Humble Abode or Mansion: You Can Still Have an “Estate Sale”

estate_saleLately, I’m finding myself in homes where someone has passed away and the adult children have hired me to help them figure out what to do with everything in the house. Usually, the rooms are overflowing with all your typical household items and furniture and the grown children don’t want much of it. When the volume is extensive, I suggest hiring an estate sale company to host a sale and what’s leftover we deal with afterward.

Unfortunately, there are lots of estate sale companies that are not quite on the up and up. Please contact me directly for my preferred recommendations. In the meanwhile, if you should run into a home and need to clear the contents for whatever reason, here is a questionnaire and information about estate sales that I suggest reading. I’ve copied it here from to help you interview and navigate the process.

I’ve learned that a home doesn’t necessarily need to be in a high-end neighborhood for a good sale either; it just needs to have lots of things in it that people would buy right down to gift wrapping paper or saran wrap. It really is amazing what people will buy at an estate sale. Don’t let the name, estate, fool you. Whether the home is worth 100,000 or 1,000,000 it doesn’t matter.

  1. Learn About Estate Sales
    This will enable you to ask specific questions about the process to the companies.
  2. Interview More Than Two (POSSE actually suggests 3)
    Look over the complete list of companies in your area. Call as many as possible for information about the services they offer.
  3. What Do They Charge?
    Don’t let the percentage charged be the only criteria when choosing a company. A lower percentage does not necessarily mean you will make more money. For example, if a company with more experience knows that you have a collection worth a lot of money, they could possibly make you more money even while charging a higher percentage.
  4. Interview In Person
    Once you have narrowed it down to a few companies ask them to come and meet with you. They will want to see what you want to be liquidated.
  5. Do NOT Throw Anything Away
    Do not throw anything away before meeting with the companies. Every company will tell you this and there is a reason. That “pile of junk” or “that trash” might be worth big money. Seriously…don’t throw anything away until you have an expert look at it.
  6. estate_sale2Removing Items After An Interview
    Realize that most companies work on a percentage so the more they make for you the more they make. Also, realize they may make a bid to you based on what you represent will be for sale. Many will charge a commission once they have started working on the sale and something is removed. If you intend to take items let the companies know on the front end and have it in the contract.
  7. Taxes
    Everybody loves to hate them. Different states / counties have different requirements for estate sales. Find out whether sales tax is supposed to be charged or not and then ask each company whether they do.
  8. Research, Research, Research
    Make sure you feel comfortable with the company before siging a contract. Check with your local better business bureau to be sure there aren’t outstanding issues with the company you have chosen. If there are, ask the company about it.
  9. Visit a Sale
    The best way to get a feel for a company is to watch them in action. Go to a sale and don’t let them know who you are. Look and see how it is set up. Interact with their staff at the checkout. Do they treat people with respect? Are they efficient? Look for what is important to you.
  10. Ask for References
    Ask the company for letters of reference and contact information for recent clients. Contact those clients and find out what they liked and what they didn’t like. Ask them specifically “What do you wish would have been done better?”
  11. Get a Contract
    A contract is extremely important. It should detail out when the sale will be held, how much the company is charging, when you will get paid, etc. Do not hire a company without a contract. You should both have a copy of the contract after signing it. A good contract details out what is expected of each party.
  12. Ask The Same Questions
    Make a list of questions to ask each company. That way you are comparing apples to apples. They may have a brochure or something they can send you in the mail.

Here are some questions you may want to consider asking:

  • How many days do you think it will take to set up?
  • What is your commission?
  • Are there fees besides your commission?
  • Do you have insurance? What types?
  • How long after the sale will I be paid?
  • Do you have an appraiser on staff or access to one?
  • What is your field of expertise? Antiques, Art, Furniture, etc?
  • How many people do you generally have staff a sale like mine?
  • How will my home be left? Broom Clean, Empty, etc?
  • Do you or your employees buy items?
  • Do you have a store?
  • Do you have a contract? Can I take a copy home with me to look over?
  • Do you pre-sell or allow people early entry?
  • Do you charge sales tax?
  • Do you have any sales coming up that I could visit to see how your sales are conducted?
  • How many days will the sale itself be?
  • When would you be able to do the sale (dates and times)?

Additionally, POSSE adds three of our own suggested questions when interviewing:

  1. How many people normally attend your sales?
  2. How, where and when do you advertise?
  3. Based on 100% of what you see in this house, what percentage do you sense would be sold?