wood outside for a couple of days until you're sure it's bug-free.

* Bring a large bag or box to hold purchases. Better yet, bring a friend who can scout finds and hold items.

* As Terry says, "Don't buy it unless it talks to you," meaning, if you don't absolutely love it, don't get it. There are no returns or exchanges.

* The early bird often gets the deals. Arrive early and have an idea of what you're looking for. When you're in the house, ask the salespeople which rooms hold the items you want.

* Network. Chat up people while waiting for the sale to start. Chances are they know of other sales, and they'll have the scuttlebutt on which estate sale coordinators are better than others.

* Look everywhere--under tables, on top of shelves, behind sofas. Sometimes, great pieces are not in full view. Check the garden for sale plants and pots.

* Plug in anything electric to see if it works.

* Leave the kids at home. The mad rush can be dangerous for small children. They'll probably be bored anyway, and even the most well-behaved child may inadvertently break something.

* If you're looking for furniture, come with measurements--length, width and height.

* Don't forget your supplies--starting with a tape measure, pad and pencil. Terry Kovel never leaves home without her monocle, suspended from a chain around her neck, which she uses to check markings and damage.

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