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How to Shop Online Estate Auctions & Sales

Learn how to shop online estate auctions and sales—it’s the perfect way to snag some beautiful pieces for your home, and it’s fun!

Wondering how to shop online estate auctions and sales?

By popular demand from folks in my Instagram Stories…I am writing a post all about how to shop online estate auctions and sales! The truth is, while I’ve been a secondhand and thrift shopper for a while, I only recently got into estate auctions and sales.

Why? Because they are kind of intimidating. And when you jump in and see some of the amazing pieces going up to sale at some estate auctions, you might think to yourself—wait a minute. This seems too good to be true.

Well it isn’t! Where do you think vintage shops get their items? Many times it’s from estate sales and auctions. They get them for a great deal, fix up what they need to fix up, and sell them for a hefty profit. But I’m here to tell you that you can cut out the middle man and get those pieces for a fraction of what their retail price would be by learning how to shop online estate auctions and sales.

danish midcentury side table
Danish midcentury table I scored at a recent estate auction; it needs a bit of refinishing, but it is solid and gorgeous!
Odense Mobler Designed J. Ingvard Jensen Teak Drop Leaf Side Table
Odense Mobler Designed J. Ingvard Jensen teak drop-leaf side table

What is an online estate auction?

An online estate auction is pretty much just like any other online auction with a couple caveats. Usually a company that specializes in estate liquidations will manage the online auction—though sometimes they are seller managed.

When a company manages an online estate auction, they will come to your home before the auction to go through everything you’ll be selling. They’ll add numbers (also referred to as “lots”) to each item or group of items. For example, a dining table and chairs could be one lot, or they could choose to auction them individually as separate lots.

The company will also take photos (and measurements, as necessary) of each lot and write up a very brief description of what it is. In my experience, companies do a very good job of photographing rips, tears, scratches, or other issues with the item’s condition.

Once the company has everything cataloged, they will set up the online auction. Some companies have their own platforms, but most seem to use sites like liveauctioneers.com, CTbids.com, hibids.com, etc. You’ll start to notice the different interfaces as you explore different auctions.

Mosaic tile cat art
Mosaic tile cat art that I sadly did not win 🙁

Like this? Check out my beginner’s guide for How to Refinish Wood Furniture!

What happens once an auction is live?

Many online auctions will begin showing up because bidding is open. Platforms generally allow you to “watch” or “favorite” items for quick reference. Some allow you to make notes to yourself or ask questions. Others don’t have all the bells and whistles.

Most estate liquidation companies will also hold what’s called a “preview day” for a few hours either just before or during an auction. The purpose of this preview day is so that potential bidders can inspect items in person, ask questions, and know exactly what they will be bidding on.

Once the auction is live, make sure you read the terms of the auction before bidding on anything. Each auction will have set open and close dates, and most close dates will be “rolling.” That means that lots might begin closing at 7 PM and continue to close every 30 seconds until everything is closed. It just depends.

You also want to make sure you understand how to bid. Most online auction sites require you to add a credit card to become authorized to bid on items. Bid increments vary, too. Some are increments of $10, while some can be .10 cents. It just depends.

screenshot of an online estate auction

What is a buyer’s premium?

After my first auction, the buyer’s premium bit me in the ass. I totally forgot about it. It is typically a flat percentage that you pay on top of your purchase price. So, for example, say you purchased a lot for $50 and the buyer’s premium for that auction was 15%. Well, 15% of $50 is $7.50. So your total price for the item will be $57.50 (plus sales tax, etc.).

The point of a buyer’s premium is to help cover the costs of doing business. I don’t like it and it feels like just another way to milk money out of people, but if you factor your premium into things, you’ll get a better idea of what your max bid on an item should be.

Do online estate auctions and sales ship items?

Yes, many online estate auction houses will ship smaller items. It just depends. Read the auction rules to learn if they ship and whether or not you need to arrange the shipping with a third-party company yourself.

Wicker by Henry Link rattan chair
Wicker by Henry Link rattan chair I scored at an online estate auction
Wicker by Henry Link rattan chair

How do I get the items I win at an online estate auction or sale home?

Much like the online auctions and estate sales have firm open and close dates/times, as well as a preview day, they will have a dedicated day or two for you to pick up the items you’ve won. This is often pretty inflexible, which kind of sucks.

I have seen pickups that are as strict as a 4-hour window, appointment only, in the middle of the day on a weekday. If that’s the case, I’ll probably blow the auction off all together because I have a day job, and so weekdays aren’t convenient.

Other auction houses offer your choice of multiple days and time windows, including weekends, which is really helpful. So make sure you understand the pickup requirements before you bid!

woman smiling with a car full of estate auction finds
Danish midcentury table I scored at a recent estate auction
Danish midcentury table I scored at a recent estate auction; it needs a bit of refinishing, but it is solid and gorgeous!

How do I find online estate auctions and sales near me?

The best way to find online estate auctions and sales near you is to head on over to estatesales.net. Put in your zip code and search. Then you can filter for certain things. It will show you everything that meets your search criteria.

You’ll see in the image below that I’ve checked boxes for online estate sales and auctions only. You can also filter for in-person estate sales and estate auctions, moving sales, and more. It’s worth checking out some of the in-person estate sale listings too.

They usually put pictures online to give you an idea of what to expect, but unfortunately my schedule (and anxiety) means I haven’t actually made it to any of them—most have been pretty far away.

screenshot of an online estate auction website

What else should I know about shopping at online estate auctions and sales?

At first navigating estatesales.net might be a little confusing. There are a couple different pieces. Think of estatesales.net as the aggregator of all online estate auctions and sales. They aren’t actually carrying them out.

So when you click on a listing for an online estate auction on estatesales.net, you’ll usually have a blue button that says “Bid on Seller’s Website.” Clicking that will take you to the actual auction—for example, the sites like liveauctioneers.com, CTbids.com, hibids.com, etc. that I mentioned earlier.

screenshot of an online estate auction website

So while estatesales.net is the best place to start, it is really just your hub. Once I find a promising-looking auction or sale that I want to go through, I will bookmark that directly to refer back to it. (Tip: Title the bookmark using the closing date of the auction so you remember!)

You should also know that these companies have processes in place to prevent flake outs. In addition to requiring you to submit a credit card, pay a buyer’s premium, and pick up your items during a sometimes narrow window…they can also charge you for no-showing!

This is why reading the fine print is so important. By bidding, you usually agree to the company charging you a late pickup feed or a storage fee for a week or two. Then the property becomes theirs again to re-sell, get rid of, etc. Don’t get caught with surprise charges.

Questions? DM me!

I think that’s about it! If you have any questions, you can drop me a DM on Instagram. I’m by no means an expert, but I want to spread this knowledge far and wide so other thrifty folks can take advantage of it.

Happy bidding, and who knows? If you play your cards right, you might end up with something as cool as these Sheetz-themed corn hole boards.

screenshot of Sheetz-themed corn hole boards on an estate auction website

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college that says how to shop estate auctions & sales online with photos of estate finds

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