We had recently discussed methods of choosing if a garage sale, an estate sale, or an auction would be the best method of downsizing for homeowners. In today’s article, we’re going to build on that and discuss estate sale companies in detail. Keep in mind that there will be some variation in practices from place to place, but that a lot of the observations and suggestions here are common across the board.
If you’ve found yourself in the position of needing to get rid of a full household of items, an estate sale is likely the best way to handle this. Estate sales entail that the majority of the property’s small items and furniture will be sold from inside the house itself. At the time of a consultation with an estate sale company, you will inform them what amount of the household will be sold, whether that means all of it or a large selection of it. If you have less than a household, say a third of it or less, you can still ask an estate sale company for assistance, though they may suggest using an online sale, or combining into a multiple family estate sale to make certain that the sale is profitable. If there is a very limited amount for sale, don’t hesitate to ask if an estate sale is the right kind of sale for you from the beginning.
Things You Should Be Prepared For Before, During, and After
Before you’ve even booked a company, there should be a few things you should be preparing yourself for. An important one to watch for when choosing your company is if they have open availability and if they have multiple teams. Estate sales usually require a couple of weeks to properly book, price, stage, and advertise. Many teams are booked weeks into the future, so leaving yourself some flexibility on the date is important, or alternatively to have a second company in mind just in case. Let the date be one of the first things you ask about at a consultation. If you’re in a rush, this will likely be your most limiting factor on if you get to pick and choose.
The home is a workplace during the estate sale preparation. If you are living in the house, you may find that things need to get rearranged, items pulled out of closets, and counter space in short supply. Mention to the organizer if you will be in the house, and they will usually make an effort to leave certain areas inhabitable. Resist the temptation to meddle in the team’s work. On the day of the sale (or days depending on the company’s practices), be ready to stay away from the sale. Lots of buyers are uncomfortable with the original owner being in attendance, so if there are special details or history to an item, write it out for the estate sale team prior to the sale to reference.
If you are not in the house, it’s a courtesy to leave electrical and water services active in the house, and will sometimes be mandated in the company’s contract to do the work. Be sure to ask about this in case you are out of town, the utilities have already been turned off, or if the ownership of the home will transfer elsewhere during the course of the sale preparation.
The Estate Sale Company Commission & Attitude
The majority of estate sale companies will work on a property for a percentage of the sale’s proceeds. You can expect this to be something in the range of 30 to 50%, depending on the level of skill, marketing, time required to complete the work, and the city that you live in. In this respect, it’s a great motivator for them to sell items at the best possible price, as the more money that the estate makes, the more money they will make as well. The sale can be done on a single day or multiple days, and will be at the discretion of the company. Don’t be afraid to shop around your area and decide what will work best for your house.
Most consultations will be for free, and they will do their best to be honest from the start about what makes your estate attractive to buyers. You will spend a lot of time talking back and forth with the team leader, so you need to have a good feeling and working relationship with your company of choice. Now is a good time to get into detail about their staff experience. Ask how their team is pricing things and where they think they will make the most profit for the item, like if an online auction or a collector can be directly used. If there are items that require more that a surface level of appreciation, be sure to figure out if there are team members with experience in these areas. Many estate sale companies will have staff members with areas of emphasis, and often an appraiser that either works with them or directly for them. If they do not, it’s not uncommon to have items appraised prior to hiring the estate sale team as a means of recommending pricing.
Some estate sales will do light cleaning after the sale, and some won’t. If you are selling the house or have already sold it, it’s good to check for this and ensure the property is in a condition that would show well afterwards. If it is sold, it needs to be in the same condition that the buyers made their offer on, so ask about filling nail holes and painting if it’s needed. Most will work with you on this or find someone to help.
Who’s Buying From the Estate Sale Companies?
You have four major demographics buying from an estate sale: collectors, resellers, regulars, and neighbors. While good advertising can break this mold a bit, these are the bread and butter. Estate Sale companies will have good relationships with these folks, and already know based on your house’s contents what each of them will be interested in. Collectors drive the highest value for items, and resellers will buy the most. Ask during the consultation what kind of following that the company has that will drive these people to you. Neighbors are also a huge boost to a sale’s success, so don’t hesitate to wave them down and let them know that the sale is happening soon.
EstateSales.Net and EstateSales.Org are the primary agnostic advertising platforms for estate sales in the United States, and people who routinely follow estate sales will be notified via these websites about sales in the area. Another common source of foot traffic is just good old fashioned signs directing people to the house. Outside of these, the company should be utilizing social media, mailing lists, and public platforms like Craigslist to get the maximum number of eyes looking at the sale. Much like with real estate, good pictures help drive traffic, so check company websites for previous sales.
