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Would you hold an estate sale yourself or hire a company? Why?

November 4, 2007

Hi. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on estate sales and any experience doing them, as DIY projects vs. hiring an estate sale company.

Also, if you shop estate sales, any preferences or pointers one way or the other?

I have a month on-premises to clear out a three-bedroom house, in another state, that I inherited. It isn't cluttered and there aren't high-$ antiques, just decent, clean mid-level furniture, dishes, etc.

I'm tempted to place the ads, do the estimating and tagging, and hold the estate sale myself with a good family friend who's a garage sale maven and great with that stuff. I figure if we get it held by the middle of the month, then that gives me two weeks as a contingency to move unsold furniture to consignment stores etc.

I recognize the professional estate sales companies would be a great convenience, but am tempted to think that because these belongings aren't super-high-end ... just 'nice' :) ... and because I have a friend who'd be good at this who could help... we could do it. And I'm somewhat unthrilled by the lack of control that a person has when things are done through an estate sale company... like the selling of worthwhile stuff for little $ at the end because they get a %.

So anyway, thoughts welcome.

Also thoughts on how you'd suggest remunerating the friend who's helping... say it's her time 9am-3pm for two days and we each do about half the work.

I was thinking maybe a percentage up to a certain $. But what would you recommend, for a % or $ or both? (And of course, might work out dibs on some nice items as part of that.)

Comments (22)

  • claire_de_luna

    If you think you can handle the sale yourself, do it. I'd rather be in control of the proceeds than let someone else do it, especially if you don't have to worry about pricing things that are out of your comfort zone. It helps immensely that the house isn't cluttered.

    I don't have any recommendations for what to pay your friend who is helping you (sorry). Your time line seems a little light to me for pulling together an estate sale. (Or are you talking about working the two days of the actual sale?) What exactly do you want your friend to help you do? I'd offer a % if she's spending a couple of weeks helping you pull out items, price and sell them. If it's only a couple of days, then a set $ amount should suffice.

    Good luck to you. It's a lot of work!

  • cinnamonsworld

    Thanks much. The sale would be mid-this-month. I would want the friend to help out the two weekend days of the sale, watching things and helping sell/collect $ etc. ... and beforehand it would be great to have her input on what something might be worth or should be priced at.

    Would you ever do a sale like this alone if the neighbors who you know were right there next door in their yard?

  • kec01

    Are you going to be at this house all day every day for the two weeks prior to your sale? I think you'll need that time to go through, sort, price, get rid of garbage and then dispose of wanted items. I agree with allowing time after for disposal of unsold "stuff". I think you'll find it takes alot more time to prepare than you might be estimating.

    My 2 sisters, my aunt and I had to clean out a 2 bedroom townhouse, with basement, that our other aunt had lived in. Three or four of us were there every weekend for nearly 3 months and we got everything distributed/donated in that time.

    My aunt worked just on paperwork. My sisters and I sorted. Are you responsible for sorting paperwork, too? We didn't do a sale, but it sure took time to empty the place.

    I've also been to "professionally" run estate sales of mid-level homes. If there's a buck to be made, you'll find a company who'll take it on.

    I'm not sure I understand your question about the neighbors. If it's now your house, and you have to get it emptied, who cares about them?

  • graywings123

    I believe that the reference to neighbors in the yard has to do with security, which is a point to consider. You need to think about your personal security, securing the money you take in and your purse, and the possible theft of items in the sale - it is amazing what people will steal.

    Two people handling the sale of things in a three bedroom house could be difficult. It would be safer to get everything into the main living area except for very large pieces that have to stay in the bedrooms.

    I, too, fear that you may be underestimating the prep time.

    If you are an extremely organized person who has held a large garage sale and knows what to prepare for, then I would say you could do it.

  • bspofford

    Here is a link to a professional estate sale company. If you look at 'upcoming sales' you can get a good idea on how they display a lot of things. Even if you don't use a pro, their website has a lot of great information.

    I think your premise that they will dump stuff cheap because they get a percentage is maybe a little skewed. If they get a commission, they are going to try to make as much as possible for you.

    I have to admit that the idea of letting a professional take care of the whole shebang is real attractive to me. If I spent 2 weeks sorting, cleaning, pricing, I would try to estimate what my time is worth, what amount will I realisticly hope to get, and what am I going to do with what doesn't sell. Using the pro may then seem like an attractive way to go.

