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What’s the Difference Between A Yard Sale & An Estate Sale – And A Preview Of My Latest Finds

1974 Yard Sale

What’s the difference between a yard sale and an estate sale? I’ve found through the years that there is much confusion about the different kinds of sales. Mainly calling a plain ol’ yard sale an estate sale. Case in point…………

A couple of weeks ago I was pleasantly driving down the road when my eyes spotted a sign saying “Estate Sale.” Those words on a sign with an arrow pull me like a magnetic force. I had actually seen in the local want ads publication an inside yard sale on that road and the thought crossed my mind that it could possibly be an estate sale, but that idea was quickly dismissed because of the location. There are regular yard sales on that road every… single… week. If not every day. But seeing the sign put doubt in my mind.

I turned down the road. Pulled up to the address, which was an older, single wide, mobile home – not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re hoping for an estate sale, it probably means there’s not much there because the owners either downsized years ago or never accumulated a lot because they lived in a small, mobile home. This one, however, just didn’t didn’t feel right for an estate sale. The one table out front with computer games sorta gave it away. But I got out anyway. Starting to feel a bit snippy and douped. 

Some people were coming out of the trailer, so I headed in. As I was about to walk up to the porch, the guy said:

Guy: All I’ve got left is a desk

Me: Oh, so this wasn’t an estate sale? (I don’t usually call people out on these things, but like I said. I was feeling snippy. I’m not proud of that.)

Guy: Yes it is, but all I’ve got left is a desk.

Me: So you sold everything out of your kitchen cabinets and junk drawers? Everything?

Guy: No I need to keep all that.

Me: Oh. It’s your stuff. You’re still alive, so it wasn’t a real estate sale. An estate sale means the owner has passed away.

Guy: Naaahhhwww. Not necessarily.

Me: Yeah. It does.

Guy: Well, I’m on my death bed. (This was said in a defeated mumble.)

Me: “I’m sorry about that.” And I walked off. And no, I’m pretty sure this 40 something, video game playing man wasn’t on his death bed.

Guy: Have a blessed day.

Me: Thanks. You too.    (We’re so polite here in the south.)

I’m ashamed of my reaction, or specifically, ashamed that I vocalized it. But sometimes you just have enough.


So what’s the difference in the an estate sale, a yard sale, a moving sale, a rummage sale, a tag sale, a garage sale, etc? Glad you asked! I’ll tell you.

1974 Yard Sale
{A yard sale at my parent’s house in the 1970s.}

Estate sale:  A person(s) dies, the family gets what they want and what’s left of the estate is being sold. Most often held at the house of the deceased, but not necessarily so. We’re helping the family by taking the remainder of the items off their hands and putting some money in their pockets at the same time. And ever so thankful that they didn’t just burn it all or shove it in a big hole in the back yard like my friend, Iris did with her parents’ worldly leftovers. (Sorry Iris, but you will forever be teased about that.)

Living estate sale: Usually these are where an elderly person has moved to a retirement home, assisted living or nursing home and took very little with them. The family has got what they want and you’re helping them by buying up the rest. To me, these are the saddest. It’s got to be  hard to leave your life behind and let’s face it. All the stuff you’ve lived with for 60+ years represents your life. I’ve been to them where the elderly owner is sitting in their favorite chair watching. Talk about heart breaking!

Moving sale: Anyone of adult age is moving. They can’t or don’t want to take all that crap with them and are happy to sell it to you. Us. Okay. Us. And we’re happy to take it off their hands.


The three named above could be conducted by family, friends or a business. All can be either too expensive or a bargain hunter’s paradise. Don’t think just because an estate sale company conducted the sale it’s going to be expensive. Some, like my friend Tiffany and I, use common sense with pricing. We price to sell, not look at. And besides, the people doing the pricing don’t know everything. Likewise, don’t think just because family is handling the sale it’ll be cheap. They often way over price everything.


Rummage or tag sale: Usually a sale for a charity. Church sales, sales to benefit the football team and the you-name-it club fit this category. Since they depend on donations, there could be anything at these sales. And oftentimes, the people doing the pricing have no idea that ugly pottery vase is worth its weight in gold. On the flip side, they might think it’s worth much more than it is because it was all the (antique-collectible) rage 30 years ago and “antiques” only go up in price. Right? Baaaahahaha. We wish!

