Matt Goss’ jackets, canapes and baked beans: welcome to the strange cult of American real estate sales

II’m in the Vegas living room of an 80s pin-up girl wondering which of her things I want to take home. Can I fit Matt Goss’ 1930s Leather Armchair in the back of the rental car? Or should I rather grab the leopard-print stilettos, which I’m guessing belong to one of the Bros. star’s backing vocalists. But no judgment otherwise.

Earlier this month, Goss sold the contents of his Las Vegas home before returning to the UK for the next season of Come dance strictly. The sale happened to coincide with the first day of my vacation, so as soon as I landed in Vegas, I knew where my first stopover would be. I arrived at his mini mansion quite late in the day so I missed the big tickets – and also the queues – but there was still plenty to keep me busy including the opportunity to walk around in the gated community house once owned by Goss. Like the home of someone who had left the country in a hurry, the place was littered with his unwanted possessions. Never-worn suits and seemingly endless white shirts hung in the wardrobes. In the kitchen were marked loose women cups – the fact that he bought them in the UK fills me with joy – while the shelves in the pantry were lined with British foods that are hard to find here, including Heinz baked beans and PG tea bags Tips. Everything was for sale. I ended up walking away with some vintage brooches and, of course, a brilliant photo of Goss himself. These were distributed free of charge to each participant.

Selling real estate is a uniquely American way to get a bargain, and an addictive mix of voyeur and thrifty. The living – Matt Goss, for example – can hold their own estate sales, though that’s pretty rare. Usually this happens after someone dies, with the decidedly unsentimental concept based on a particular dilemma. When a loved one passes away and you’ve taken custody of all the memorabilia in their home – family photos, treasured heirlooms, and dusty jars of homemade condiments – what do you do with everything else? Where do you take the curtains, rubber boots, pots and pans? How to get rid of the somewhat problematic magazines of the 1970s? What happens to the trinkets, the tat and the tchotchkes?

In the UK, the answer tends to involve an emotional trip to Oxfam or, more ruthlessly, a rather big leap. But in the US, they’ve found a way to both streamline and, naturally, monetize the process. Property-selling companies will price everything you don’t want, then let a bunch of bargain-seeking strangers rummage through cupboards and drawers around the house, buying books, furniture, unwanted clothes and trinkets for an unbeatable price. It’s usually some sort of all-but-kitchen-sink chord. Apart from cases where the kitchen sink is actually part of the deal.

The very first time I went to an estate sale, it felt weird and more than a little scary. There I was, more or less ten years ago, in a gorgeous mid-century house overlooking Los Angeles’ Silverlake Reservoir and walking the rails of a dead woman’s wardrobe. A death with immaculate taste in a vintage twin set, but a death nonetheless. Plenty of others were rummaging too – the house was full of people flipping through stacks of vinyl records, browsing shelves of china odds and ends and sniffing half-empty perfume bottles on a dressing table. Among the nylon babydolls, I spotted a lovely 1950s wool coat and took it to the smiling woman behind a portable cash register in the living room. There was no price listed on the coat, so I asked him how much it was, well aware that something similar at a Hollywood vintage store would cost me at least $100. The woman looked him up and down and tugged at one of the sleeves. “A dollar,” she said, wrinkling her nose. From that moment I was hooked.

The secret weapon of any vintage clothing dealer, estate sales offer great value for money. There are often so many remains in the cupboards that those in charge of unloading everything – and the families of the deceased – prefer to get rid of them quickly and cheaply. It’s the bulky furniture and fancy silverware, not the old and possibly moth-eaten skirts, that tend to cost the most. So if you’ve ever wondered how your favorite US Etsy stores source vintage outfits…well, now you know.

Some of Matt Goss’ mugs, including one from British television institution ‘Loose Women’

(Leonie Cooper)

At this Silverlake home, I found it exciting to find what I quickly decided was the perfect plaid jacket – a $1 bargain. But I was most impressed by being in such an atmospheric house. A perfect time capsule, it hadn’t been touched in years. Being inside was like stepping into a slice of 20th century history. Ten years later, I’m probably right in guessing that all of that history has been lost now. The house is perfect, tiled in pink i love lucy the kitchen has surely been removed; the turquoise rugs have torn and the master bedroom’s dramatic floral wallpaper has faded. If I went back now, I’m sure I’d find another example of a bland millennial design identikit, a mock Farrow and Ball walls and pine parquet floor, as advertised on the millennial ad site sufficiency Modern House. There would probably be a framed poster for a French movie on the wall that the owners have never seen.

Sure, the concept of an estate sale is a bit grim on paper, but in reality, it’s quite wonderful to wander around these amazing old homes and experience a real slice of the past. And if the whole “dead people” angle puts you off, then you still have the likes of Matt Goss. He will offer you a slightly less macabre sale – baked beans included.

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