Estate Sales (Tag Sales) are held when someone wants to sell most or all of their possessions. Common reasons for having an estate sale are downsizing, divorce, relocation or you are managing someone’s estate. If you have the time and enough help, you can conduct the estate sale yourself. Or you can hire a company that specializes in estate sales. When I helped my dad downsize before moving into assisted living in 2015, I hired a local estate sale company and had a good experience. But that is not always the case. First, we will look at what estate sale companies actually do and then I’ll give you 10 Questions to Ask BEFORE You Hire an estate sale company
What will an Estate Sale Company actually do?
Estate Sales are usually held over a weekend – Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Prior to the sale, the company will price and display items in a way to ensure you get the best possible price.
Experienced professionals know:
- The market value of items.
- What estate sale shoppers are looking for.
- How to display your items so that they are sold.
They will advertise your sale. Getting the right people in the door is key to a great sale. Companies will advertise on their website, through traditional channels like newspapers and Craig’s List, social media and through their own e-mail/mailing list. Having a large e-mail list is a good sign because these are your target customers – people who shop estate sales and want what you have to sell.
They will staff the sale, handle the money and keep detailed records of what was sold and for how much.
They will provide security during the sale. Maybe not actual police or security guards, but employees who are trained in all the tricks thieves use to shoplift or switch tags during the sale.
They will clean up after the sale.
For an extra fee, they will dispose of what did not sell. They will take what is trash to the appropriate place and donate other items to charity, providing you with a tax receipt for that donation.
They will send you a check for your percentage of the proceeds within 30 days.
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How do you find an Estate Sale Company?
Recommendations from someone is a great place to start. Your Realtor, a probate attorney or a friend can provide a recommendation. When I am looking for a “professional anything”, I always start with posting something on Facebook to see if any of my friends can recommend someone they have used.
Do a Google Search or go to a site like estatesales.net where you can type in your zip code and get a listing of companies in your area. Prioritize companies that have a website with a list of services, photos of staff, photos and listings from previous sales. Since exposure is imperative for a great estate sale, you are looking for a company that knows how to market.
Interview several on the phone and then choose 2 or 3 to interview in person.
When you meet in person, the company personnel will look over the items you have to sell and evaluate if it will be a profitable sale for both the company and you. Don’t be surprised if you show them items that you think are valuable that they say are not.
For example, my parents traveled a lot during their lives and brought home many items from overseas. One was a cuckoo clock from Germany that my father always thought would be “worth something” someday. It turns out that many people their age traveled to Europe and brought home these same type clocks. Since lots of estate sales have these for sale, they are not nearly as valuable as he thought.
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Here are 11 Questions to Ask Before You Hire An Estate Sale Company:
- Are they a legitimate business? Do they have business cards and a tax ID#?
- Can they provide references?
- Are they bonded and insured?
- How long have they been in business?
- How do they handle sales tax, if your state requires that it be collected?
- Do they have the right equipment like tables and display cases?
- What percentage do they get?
There are typically no up-front costs. You will sign a contract with the company and agree that they get a certain percentage of the proceeds – 25-50%. Pricing is usually based on the part of the country you are in, the estimated value of the items and how much work it will be for the company.
Is the percentage they charge a reasonable amount for your area? Ask around, but remember, cheaper isn’t always better. You often get what you pay for in the area of expertise and services offered.
Are there extra fees for things like extra staff, clean-up after the sale and handling donations to charity? The clean-up and handling donations to charity were services I gladly paid for. Just make sure you know what your extra costs will be upfront.
- Do they have a contract for you to sign? If they don’t, that’s a big red flag! Always get a contract. Read it carefully and make sure the company can explain everything in it in a way that you can understand exactly what you are getting.
- How are they staffed? Do they have employees or do they hire contract workers for the sale?
- Are they set up to accept credit cards? You will sell more if people can pay with a credit card.
- Do they bring in extra items to YOUR sale? This is a big no-no! They should be focused on selling YOUR items, not their own or other customers.
Other things to remember:
Know that reputable estate sale companies book several months in advance, so as soon as you see that an estate sale is in your future, start “shopping around”.
Don’t “clean up” or throw ANYTHING away before meeting with the estate sale company. You would be amazed at what people buy – cleaning supplies that are half full, doorknobs that don’t work, out of date light fixtures…Let the company try to sell everything. Anything that doesn’t sell can be disposed of later.
For an even more thorough screening, you can check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints filed against them. While there are many legitimate companies who are NOT members of the BBB, it doesn’t hurt to check.
Before you interview a company, allow friends and family time to get all of the items out that they want. Estate sale companies price according to the profit they think they can make and after you sign the contract, will ask that nothing else be removed.
I had a number of people in our family’s circle who requested items AFTER the contract was signed. Many times they would ask my dad if they could have them and he said yes. Why wouldn’t he? It was his stuff. But you have to make sure everyone understands the terms set by the company and that they need to get these items BEFORE you sign the contract.
Don’t attend the estate sale. Many companies will not allow it. You don’t want to be there hearing comments about you or your loved one’s décor or hear people haggle over the price of something that means a lot to you. Leave it to the professionals who know what they are doing.
Not sure you want to hire an estate sale company? Check out this post: