"I'm always on the lookout for trunks because they're functional and beautiful," says Cari. "And there's no better way to hide your piles." Expect to pay $150 to $350 for a quality trunk. If you find one that's a little beat up, a quick sanding and a coat of glossy paint can turn it around.
"If you want to collect something that never goes out of style, buy pottery. I always have my eye out for Fiesta ware it's classic, sturdy and colorful," says Cari, who pays between $3 and $30 per piece. Check for cracks and chips before you buy, and look for an identification mark on the base, a sure sign it's the real deal.
Savvy shoppers know to inspect them separately. Paintings and posters are some of the best bargains, but don't be turned off by the frame. At the same time, consider a frame even if you don't love the art you can always replace it with a mirror.
One of the greatest bargains to be found at an estate sale is a secondhand rug. You'll pay a lot less than you would at an antiques store. If you see a rug you like, flip it over and inspect the underside: Well-made rugs will have the same pattern on the back as the front. Make sure the weave is tight, with no threadbare spots. And before you bring it home, have it cleaned by a professional.
"Glassware is a great investment, and there's so much of it for sale," Cari says. Choose pieces that are signed or have a maker's mark on the base. Then check for seams along the sides. If you see them, it's not handblown.
Ka-ching! Art and reference books go for as little as $2 a pop. If the cover's tattered, check inside for illustrations that you can tear out and frame. Cari always looks for a first edition stamp, too.
Some valuable cookware finds are Griswold cast iron, large Le Creuset pieces (make sure they still have their matching lids), and Mauviel copper. Cari prefers plenty of patina (that thin layer of tarnish) on her copper "to give the piece personality."
"The chaise longue is the most timeless piece of furniture there is," says Cari. Look for one that feels solid, with no squeaks or wobbles; then sit on it to test its comfort. It can be too expensive to rescue used furniture that has a rickety frame. Only snag pieces that need no more than a reupholstery job and a few fresh pillows.
For just $25 to $50, you can pick up an artisan-made quilt. Check the stitching to make sure it's hand-sewn (stitches won't be perfectly aligned), and, in natural light, inspect it for stains or damage. "The more detailed a quilt, the more valuable it will be," says Cari. Looking for a highly collectible one? Amish-made quilts (which usually incorporate black in the design) can be worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
"Crystal should ring when you flick your finger against the edge of it," says Cari, who keeps an eye out for brands such as Waterford. Because it's hand-cut, real crystal has sharp edges; if they are smooth, leave it behind.
Hair-Dryers: A cute vintage one like your grandma used to have (they came in such fun colors!) won't have an immersion protection plug, which prevents electrocution if the hair-dryer comes in contact with water. Cribs, Baby Toys or Car Seats: It's unlikely these items meet current national safety standards. Always buy them new. Kitchen Appliances: It's pretty much impossible to know if they're still reliable, and they can be way expensive to repair. Electric or Battery-Operated Items: Corrosion and exposed wires on power cords add up to a bad deal all around. Board Games: Pieces are often AWOL!
Cari says: Peek in boxes. You can discover great stuff!