For homes that have already been bought: sometimes the new buyers will appreciate knowing if you are holding an estate sale on the property. It’s not unusual for them to also buy things like dining room tables, and appliances if they were not included in the sale of the home on the day of the estate sale.
Price Drops & The Buyout
Since the goal in an estate sale is to clear the entirety of the sale, price drops are often used to encourage sales that have slowed. The best items from a sale are typically already gone by this point, so this acts as an inducement for people to return for more as well as to account for prices that might have been set higher than the market would bear with the audience that came. The timing of these price drops and the percentage of discount is entirely decided by the estate sale company. Since these price drops are usually scheduled, this can cut both ways: on one hand, people know the discount is coming and may opt to wait. On the other hand, people will be concerned someone will get the item they want before they’re able to come back and they’ll buy it regardless. This is why sales with interesting items from the beginning will do really well if things were priced fairly, drawing big crowds and encouraging those people to buy more since they feel like they got a good deal.
The buyout option at the end of an estate sale is how estate sale companies completely clear a house by the end of the sale. This is done by taking offers from people who are willing to buy and clear all of the remaining items from a home. Whoever is the highest bid will typically be responsible for removing the items on the same day. A good estate sale team leader will have a good idea of how much the buyout should be based off of the items that are left.
You are not obligated to have a buyout. It’s simply an easy way to add to the final proceeds and to clear the house. It is also common practice to donate the remaining items for a tax write-off, or to keep the items until you have time to go through it.
Once the sale concludes, the estate sale company will have the final results and profits calculated within a week, and the transaction will conclude. These results should show the gross profits, any costs like credit card transaction fees, and the estate sale’s cut of the profits. If there is any additional services like cleaning that has been negotiated for, these will usually be done within the same time frame. Congrats, you survived and your house is clean and clear!
Some Helpful Practices:
- Be a buyer for a day. It’s a good idea to walk through one of the sales they currently are running to see how their team responds to the number of people coming through, their knowledge on the items being sold, and pricing. There’s usually a couple team members who can answer these questions thoroughly if asked. It will also give you a good idea of what to expect in terms of foot traffic.
- Check testimonials, Yelp reviews, and Google ratings: a happy customer is the surest sign of having a good experience since the process can feel lengthy and at times personal. You can ask for a reference if you need more details, and most reputable companies will be happy to comply.
- Remember that value is circumstantial. While true antiquities, precious metals, and rarities will generally hold their value, most collectible items will encounter pricing fluctuations. While the glass vase from the Depression Era that you’ve been holding onto was valuable when you bought it ten years ago, that may not be the case right now. It doesn’t mean it’s not attractive or cool though, so if you don’t need it, leave it in to pull interest. If you have emotional attachment to an item from a family member or feel that you will not get what you think you ought to get for it after the estate sale commission, keep it, or ask for advice if you should.
- Confine things you don’t want to sell to a space that can be isolated easily and hidden. On the day of the sale, buyers don’t know what isn’t for sale and have a remarkable talent for finding things that aren’t explicitly marked or out of view. It’s helpful to let the team know in advance about appliances.
- Leave some nice things in the house for the sale. This seems like a silly thing to point out, but often in cases like estate sales triggered by a death, family members will come to the house and take items that weren’t entailed or discussed in a will. Sometimes you change your mind about selling certain things. This is totally fine as long as it’s done prior to booking the estate sale company. If half of the items that they based your sale value are gone, or if they are removed during the pricing process, it is very difficult to properly advertise and draw buyers to. Remember that interesting sales have better buyer turnouts. If things are taken out, tell the estate sale team leader.
- Trust your team’s pricing and decisions. We often get caught up in what we originally spent on something when deciding what it should sell for, or see something on a tv show that might be similar and sells second hand for big collector bucks. A good estate sale company will know what these items -actually- sell for in your market, and will set realistic expectations of how they think the sale will do. They will advise you if something needs to sell for a certain price point, and be willing to work with you on your hard sells.
At the end of the day, an estate sale company is meant to help you sell your estate as painlessly as possible. Most understand or have personally dealt with having to part with their own items, family members or otherwise, so a measure of understanding, patience, and experience is the greatest qualities you can ask for in them. A reputable company will be prepared to face reasonable questions, criticisms, and concerns with no hesitation. Be curious and make friends. You’re in this business venture together.