When someone passes away, their loved ones are often left with the task of sorting through their belongings and figuring out what to do with them. Enter estate sales.
If the family member had a lot of stuff, this can be a daunting process – especially if they didn’t leave behind any instructions.
One option that might be worth considering is an estate sale.
Here are 11 things you need to know about how estate sales work.
What are Estate Sales?
Estate sales are a way of liquidating the material possessions of a family or estate, usually due to a death, bankruptcy, divorce, or upcoming move. During an estate sale, members of the public are invited into the home to view and purchase the items inside.
Estate sales are not to be confused with auctions, though estate auctions can occur as well. While estate auctions allow participants to bid on available items, items at an estate sale are each marked with a specific selling price.
Most estate sales are handled in a first-come, first-serve manner, with people lining up outside the door of the home where the sale is taking place.
Are Estate Sales a Good Idea?
Estate sales are a good idea for those who have a lot of items to sell but don’t want to handle the sale themselves.
Most estate sales are run by a designated estate sale company, providing a hands-off approach that leaves the homeowner with an empty home, ready to be listed on the market.
For this reason, estate sales often follow a death in the family, allowing mourners to grieve without having to worry about their loved one’s belongings.
Many companies specializing in estate sales provide free consultations, giving you a better idea of what the process entails before you commit.
What Percentage Do Estate Sales Take?
Most estate sale companies are commission-based. While some companies take a set percentage of the sales profits, others provide a sliding scale commission depending on the total sales made.
It is common for companies to evaluate your home and the items for sale before presenting you with a commission rate for their services. You can expect to pay an older, more established company around 40% in commission, while a newer company might charge 20%.
It is important to do your research here since cheaper is not always better. Although the higher commission rate may seem off-putting, a well-known company will have a better networking base that can mean more of your items will sell, at a higher price.
What is the Average Cost of an Estate Sale?
Estate sales are a great way to sell personal property without paying upfront fees.
The average estate sale brings in $19,000 in gross sales, making the cost to consumers anywhere from $3,800 to $7,600.
Keep in mind, some companies charge fees for services like trash disposal, advertising, cleaning, and labor, so be sure to ask what is included during your consultation.
Is it Better to Have an Estate Sale or Auction?
The answer to this question will depend on your needs.
If you are looking for a quick, hands-off approach to selling, an estate sale is a way to go. With an estate sale, the majority of the process is handled by the company you hire. Items are priced by the estate sale company, which then takes a percentage of profits once the sale completes.
However, most estate sale companies do not allow the client to be present for the staging process or the sale itself, so if this is important to you, an estate sale may not be the best option.
Auctions, on the other hand, require more seller involvement, especially in determining the value and authenticity of items for sale. While many auction companies offer appraisal services to help price items, this comes at an additional hourly cost to the consumer.
You might opt for an estate auction if you only have a few items to sell, or have higher-end items. The auction process generally takes longer, so it is best for those who do not have a deadline for selling.
What’s the Difference Between an Estate Sale and a Garage Sale?
At first glance, an estate sale and garage sale might seem pretty similar. However, there are key differences between the two.
During an estate sale, a professional company is hired to price items, stage the event, and conduct the sale on your behalf.
In contrast, a garage or “yard” sale is completely set up and run by you, from putting up signs, determining prices, and handling the customers.
What Sells Best at an Estate Sale?
People who attend estate sales are often in search of unique, vintage, or otherwise good quality items at a fair price.
Popular buys include furniture, jewelry, special artwork and trinkets, books, kitchen essentials, and tools.
Can You Haggle at Estate Sales?
It can’t hurt to ask, but generally, estate sale prices are not negotiable. Prices at estate sales are generally set by professional liquidation companies.
However, item prices usually decrease with each day of the sale. If you are willing to wait, you may get the item you want for much cheaper. But of course, you run the risk of someone else purchasing it first.
What Happens to Estate Sale Leftovers?
The goal of most estate sale companies is to sell absolutely everything in the home. However, this doesn’t always happen. During your initial consultation, the estate sale company will likely ask what you would like to happen to leftover items.
These options include:
- Selling the remaining items to the estate sale company, at a fraction of the market price
- Donating your items or putting them on consignment
- Hiring a home cleanout service
- Keeping your items
- Throwing your items away or paying the company for haul off
What Should I Look for When Hiring an Estate Sales Company?
There are several factors to consider when choosing an estate sale company. Before scheduling an interview, make sure to do some research.
Look for companies that have put effort into their marketing, including professional websites, good reviews, and photos of previous sales.
After you make a list of the top companies, set up a few interviews to get more information. Some questions to ask include:
- How much do they charge
- What services are included, and are there any add on costs
- What is their process for determining prices
- Will they provide insurance to cover your sale
How Do I Hold an Estate Sale Myself?
While it’s certainly possible to hold estate sales on your own, it’s an extremely in-depth process that requires months of planning.
First, you’ll need to research and price your items accurately, hiring an appraiser if you need help.
Then, plan out your event and work on staging items in an organized, understandable, and inviting way. Create signs to help direct people through the home, come up with a system for transactions, and buy any necessary supplies like folding tables or a calculator.
Then, it is time to advertise your event. In order to get exposure and have a better chance at selling your items, you’ll need to do more than just put up a few signs in your neighborhood. Advertise your estate sale on sites like estatesales.org, post on social media sites, post fliers in local coffee shops around town, and put a classified ad in the newspaper.
Finally, make sure to hire volunteers who can help you run the sale, and keep an eye on visitors to prevent theft.