Navigating the Highs and Lows of Estate Sales

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Kacey McLaughlin (2 1/2) finds a wooden parrot at a White Goose Estate Sale in Southampton. Lori Hawkins photos

By Christine Sampson

If one man’s trash is someone else’s treasure, as the saying goes, then what’s one man’s treasure to everyone else?

A perfect scenario for a professionally run estate sale or tag sale.

All one has to do is open a local newspaper or take a drive around the main streets of the South Fork, particularly during spring and autumn, to learn that these are plentiful here.

“There are more and more of these sales all the time,” says Allegra Dioguardi, who owns Styled and Sold, a professional sale organizing and house staging business based in Westhampton Beach. She says there are two sides to this market: The sellers’ side and the buyers’ side.

“There are so many ‘Baby Boomers’ who are downsizing, and there is also a trend toward contemporary or modern, so I have clients with houses filled with antiques and they want modern,” Dioguardi says. “They call me and say, ‘We’re redecorating,’ or ‘We’re downsizing, sell everything.’ It’s wonderful for the people who come buy and get amazing bargains.”

Kathy Wines shops at a White Goose Estate sale.

According to pro organizers, these sales exist in several forms. An estate sale implies the owner of a home has died, and all of his or her belongings are being sold. If the homeowner hasn’t passed away, the sale is called a tag sale. However, because so many large houses on the South Fork are considered estates, the lines are blurred a bit — sometimes, a death has need not necessarily occurred for a large sale to be called an estate sale. Estate sales and tag sales are typically indoors, distinguishing them from yard or garage sales, which are almost always outdoors and easily put together by do-it-yourselfers. And another type of sale, a demolition sale, occurs when a house is being renovated and physical components of the house that are in good condition, such as cabinets, tiles, lighting fixtures and more, are sold along with the rest of it instead of being discarded.

Abigail Cane, who owns Amagansett-based White Goose Estate Sales, says some people need help parting with possessions. Oftentimes a sale accompanies the selling of a house, and it can be a complex process, she says.

“When I started this company almost 10 years ago, I realized in the Hamptons there was a need for people who were selling their homes who are absentee — it’s their second, third or fourth home — who have tons of memories,” says Cane, who is also a trained social worker. “They still have to let go and say goodbye to a lot of those things, process those memories and move on to the next adventure.”

Professional organizers essentially turn a house into a boutique, spending several days ahead of the sale setting everything up.

“We organize and price everything in the entire house,” Cane says. “We pull everything out of the cabinets and clean out all the closets. It’s like the way you want to shop.”

Lisa Rosenberg shops at at the White Goose Estate sale in Southampton.

For Susan Zappola and Christina deMaggio, who run Tag Team Estate Sales, being environmentally conscious is a big part of their business. Their particular niche is demolition sales, which allow people to access used but high-end building materials and equipment at much lower prices.

“With demolition, this stuff would basically be going in the landfill — but we’re recycling, reusing and repurposing almost everything,” Zappola says. “It’s really pretty cool. People who normally can’t afford a $10,000 Viking stove can buy one for a fraction of the price.”

Dioguardi has observed a lot of regular customers shopping estate and tag sales.

“Basically, these are really fun. It’s like a hobby for some people, especially in the winter,” she says. “The people who come here for the summer aren’t really my buyers. It’s people who live here year-round or come out on weekends.”

But the hunt for a bargain is only part of the reason why Hamptons estate sales and tag sales are so popular.

“People are really interested in real estate out here,” Cane says. “If you don’t live on Further Lane, you’re probably not going to go into a Further Lane home. Sales do give access to real estate. I think people think it’s really interesting to going into other people’s homes and see how they live. It’s someone else’s lifestyle.”

But that’s what makes some sales stressful for some organizers, who must do everything they can to protect their clients’ houses. That often means not giving out the exact address of the houses ahead of time and keeping a watchful eye as the sales unfold.

The pros say they have witnessed a lot of competition pop up lately, and they advise potential clients to make sure the person they hire runs a legitimate business that is insured.

“I would get referrals, check their website,” Dioguardi says. “It’s a huge benefit if they take credit cards. If you take credit cards, you have to be a legal business and pay taxes on those charges.”

Another rule of estate sales and tag sales for the homeowner is that he or she isn’t allowed to be there during the sale.

“I could have 1,000 people through your house this weekend,” Dioguardi says. “You don’t want to be here.”

Cane agrees, saying the reason to hire a professional to run your sale is “to be the advocate, the exclusive agent.”

“That’s really hard for people to understand,” she says. “Because someone is haggling over the price or criticizing your things, because people can get really judgmental, it’s really hard to hear that. It can make people uncomfortable.”

But Cane says she tries to make the experience therapeutic for her homeowners by helping the shoppers understand what they’re buying is meaningful to someone.

“Things that make a house personal are really special,” she says. “I’ll always tell people a story. ‘Let me tell you how cool this is.’ I think it’s important that their story lives on.”

The pros say they’ve sold some really unusual things. Cane once sold a British car, a 1984 Morgan, at a Grace Estate sale. Dioguardi once sold a life-sized wooden mermaid that had previously graced the bow of a boat. And DeMaggio thinks it’s hilarious that they routinely sell gently-used toilets.

“It’s fantastic,” she says. “Once you figure out the beautiful things that you can get that are unique, there’s no point to go retail anymore.”


The Do’s and Don’ts of Shopping at Estate and Tag Sales

DO: Line up early. Oftentimes you’ll be handed a number based on your position in line, and you’ll be invited into the house in the order in which you arrived.

DON’T: Try to call dibs on merchandise ahead of time based on what you see advertised at a particular sale. Your request will likely not be honored.

DO: “Making piles” is totally a thing — that essentially means stacking up stuff you want to buy — but make sure you definitely want to buy those items.

DON’T: Take stuff from other people’s piles.

DO: Be respectful of the house you’re shopping in. Treat it as if you’re a guest in the home of a friend.

DON’T: Trespass on the property or sneak into rooms or other areas that are off-limits. Also, avoid bringing your dog. Who doesn’t love a cute pup? But not every house is dog friendly, so it’s best to leave your four-legged friend at home.

DO: Scoop up what catches your eye on the first day of a two-day tag sale — particularly if it’s a busy sale. There’s no guarantee it will be there tomorrow, particularly since day two is when the organizers of the sale will begin to negotiate a little bit on the price of merchandise.

DON’T: Park in the driveway. Sorry, but you’ll have to park in the street, unless you’ve purchased a large piece of furniture. Then you’ll be allowed to pull into the driveway for ease in loading up your new sofa or dining room table.


HOT SELLERS & COLD LEFTOVERS

What’s in and out at estate sales and tag sales right now.

HOT: Original art and designer clothing

COLD: Antiques in general, with few exceptions…

HOT: …such as English pine country antiques

COLD: Very large furniture, such as a dining room table seating 12 people

HOT: Mid-century and modern furniture

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