Yard sale, garage sale, basement sale: They’re cleaning up or needing money and happily laying the junk they don’t need out in their yard, garage or basement to sell to us. And we happily buy it from them. Could be tables of Dollar General dust catchers or could be Grandma’s ugly pottery vase that they never liked.

Which brings me to this argument. Some yard sales are labeled estate sales because “everything came from one estate or another.” No, no, no! It’s not the same! That’s just you selling the junk you bought at estate sales that you either don’t want or can’t sell elsewhere. Period. You cannot win this argument with me. This is what I do. I’ve probably been going to these sales longer than you’ve been alive. 

One more point. An estate sale is only sometimes an auction. The novice often thinks estate sale=auction. I realize in some parts of the country, the norm is to have an estate auction rather than a pre priced sale and the term is interchangeable, but in most places there is a huge difference in meaning.

Now here are some of the things I’ve found lately at estate and yard sales. Most items are available either on Etsy or in the shop here on the blog. Clicking on the picture will take you there. If it goes nowhere, I haven’t got around to putting it up for sale yet.

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12 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between A Yard Sale & An Estate Sale – And A Preview Of My Latest Finds

  1. Thanks for this information! My grandfather recently passed away and we’re going to have to host an estate sale. That’s great how you were able to help the family by taking the remaining items off their hands. We could use some of that help right now.

  2. Wanda,! Here I am reading this post for the 2nd time, and I’m guffawing just as hard as before.

  3. Great post! We have a little terminology here in Michigan. A rummage sale can be a normal yard sale. And sales done by churches, etc, are usually called secondhand sales.

    We bought the house next door to us with the contents from a lady who passed away, but then, because the family took a fair amount of the stuff and there was space, we augmented it with our household castoffs and those of some family members, including some leftovers from an estate sale we previously had for a deceased uncle. We called it an estate sale. I hope we didn’t run afoul of the rules!

    1. LOL I think you were fine with that.

      Regional differences are so interesting. We never see the term “secondhand sale”, and rarely see “rummage sale” used as for a yard sale. Although people used it more often years ago. I’ve heard in some areas of the US, the term “estate sale” almost always refers to an estate auction, but here, there is a definite distinction between the two.

  4. I appreciate you explaining how an estate sale differs from a yard sale in that it’s the selling the things of someone who’s passed away. It’s important that, if you do need to hold an estate sale, it’s set up in a way that potential buyers know what to expect. I think it’s wise to get professional help to make the best use out of the value of the things being sold.

  5. […] it turned out to be a moving/downsizing sale of people about my age, maybe a little older. Sigh. (Click here to learn the difference between an estate sale and a yard sale or moving sale, etc. And why it’s so annoying when they’re called the wrong thing.) Still, I […]

  6. And when I think of how I called our glorified yard sale an estate sale in the past. I’m cringing & hanging my head in shame. And yes, I stress it was in the past…like the 80’s. A very determined lady was heading into the house eyeballing something not for sale. It was lucky I happened to be nearby & headed her off at the pass.
    In my defense, we had a lot of furniture & other stuff we dragged out of the attic at the crack of dawn. Estate sale people & booth owners were so helpful. They literally helped us drag it all out, asking “how much” at the same time. It was a good sale. We made over $1000, and were so glad to live in a house again, instead of a warehouse.

  7. Nice post. Thanks for sharing this great information with us. A professional estate sale service provider will evaluate, research, price, stage, merchandise, and advertise all items to ensure effective liquidation in the resale marketplace.

  8. […] the difference? Well, it’s a big one. One that I explained in >this post<. How do you know where to find them? The want ads in the paper, a community trade publication, […]

  9. Always lots of treasures to be found at estate sales. Great article

  10. […] So how do you know the difference with all the reproductions out there these days? Research – books, internet, Etsy, eBay, etc. – feel, lots of shopping… After a while, you can pretty much tell. But don’t feel bad if you’re not sure. I’m certainly tricked or unsure often enough! Remember too, that just because something is at an estate sale where the person was 95 when she passed away, doesn’t mean her items are old. She could have bought it all in the past 5 years. (Don’t know the difference between an estate sale and a garage sale? Click here to learn more about that.) […]

  11. […] Click here to read a more in-depth explanation about the difference between a yard sale, an estate s… […]

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