    I guess I should be glad I don't live in Houston where these sales take place, I always see something I think I would like.


  • sheesh

    In May I broke down my mom's house in a very nice neighborhood. Her stuff was in excellent condition and was high end when they bought it in 1977. We had a beautiful weekend for the sale and a very large turnout of buyers. Mom's stuff was well-maintained and clean, tagged, arranged. We grossed $480 on the entire sale, mainly in nicknacks, odds and ends and clothes.

    The mattresses sold for $10 apiece, but none of the furniture did. On the third day, we ended up putting "free" signs on the couch, over-stuffed chairs, a desk, and lugging them to the curb, just to get rid of them. It took at least two weeks to get ready with tagging, inventory, etc., and another two weeks to clean up.

    I moved a ton of her stuff to my house, where I still have to deal with it. Where Mom lived, Goodwill, Salvation Army and other organizations pick and choose what they need at the moment. Our timing for stuffed furniture was bad, thus the charities could not take any of it, thus the lugging and "free" signs.

    You will need at least one other person on sale days - I don't thing it can be done alone, especially if you have a large turnout. My friend helped me, thank goodness. She has a garage sale or two a year and knows what she's doing, but we were often overwhelmed by buyers. She refused to take money, so I sent a gift certificate for about 25% of the gross afterward. She spent about three days helping and advising on the tagging, moving furniture, arranging, etc, then two long sale days and one follow-up day. I got a real bargain, and we were exhausted by the process.

    The professionals will take a percentage, but they will also get everything out and clean up afterwards.

    Good luck, whatever you choose. Everyone knows people who tell about the good finds they made at garage sales, and it helps keep stuff out of the landfills.

  • Frankie_in_zone_7

    Estate sale co's will take about 30-35% for their fee. On the other hand, they price things fairly high to start and tend to know what items are hot, such as vintage, as well as antiques, and will get more $$ for many items than you might. Estate sales do not start out with "garage sale" pricing, so if you are going to do that, you'll make very little for your efforts, but will move more items. It's almost impossible to parse all the factors that would go into your decision--time, money minus the % to helpers. $480 is not a very big take for a household of goods, and for some people would not be worth the time to hold the sale; for others it would. "Not cluttered" is a boon for the person doing the sale work, but may also mean there is not as much return on the trip or sale.

    My mother's small 3 BR home was very cluttered; most things seemed not of great value, especially after we removed a number of "antiques" (not fine antiques, but turn-of-the century manufactured furniture and sentimental items for her to have when she moved to assisted living and that she wanted my brother and me to have. She had long ago sold china, silver, etc. Yet, using an estate sale-lady duo, my Mom got a check for over $3000 even after their cut, because they priced EVERYTHING and sold a lot of items like old sheet music, glassware, costume jewelry, 50's kitchen stuff, and the like. Plus, they arranged for charity haul-off of the remainder.

    If you needed to go through all of the items carefully anyway to select things you wanted, then you might find the added work of pricing and displaying was not too much extra, but you'll have "decisions, decisions."

    Agree you need "eyes" in every room used for the sale--might be teen friends or folks taking turns.

  • cinnamonsworld

    Thanks all for the great advice. :)

  • postum

    As someone who frequents estate sales, I prefer to have a company in charge. They will usually accept credit cards and often can arrange delivery. This makes a huge difference. People are much more ready to buy when they don't have to run to the ATM for cash or try and figure out how they're going to get the item home.

  • duluthinbloomz4

    I had a slightly different experience in disposing of a deceased aunt's household. Had an estate auction house come in, appraise, buy the entire contents outright (and I mean entire right down to dented pots and pans and Flintstone jelly glasses), hand me a check on the spot, and cart everything away. Didn't care if this estate was combined with others or how much profit the auction house might make on it. No fuss, no muss, no bother - they even vacuumed before locking the door.

    Since I wasn't looking to make a killing and retire on very nice, good furnishings, china, silver, etc.; intellectually I understood things were simply things that held no added value for "sentiment" to a disinterested party; was not interested in spending time and energy trying to price items and oversee the sale; and much less interested in trying to get rid of anything that didn't sell. Used a very reputable company and got a very fair price - much more than piecemealing out to the public who expects to pay next to nothing for used items - regardless of their quality.

    I had the luxury of time to go through everything, remove important papers, documents, photographs. family items. Relatives were invited to pick out something they could use or a momento. Then the auction house people came in and the problems connected with disposing of a household were gone. It was just all very tidy and I'd do the same thing again in a heartbeat if the occasion ever arose.

