Estate Sale Tips: Do it Yourself or Hire a Pro?

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Knowledge IS power. Part of my mission as a professional appraiser and estate sale representative has been to provide knowledge so my clients can make decisions in their best interest. In this, and the next two articles I will endeavor to provide you with information about estate sales, auctions and the pros and cons of both. Tips and tools of the trade for estate or downsizing dilemmas.

This article deals with estate sale know how. Can you do it yourself or is it best to hire a professional to represent you? Life events bring us to a need to either downsize ourselves or to dispose of estate items of a loved one that just will not fit into our own homes. Many people end up paying storage fees for months or years until they decide it is best to sell off stored items. Then they are faced with where and how to sell it.

When you are downsizing or moving, when you are a representative for a family member or friend’s estate, it is always best, if possible, not to move the contents but to sell them at the home location. The question is if you can “do it yourself” or hire a estate sale representative. I personally dislike the moniker of estate sale liquidator as it implies selling under duress for pennies.

In doing a sale yourself you will need to assess how many people you have available to sort, display and monitor the estate sale. Will your support group of friends and family be able to provide moving and lifting, cleaning, trash disposal, and security for your sale? What will you have to hire outside people to do? Do you or your support group have “product” knowledge about what you will be selling?

estate saleSo often over the years, I have observed or heard of valuable estate items sold for a tiny fraction of their worth due to ignorance of identification and recognition of worth. The item(s) you think are worth very little may be the most valuable item in the home. Selling a Monet pencil drawing, lost for many years, for $10 is a good example! I advise a minimum of a walk-through value consultation by a qualified professional appraiser. The article last month went in depth on how to choose such a professional appraiser.

You can, with support, do it yourself. You will need to arrange supplies for cleaning, marking, display, and for the sale itself. Some estates are very clean, others not so much! The definition of estate is not just after passing, it includes all a person’s possessions, living or deceased. Some estates are overflowing, a real challenge. Others clean, neat, and organized.

Things to consider

  • When to have the sale, time available. Time to clean, sort, display and advertise. Your support staff as talked about above.
  • Develop an advertising campaign. This is critical. A few small paper signs will not bring in the desired response. Big street signs, signs posted in local businesses and on telephone poles are great. Free Ads like Craigs list and online venues are well worth the effort. Classified Ads are a must. Make the ads interesting and welcoming.
  • Liability issues are critical to consider and prepare for. Maintaining liability and home insurance is a  must.  Post liability and caution signs at the entrance and throughout the house. Stairs, step downs, different levels need to be very visibly marked with caution tape. Final sale, “as is, where is” signs should be posted.
  • Your entry and exit points should be posted and watched. One person with help should be responsible for the cashiering. Walk the sale and watch for shoplifting, which is a real issue.
  • Keep displays with valuables under constant watch. After the sale is advertised, keep an eye on the premises or have someone stay there. Make sure you have enough money on hand to start and keep overflow in a safe place, not in the cash register. Prepare, be welcoming, and don’t STRESS!

Lots to consider, lots of work, but you can save a lot of money if you do it yourself correctly. Otherwise, find an estate sale representative/agent that will work hard for your interests. I again dislike what many people call themselves…estate sale liquidators. You want an estate sale agent marketing your property, not liquidating it. Find an agent known for integrity, organization, and one who will work hard to maximize your bottom line.

Tips for hiring an estate sale agent

  • estate saleInterview: Require references! Check online sources for recommendations and complaints for this company. How long in business? What is their process, staff, security? What time line will be needed?  How do you relate and feel while visiting with the estate sale agent? Will you be able to work comfortably together?
  • Require a detailed contract. If they do not have a clear, concise contract do not hire them. Read it carefully.
  • Remove or clearly designated items not to be included.
  • Separate into another room, remove or cover. After a contract is signed items can not be removed or as noted in the contract.
  • Ask many questions concerning how the items are valued, usually fair market/resale value, not liquidation unless that is what is needed due to time constraints. What actual valuation experience does the estate sale agent have or is an appraiser consulted?
  • Will you or a representative be welcome at the sale drop in or oversee the process during the sale? It is critical for the sale that all sentiment be kept from the welcoming atmosphere of the sale.
  • How will the sales be recorded? Many estate sale liquidators simply provide a cash register tape with no itemization as to what sold and for how much.

Does that seem acceptable to you? Not to me.

  • Use common sense and be clear about what percentage is charged and what is provided and not provided within that fee. What will you be responsible for? How much advertising do they do, specifically? How much staffing and security do they provide?

Either way you choose, there is much to consider before deciding which way to go. Hopefully this will give you some of the information you will need to decide for yourself the best way to proceed. Next month I will provide information on auctions which is also and option to consider when downsizing or planning an estate sale.


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