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Downsizing With Garage, Estate, and Auction Sales

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Downsizing and selling our possessions is both a decision and an event for many of us at some point in life. Occasionally you find yourself left with a house full of items, either because you’re looking to move, to sell a house for a passed family member, or you simply have more things than you’d like to have. Donation doesn’t adequately compensate for nicer items in the house, putting them on commission is too long a process to complete, and Craigslist is driving you up a wall with emails from having to constantly relist the sheer number of items you’re trying to sell. So how do you make downsizing less of a pain?

The three methods people look towards in these situations are garage sales, estate sales, and auctions, and depending on the amount of involvement that a homeowner wants to have in the process, all three have pros and cons.

Garage Sales

We’ve all probably been to or ran at least one garage sale in our lives. Garage sales are typically run by the homeowner, with content chosen from the home that is either not being used or is unwanted, and are typically very informal. The most successful garage sales usually have small items that are easily carried out rather than large items like couches or other bulky furniture. This particular type of sale is great if you want to maintain control over the pricing of all your merchandise, but with the informality comes a measure of thriftiness, so be prepared for people who want to barter. If someone feels like they’re getting a good bargain, they will likely buy more, which is positive for the proceeds just as much as the downsizing.

The general responsibilities for running a garage sale are visibly pricing merchandise, helping people who come to the sale, and having ample cash as change for your shoppers. Garage sales are usually run during the weekends, and most buyers will expect this. It’s important to make sure that your community allows garage sales, or if they have designated weekends for neighborhood garage sales.

Pros:

  • The proceeds of a garage sale belong entirely to the homeowner, and require nothing but time and a bit of prep work.
  • Homeowners can control the pricing.
  • Great for selling small, easy to transport items.
  • Very minimal paperwork required, if any.

Cons:

  • The traffic experienced by a yard sale is entirely dependent on the convenience of the location for regular thrifters and neighbors.
  • Advertising is the responsibility of the yard sale planner.
  • The disposal of items left behind is the responsibility of the homeowner.
  • The amount of product a garage sale moves is small.

Estate Sales

While they might sound a little pretentious, an estate sale is a great way to clear out a substantial amount of things in a house, if not all of them. This is a practical option for someone who’s moving from a large single family home to a condo or apartment, or for family members inheriting a house from a loved one who passes who don’t know what to do with the sheer volume of product they’re now left with and needs to do some downsizing. It’s important to note that you do not have to experience a death in the family to have use of an estate sale, despite the popular misconception.

An estate sale can be run by a company for the homeowners, or by the homeowners, but typically benefits from using the company as they will have more experience with the area’s selling prices. Much like with real estate, the idea is to price correctly from the beginning. The leader of the estate sale team will come in for an evaluation, set a date for the sale, and allot a particular amount of time to prepare the house according to the size of their team and the amount of work that needs to be done. Their work is paid by the proceeds of the sale, which is usually a percentage agreed on when contracted for the service. They will then price, stage, and conduct the sale for the homeowner. Established estate sale companies will have regular customers that come for collectibles, curiosity, and reselling purposes.

Estate sales are usually conducted on the weekends, but commonly run from Friday to Saturday, with the second day being used to discount items in the home that were not sold on the first day. An estate sale will clear the house entirely unless requested otherwise, as organizers often have “buyout” bids placed by resellers at the close of the estate sale to take anything that remains. Many estate sale companies will provide light cleaning services afterward if the house is for sale.

Pros:

  • Estate sales can be arranged and conclude relatively quickly.
  • Managed estate sales have regular buyers that follow them from location to location.
  • The house will be empty at the sale’s ending if requested.
  • Multiple forms of payment are usually accepted.

Cons:

  • Estate sales suffer when there’s small amounts of merchandise to sell when downsizing. If it does not include several rooms worth of product, it will be difficult to drive traffic to it, or might make it more worthwhile to include it in a combined estate sale.
  • Pricing is often lower than fair market value to encourage people to buy the product before a price reduction in the second or third day of the sale.
  • The final price of the remnant that is sold at buyout can be heavily effected if there is not multiple offers on the buyout.
  • Commission fees will cut the final profit to the household by a percentage that the estate sale company dictates if you use one.

Auctions

While the History Channel and TLC have led to the idea of large sales driven by valuable items, auctions are open to entire households just a much as houses and collector cars, and can also be used for downsizing your possessions. Items will be sorted and sold individually and in lots to move as much product in as few transactions as possible. The auction staff will set a starting bid (a good starting point is somewhere around 30 to 40% of the fair market value), and open the floor to buyers, encouraging buyers to up their maximum bid in a competitive environment. Much like with the estate sale company, the auction house will take a percentage of the sale’s proceeds, but will be worth the investment for their experience.

Online auctions are another animal entirely, being led by the homeowner themselves with tools like Ebay. These too will have a portion of the proceeds pulled from the final sale, but not as high as a traditional auction house. While eBay is a household name, additional marketing is helpful for selling items that aren’t necessarily collectible, as you will be in competition with other sellers online in a much larger market. (This can be very useful if you live in a small town or neighborhood that doesn’t participate in auction culture, as it opens the bidding to the maximum possible buyers.) The homeowner is also responsible for shipping, so this can be a little more difficult to use for downsizing large items.

Pros:

  • In-person auctions are fast. It’s very rare that something will have no bids whatsoever.
  • Auctions are heavily marketed and have lots of regular customers.
  • Negotiations are in the open, and the buyer who will pay the most for that item that day will get it with the appropriate bid.
  • The homeowner has no responsibility for the sale arrangements unless using an online platform.

Cons:

  • The selling price of an item is subject to the audience. There is no guarantee of selling for a particular price unless the item is rare and heavily sought after.
  • Itemizing sales is difficult due to lots.
  • Some categories do very poorly at auction, particularly common household items.
  • The auction house will take a commission from the auction’s proceeds.

The Long and Short of It

Inevitably, buyers are usually looking for a deal in all three environments unless they are a collector, so it’s important to consider the clientele of each and what you intend to sell when downsizing. If you want to clear a small amount of product for some open storage space and some quick money, a garage sale is likely sufficient, whereas clearing the entirety of a house may be better suited to an estate sale where household goods are expected just as much as small valuables. Auctions are the most vulnerable to their content, so if unsure on the choice between garage, estate, and auction sales, it’s not unwise to pay for a general appraisal and a professional opinion.

Which one will make you more money is entirely dependent on who comes to buy from each, so if choosing an estate sale or auction company, keep a close eye on their marketing and following. Regular customers means stable business and stable sales, as well as a good reputation in the community.

Need a suggestion on who to use for your own downsizing? The Shannon Jones Team is here to help, with years in the community to work with different companies in the Southern California area. Use the contact form below for advice on potential options in your area.

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