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Estate Sales

Estate sale companies are businesses that facilitate the organization, pricing, marketing, and selling of some or all of the contents of an individual’s or family’s home. These services may be necessary after a family member passes away, or may be part of the downsizing process when the resident of the home moves into a different living arrangement.

Learn more about estate sales:

View a glossary of estate sale industry terms.

What are the benefits of using an estate sale service?

Many of the activities involved in hosting an estate sale may sound like holding a yard sale or garage sale, something many homeowners have done themselves. While there are certainly similarities, estate sales operate on a much larger scale, and often deal with items of more value. It is possible for an individual or family to have an estate sale without professional assistance, but hiring a service can make the process much less stressful and more profitable.

Benefits of hiring an estate sale service include:

  • Saves time and energy. Family members don’t need to personally sort and catalog every item in a home, or worry about how to set up and run the sale.
  • Reduces stress. Professionals offload the burden of managing all of the “stuff” and provide an objective, experienced perspective in an emotionally fraught process.
  • Increases revenue. Estate sale companies know which items are most valuable to buyers and price your items accordingly, helping families make the most of the downsizing or liquidation process.
  • Boosts visibility. By marketing and advertising your sale, service providers ensure that you attract as many buyers as possible.
  • Adds credibility. Professional estate sales carry a greater perceived value than family-run sales, attracting a higher quantity and quality of customers – sometimes up to several thousand people in a day!

What are the different types of estate sale services?

Estate sale services describe their businesses in a variety of ways depending on their specialty, but there are two basic categories:

Companies that focus on estate sales after the passing of a loved one:

  • Estate sale services
  • Estate liquidators

Companies that focus on assisting seniors with downsizing:

  • Senior relocation services
  • Senior move management services
  • Downsizing or “rightsizing” moving companies

Regardless of the focus, these businesses typically provide similar services, including organizing the contents of a home, researching and assigning a fair market value to the items designated to be sold, advertising and marketing the estate sale in order to attract buyers, running the sale itself, and assisting with removal of any remaining items after the sale.

How does an estate sale work?

An estate sale, also known as a tag sale, is the process of selling all or most of the contents of a home. Estate sales are typically held after a death or other major life event, such as moving, divorce, or bankruptcy. Although they can be run by the homeowner or family, estate sales are typically held by professional service providers and operate at a larger scale than a yard or garage sale.

Organizing the Sale

Before a sale, the estate sale company assists the family or homeowner with organizing, sorting, and pricing their belongings. They then prepare the house for the sale by cleaning and staging the items to optimize visibility. The day of the sale, the public is invited into the home to browse the items for sale. The estate sale company coordinates the buying and selling process from end to end.

This often includes managing substantial traffic flow. Popular estate sales can open with a line out the door, and estate sale etiquette dictates that customers remain in this order so that everything is seen on a “first come first serve” basis. Some estate sale companies use a number system to guarantee this process, in which every customer is given a number as he or she arrives and shopping proceeds based on that order.

Purchasing and Selling the Items

At the sale, customers simply pick up smaller items that they wish to buy and take them to the check out station to complete their purchase. They may also tell sale attendants to mark larger items as sold. The option to bargain for price depends on the sale. Some estate sale companies will also allow bids on more expensive items, using a system similar to a silent auction in which a customer sets out a price that he or she is willing to pay, but only retains claim on that item if someone else is not willing to pay more. The item is sold to the highest bidder at the end of the day. Traditionally, many estate sales only took cash, but that is changing with mobile credit card readers and some sales now accept major credit cards as well.

Some estate sale companies sell items through other venues in addition to the home, such as online auctions, directly to antique dealers or brokers, or to private collectors. The vendor is motivated to sell your belongings for the best possible price, because their compensation is based on the value received for your items. In return for their services, estate sale companies take a percentage of the total earnings from the sale, typically 25-35%.

What services are provided by estate sale companies?

Whether an estate sale company is assisting with an entire estate liquidation or helping with the downsizing process, they typically offer an end-to-end set of services that help families transition out of the existing home. Services provided by estate sale companies may include:

Preparing for the estate sale

  • Meeting with an estate attorney if necessary
  • Helping decide what to sell, what to donate, what to keep in the family, what to move, etc.
  • Determining what can and cannot fit in a new home
  • Organizing and sorting personal belongings according to individual wishes and/or a will or trust
  • Cleaning items for sale as necessary
  • Inventory and photographing items for sale
  • Appraising items to be sold and determine most profitable sales method (in-home estate sale, online auction, antique dealer, private collector, etc.)
  • Cleaning and preparing the house
  • Advertising and marketing the sale

Running the estate sale

  • Staging the home and its contents for optimal flow and visibility
  • Organizing items for sale attractively with clear pricing
  • Managing the sale the day of, including customer service, traffic flow, purchases, inventory management, bookkeeping, and hosting
  • Providing security to direct cars and secure valuables
  • Selling items via other venues such as online auctions or direct to dealers if optimal

After the estate sale

  • Taking follow-up inventory
  • Coordinating removal of remaining items, such as donations or delivery of heirlooms or inherited items to family members or new owners
  • Accounting for profits from sale and any additional legal or financial considerations, such as tax deductions from donations
  • Arranging for storage if necessary
  • Preparing the existing home to be sold, often including cleaning and/or repairs
  • Working with senior real estate agents, accountants, elder law attorneys, movers, additional experts or appraisers

News and Articles about Estate Sales

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