  • bspofford

    Oops, here is the link....

    Here is a link that might be useful: estate sales

  • Plow_In

    No way would I ever conduct an estate sale without a pro. Got burned years ago when my sis and I, plus both husbands and a niece, conducted one after our Mom died. You would think we had plenty of help, but apparently not. The house was tiny (2 brs, small dr, lr, kitchen all on one floor). Oh, also attic & basement. We were naive and let too many people in the house at a time. Had theft, distruction, and a power outage due to some jack... cutting the elec. wire on the dryer! We also learned that all small items should be in one place, carefully guarded and sold by one person. Definitely should be a person in each room, including the attic & basement. Plus we would have made much more money if we had had the more expert knowledge of a pro.

  • minnie_tx

    DS and I go to a lot of Estate Sales especially by one co here. Everything is tagged with the price down to the smallest item like a pair of tweezers. Usually they are two day sales with 50% off the last day. Manned all day and very professional I'd go ith the company the ones I go to have a waiting line before the 8 am opening

  • tinkerbell1959

    I would highly recommend using a pro. They know what they are doing and sold everything for us. When we went back in they even tidied the place up. The company I used is based out of Atlanta and they conduct high-end and not so high-end sales. They have a great reputation and were very professional and friendly. I had my check within 3 days of the sale closing.

  • jakkom

    I have to agree that in many cases, hiring a pro is the way to go. My MIL sold her home of 36 yrs, a very nice 3bd home, and gave first choice of furniture to relatives. Some of them actually rented a truck and came down from Canada to take a few heirloom pieces that had been brought over from Hong Kong when everyone emigrated. We didn't charge them, just keeping the stuff in the family was good enough.

    But that left an enormous amount of ordinary furniture and personal belongings still to get rid of. We hired a company referred by our RE agent (who was terrific). We were surprised when they told us that a lot of the smaller stuff I considered 'junk' would be easily sold, although not for very much. I mean, really, people actually buy those singing fake flowerpots?!?!? (Besides my in-laws that purchased it originally, LOL)

    They combined two other 'estates' with hers, but used her house to sell. Everything but one sofa was sold or carted away, and one of her neighbors decided to take the sofa. The house was swept clean, there was absolutely no damage - important when the listing price was going to be over $1M - everything was gone within two weeks with little trouble to us, and my MIL received a check for $600 within a few days.

    We consider this to be the smartest thing we did during this period. It was an exhausting emotional time for all of us, since MIL was shedding many tears at selling her beloved home and we were having to commute back and forth across the Bay Bridge every week to hold her hand. Using a pro company saved us an enormous amount of time and trouble - since my DH and I were both working at the time, we really couldn't afford to keep taking off from work for this.

    You can certainly save money by DIY, as long as you don't put a value on the hours and days you're going to spend. Nothing wrong with that, just be aware it's going to take quite a bit of effort and time on your part to do a successful job. Good luck to you, whatever you decide.

  • bleusblue2

    There is a reason that the professional can get you more money -- they have more contacts. Two members of my family have antique/used items/businesses and the representative calls dealers who buy specific items. How likely is it that a collector of yellow whatchmacallits will show up at the sale you advertised in generic forums? A good estate sale agent knows how to get the word out. I wouldn't do it myself unless it were a garage sale type thing

  • dianne47

    Thirteen years ago my mother suddenly died and I was left with a 3,000 square foot house that she had inherited from her parents. It was absolutely loaded with very fine furniture and every conceivable antique, valuables, paintings, clothing, jewelry, etc. Here's how I handled it.

    The local estate sale pro came and told me she would do the sale for 25% of the gross. I decided against giving up control over pricing and giving such a big "cut" to that woman. I had a cousin who is very familiar with estate sales, so I asked her to help me.

    It took me 7 weeks, working 10+ hours a day, 7 days a week, to organize for the sale. The cousin helped me for about 20 hours during that period, she was key because I had no idea how to price things. She had these thick books about antiques that helped us with pricing. My brother and I chose all the furniture and items we wanted to keep and we put these in bedrooms, which were off-limits to people coming into the house.

    We started with local used furniture and antique dealers, who were invited to come to the house to buy - that took several days. We then had a word-of-mouth estate sale every day for a week, then advertised in the local paper for another week.

