At 6:30 on a recent Friday morning, Gary Wylie, 48, arrived at an estate sale at a home on Wendover Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda. He had his eye on a car for sale there, a blue 1992 Mustang. He suspected he would not be the only one, and he wasn't. He was No. 4 on an entry list that had 45 names.
"I’m not into the daily-driver cars; I want the muscle cars – the collectibles; they turn up about once a month now," he said.
He waited hours for his chance, but he had plenty of company. At estate sales in 2020, you will almost always have plenty of company.
Welcome to one of the most popular gatherings in the era of the coronavirus, where the lines are longer, the demand is greater and the clientele more diverse, said James “Jock” Sharpe, who operates Carnaby Estate Sales with his wife, Phoebe.
“Increasing amounts of people are coming out. They’re here to look and see as opposed to being tied up at home. The result is increased buying, by more than 20%,” said Sharpe. “The spectrum of items people are looking for is much broader than it used to be before we had this event. They’ll spend more time looking and be more prepared to buy things. Before they were in a hurry; now they have nothing to do.”
The changing face of estate sales
The estate sale has emerged after Covid safer, more organized and in greater numbers. Carnaby Estate Sales holds an estate sale on Wendover Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda, Friday, July 10, 2020. They have a sign-up sheet and limit attendance to square footage of the location. They are limiting occupation to 10 customers at a time. Masks are required with gloves available by request.
“The sales are incredible,” said Phoebe Sharpe. “The people really missed us. Things that never sell are selling, like exercise bikes. The whole buying demographic has changed. Everything is flying out.”
The increased sales are driven by people’s need for human connection, said Benny Bugoti, the man behind the jewelry display cases on Wendover, where two shoppers were allowed in the room at one time.
“The people here first are here for the gold,” said Bugoti.
The estate sales industry experienced record growth during the last decade, according to the website estatesalesnews.net. In 2018, roughly 15,000 estate sales companies conducted business in the United States. Most of these businesses were shut down in the beginning of the pandemic but were allowed to reopen in mid-April, according to the website.
In New York, estate and garage sales were included in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening starting June 12. Social distancing of 6 feet was required between people. Organizers provided hand sanitizer and regularly cleaned and disinfected high-traffic areas. Face coverings were mandatory.
Locally, many proprietors limited sales to one day initially because of the extent of cleaning involved, said Charmaine L. Then, owner of Edna Louise Estate & Household Liquidation.
“When I first opened, I was not doing two-day sales because I needed the second day to go in and wipe everything down – stair rails, doorknobs. A lot of extra work goes into running a sale when you’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Then said.
State guidelines limited attendance based on the square footage of the residential interior. A 3,000-square-foot house would allow for at least 12 patrons at one time, said Then, who assigns one full-time employee to the door to monitor the number of patrons inside the residence.
Then started her business more than 20 years ago but never experienced a season like the present “marathon” season. Since opening in mid-June, Edna Louise has conducted 20 sales, with 14 more booked for August and dates in September and October reserved.
The average annual number of sales conducted by estate sales companies nationwide is 30, according to a survey conducted of 1,000 companies in 2018 by estatesalesnews.net.
“There are more people at our sales than I anticipated, and they all have been very respectful wearing masks, using sanitizer. I could do an estate sale seven days a week. There are so many people off from work. People are bored, so what are they doing? Following estate sale signs,” Then said.
Estate sales are one of the more popular methods of liquidating the contents of a house, said Andrew S. Gay, proprietor of Stock Exchange Estate Sales. They often are held as moving sales or to liquidate an estate after the death of loved ones. Some buyers seek inventory for online cottage businesses on Etsy and eBay, Gay said.
“You get remuneration for just about everything. I mean people literally buy half-bottles of Clorox,” said Gay. “I’m really bottlenecked by the new customers and the ones that were on hold during the [NY State] Pause."
Estate sales websites — including estatesales.org and estatesales.net — enhance the experience for shoppers by listing sales regionally and adding photos of merchandise for sale. For consumers who may not be ready for the complete estate sale experience, software engineer Andrew Mitchell of Lockport created an app to help in the purchasing process.
Yardaroo started as an idea Mitchell had after years of going to garage sales with his family. Mitchell launched it as a sale locator nearly two years ago, but it has evolved into a tool for the secondhand sale community, including consignment shops, said Mitchell.
“We’ve focused almost exclusively on Buffalo-Niagara with a platform that could be used for point-of-sale transactions, barter, discovery, marketing – the whole package,” said Mitchell. Buyers can shop garage sales from their couch if they want to, and then pick the item up curbside.
But the main driver of estate sales continues to be as old as business itself: supply and demand.
On Wendover Avenue, Wilie’s determination paid off. He got his Mustang convertible, for $6,000. Beads of perspiration dotted his face as he filled out the necessary paperwork on the windshield of his new car.