Debra Washington always enjoyed collecting vintage items and antiques from flea markets and estate sales, but before she knew it her collections had outgrown her home. “I thought I should start selling some of it that way I could keep buying more stuff!” she says. Her solution was to open Schoolhouse Treasures, a shop in Greenville PA, where Debra enjoys passing on her items to new homes. “Now I’ll keep things for a little while to admire and then I’m ready to let it go.”

Schoolhouse Treasures

Tips & Tricks for Auctions and Estate Sales

Debra has gained valuable lessons in pricing and buying from attending auctions with her mother, the antiques dealer. She now applies them to her frequent trips to flea markets, auctions and estate sales. Here’s how she saves time and money at every stage of the process.


Make your interests known. Customers and friends are well aware of Debra’s penchant for vintage linens, floral china and comfortable antique furniture. Spread the word of what you are looking for and you can get some of the items on your list before hitting an auction. “It’s a great way to get first dibs and not bid against anyone,” Debra says.

Be realistic about refurbishing. With a full-time job and a shop that is only open on weekends, Debra doesn’t have much time for fixing up damaged or worn items. Ask yourself if you’re willing to put in the work before buying items that challenge your DIY abilities.

antique dishes


Learn auction smarts. Know when to drop out. Try not to get caught up in the auction fever and pay more than you should, especially if you’re trying to re-sell the item. Some things you may have to let go.

Turn to estate sales for good deals. “I like to go on the last day when things are half-priced,” Debra says. “You might miss out on the absolute best stuff, but you can get really great deals.”

vintage painted dishes


Spruce up your items: “Occasionally I do freshen up items,” Debra says. Stick to easy fixes like painting wicker furniture or washing vintage linens. Buff up china and display to impress.