    Finally, we had garage sale type items left and we conducted that sale on a weekend. The following week I had the movers come and pack shipments to the 2 cities where my brother and I live. I donated the remainder of the items, keeping careful records for the tax writeoff.

    The proceeds from the sales were $18,000, moving costs were $6,000, so we were very successful. I gave several valuable items to my helpful cousin (worth $1,000 at least and they were sentimental things that she wanted and chose) and I paid her $700 for her help. I also gave some items to my mother's friends, they chose items they wanted.

    I always had at least two people present during the estate sale days and we watched people like hawks. We had no theft, but we only let a few people in the house at a time and they were confined to the living and dining rooms. I had more help for the garage sale days and those were the most stressful, but by then there weren't any especially valuable items left to steal.

    Final thoughts would be that, if you do the sale yourself, sorting things out will take more time than you think. Unless you know how to price things, you will be at a real disadvantage. Mark every single item with a price and put signage on anything "not for sale." You can phone local used furniture stores and antique dealers to give them "first pick." Make sure you have 1-2 other people in the house to help, watch the people who come to make sure they don't switch tags or pocket small items. Good luck with your decision and the task ahead.

  • Frankie_in_zone_7

    dianne47, you just made a great case for giving it over to an estate sale professional!

  • dianne47

    Frankie - you're absolutely right. But I had the time and determination to do it myself. It was emotionally difficult, exhausting at times, but I was really proud of what I accomplished afterwards.

    This type of decision is intensely personal and those without the time and/or emotional fortitude definitely should hire professionals. My grandparents and mother were enormously proud (probably to a fault) of their furniture and possessions. They were also quite "frugal" and would've chafed at paying 25% (or more at today's rates) to get them sold.

    I noticed this very old thread last night when I was looking for closet ideas on this board. For those who don't want to spend 1/4 to 1/3 of the proceeds, I thought a detailed description of a complex process would be helpful. Again, I definitely agree that for most people it would be too difficult.

  • Olychick

    I know this is an old thread that I also found while looking for closet ideas! A couple of years ago, I was helping some elderly relatives. One died, the other had to move to an adult family home. His money was in a trust and I was the trustee and power of attorney. The home had to be sold, along with everything in it. It was small and modest, as were their furnishings. But there were lots of collectibles from their 75 years in the home. I was put in touch with an "estate sale" company, referred by Senior Services in their town. They brought in professionals to price items, most of the pricers were antique/collectible dealers. What I discovered was that they not only priced items in their specialty, but they then had first pick of them. (See anything of a conflict of interest?) The sale was run smoothly, but I finally put my foot down about the low prices some of the dealers walked away with and raised the prices myself (as I had a fiduciary duty to my relative's trust) It was an exhausting experience and I know lots of things weren't paid for by the dealers and the sale helpers. The company was used to going into homes of people that had died suddenly or moved to a nursing home and their families usually lived out of town. They just would turn the whole shebang over to this company and have them empty the house. The company was not used to having a relative oversee things. My blood still boils about it all, the prices for some things that they walked away with. So be careful of the company you hire.

  • jannie

    My Mom died in January. My brother, who lived with her and is the executor, has been cleaning out her house ever since. I call him frequently to encourage him and also to find out how things are progressing. My parents never threw anything out since 1963. So it's basically a hoarder's house. Bro found 640 steel folding chairs in the basement. All were rusty or bent, no one wanted them. Also found masses of things in the attic. But the attic was a terrible place for storage-it gets to 100 degrees in the summer and had several roof leaks over the years. He also discovered masive mold problem in the basement and mice had lived down there, chewing up books, etc. Mom had bought some nice, expensive all-wood furniture in the 60's, but brother found it all had some kind of damage. An antique (early 1900's) table had been refinished, which knocked the heck out of its' value. In short, nothing of real value. Brother took it upon himself to toss out paperwork, including thousands of old Christmas cards and all our school records. My sisters and I were a little disappointed about tha. Wouldn't you love to see your third grade diploma? Anyway, he's trying to get together enough "good" stuff to hold an estate sale. He's spoken to appraisers. They don't want to sort through everything my parents saved, they want my brother to get it pretty much sorted first. He figures that will take him 2 years. In the meantime, taxes and utilities need to be paid. So we're stuck, unable to even think of holding an estate sale. And, yes, I've been warned about gangs of thieves who go to estate sales and grab everything that isn't nailed down.

  • jannie

    Sorry my long-winded post got so long.

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