Twenty-inch throw pillows, like new — $4. Leather rocker recliner, tags still attached — $300. Upholstered sofa, great condition — $325. Wall hangings, primitives, jewelry, rugs, antiques – all selling at a fraction of retail. Prices like this make tag sales very appealing. So appealing in fact, that some Des Moines area families have furnished and decorated their entire households through tag sale shopping.
What is a tag sale?A tag sale is an event that includes property from an estate and can be held in the house of the estate or in a leased space, where several estates can be combined. Tag sale and estate sale are used interchangeably. The sale lasts one or two days. Appraiser Marcia Campbell, from Marcia’s Jewelry, frequently handles estate jewelry and antiques. She noted that “with a tag sale, there is usually time pressure from the owner, so the quicker the merchandise moves out, the sooner the selling family can settle and move on.”
Bill Downing from A House Full agrees. “Holding an estate sale is the most efficient way to get money when you need to liquidate due to life changing event.” Whether someone passed away, is downsizing, or moving, things are priced at 25-30% of retail so the house can be cleared out as soon as possible.
Tag sales are great places for frugal families to add to collections and find starter furniture. Lloyd Mussell of Lloyd’s of Des Moines says, “Many customers have commented to me that they have completely furnished their homes through my tag sales. They buy furniture, accessories, antiques, and even clothes.” He prices everything as though it were used, regardless of how much use something actually received. Downing gives the example that a $20 skillet at Wal-Mart would be “Five or six dollars at one of our sales.” Mussell adds that “if a sofa retails for $1500-2000, you can expect to get $500-600 from a tag sale. Price is determined based on the condition of the items.” Mussell also holds a markdown at 1:00 p.m. where he reduces the prices on remaining unsold items.
How to shop at a tag sale
- Get on the email list, find the sale location, and view photos or browse merchandise ahead of time if possible. Ask questions about the merchandise if needed. Everyone is motivated to sell to you, so customer service should be very high. The above links have email addresses where you can request placement on the respective email lists.
- Arrive early. Hundreds of people attend tag sales.* Many times, the majority of merchandise is gone and sold within the first two hours.
- Expect crowding. Imagine opening the doors of your house and selling its contents. Now imagine your house with 50 people or so in at one time.
- Shop wisely. Use a box or bag so you can carry your ‘picks’ with you. You might be able to start a “hold pile” at the cashier’s table. For large items, pull the tag off and carry it with you.
- Have a way to transport your purchases. Items typically need to go home the day of the sale.
- Bring cash or check and pay for your picks at the cashier’s table. If you are not on the email list already, a sign-up sheet will most likely be found here.
- Have fun, relax, and maybe have a shopping list. Good shopping list items include hard goods that don’t wear out. Getting the most for your investment means seeking an item with a long lifetime. Downing notes that while he would never buy a used pair of shoes (a soft good that wears out), things like “tools and Pyrex [hard goods] are often at my sales, and they are as good as new.”
Conclusion. The Des Moines area has a very vibrant tag sale environment. Mussell sums up, “The economy has made a difference, as well as people who are buying more wisely and are looking for good value.”
* Steve Mumma, owner of A Okay Antiques has a system to handle large volumes of shoppers. He will pass out numbers to shoppers beginning two hours before sale; the number holds your place in line. When the sale opens, as many shoppers as the house allows are admitted, by numerical order. Mumma also maintains an email list for sale alerts.