The Tarnished Yoke

How did I start doing this kind of work?  Sometimes the way we travel is straight forward, but usually it is circuitous.  I most recently (before being kidnapped into my current profession) worked for ten years as a manager for a major bookstore chain, but prior to that I owned my own bookstore, and prior to that I got my university degree in English with a minor in Writing.  A pretty straightforward path so far (except for my previous years as a psychiatric technician in a state hospital).  So, how did I end up as an estate sale professional?  As I said, the route was circuitous.  My grandmother was born in 1899 of good, thrifty farm stock from Kentucky.  She was neat and orderly, but she saved and used everything possible.  She once gave me the sage advice to never turn down anything someone might offer me, because if I do, they may never offer anything again.  My father was born at the beginning of the Great Depression, so I’m sure he absorbed my grandmother’s thriftiness while still in the womb.  Even my mother learned the hard way that thrift could save one’s life when she and her family fled Oklahoma during the the Dust Bowl Days, only to find work hard to come by in the Great Central Valley of California.  Thrift is in my blood, too.  It’s hard for me to pass up a bargain or to throw useful items out, but I have also learned the dangers of holding on to too much.  My father turned his gift for thrift into an obsession for possessions.  And not always the good kind of possessions.  While my mother lived, she limited my father’s growing masses to his garage, where he kept his old car parts and tools, his dressers and tables, his oxen yoke and his plain old junk.  When she died, the mass grew until it consumed the house.  Every weekend found him scouring garage sales and estate sales looking for treasures.  When we, his children, tried to convince him that his treasures were overwhelming his life and we tried to talk him into letting us help him get rid of some of it, even just a little at a time, he would get angry.  When he died, from the growing mass of cancer that was consuming his body, we mourned and began the task of clearing his house.  He had indeed amassed some treasures, but for every precious thing we found, we uncovered five that were not worth saving.  Some precious things had been destroyed by the weight of worthless things that covered them.  He had saved his treasures as a shield against poverty, or so he said, but in the end his possessions had not added to his life in any good way, and they had limited his life in more ways than just their infringements on his living space.

My father, though, is not the only reason I started doing estate sales.  My daughter is the temptress who led me astray.  Sometimes a gene will loose some of its power with one generation only to spring full force in the next.  My own sweet daughter has the thrift curse.  Fortunately for her, she also inherited my brains and beauty.  At nineteen, she opened her own thrift store.  From that beginning, she started investing in antiques and collectibles, placing them in a succession of stores, until finally she discovered the wonders of estate sales. She was already a knowledgeable professional by the time my father died.  It was she who held the estate sale in my father’s house, she who organized and priced the masses of treasures from his collections.   She had started tempting me slowly, convincing me to come work a day for her here and there.  Soon, I was as addicted as she was.  Then, clever girl, she started asking me to handle more and more of the estate sale business until she had me firmly wearing the yoke.  That’s when she started to pull out.  She opened her first vintage clothing store, then moved to a larger space, then opened a second store.  I was left in the estate sale yoke, thankfully happy with my lot of pulling the business forward.  Kris is still my go-to expert, though now I hope I’ve gained considerable knowledge on my own.  I increased my knowledge by attending the College for Appraisers in Whittier and by reading copiously on the subject, but I know there is still much to be learned.  Always.

Most of us don’t grow up thinking: “Gee, I think I’ll be an estate sale professional!”  I know I didn’t.  However, I find that this business combines many aspects that I find fascinating: people, treasure hunts, peeking into people’s private lives and learning their stories.  It has also taught me many lessons: don’t hold on to things you truly don’t want others to find, organize your stuff so your heirs don’t have to suffer to find your treasures, but don’t throw or give your stuff away just because you think nobody would want it.  They will, or they will sell it for good money.

It’s a good business to be in.  It can be very rewarding, both monetarily and emotionally, but it is also hard work that is often dirty and occasionally unprofitable.  Ignore what you see on TV about this business; most of it is either outright lies or dramatized to make it look more exciting than it really is.  To do this work, in my opinion, you should have a strong sense of honor and professionalism, a stronger stomach, sharp eyes and a good brain.  The ability to empathize goes far, too.  People are an important aspect of this work; if you dislike people in their many forms and moods, you will grow to hate this work.  I’m sure there is more that I’ve forgotten to include.  I welcome comments, but that’s enough from me for today.


Filed under Personal Findings, September 2011

The Curse of the Brown Furniture

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Some furniture just isn’t selling well right now, especially what is being called “brown furniture”, such as mahogany china hutches, oak dressers, maple coffee tables and the like (read this article about why it isn’t). Or if it is selling, it is going a rock bottom prices.  This can be a big disappointment to estate sale companies who need to sell it to make a profit, and an even bigger disappointment to their clients who had long believed that they harbored treasures in their homes only to discover that nobody really wants them–not their children, not their friends and sometimes not even the buyers who “settle” for something they don’t love just because it fits their small budget.  Don’t panic: there is hope yet!  Here are some ideas that might help change your customers’ minds (or your own!) about buying:

  1. Give them some ideas about how to make an out-of-date or ragged piece into something more contemporary and fun!   Post photos of something similar that has been transformed by paint, updated upholstery, new hardware, or perhaps a totally new shape and function. (Here are some before and after ideas in this article by Better Homes and Gardens)




  2. Make it a gift idea.  Everyone knows someone who is just starting out.  Maybe it’s a newlywed, or a college student, or your brother who has been living in your parents’ basement but is finally venturing out into the world.  With usable older furniture prices at an all time low, here is your chance to help out for very little.  Encourage your customers to buy for someone with a limited budget that could use a desk or a much needed storage item.
  3. Educate your customers about the value of older, better made furniture.  It’s still around in abundance for a reason!  It was made to last for generations.  Too often today’s furniture, especially the stuff bought from big retail stores known for cranking out cheap and momentarily attractive pieces, are made with built-in obsolescence in mind.
  4. Encourage green living.  Buying used furniture means saving our natural resources, and it also assures that the furniture that isn’t purchased doesn’t find it’s way into a (gasp!) landfill.
  5. Suggest that buying might be an investment for the future. Antiques are cheap NOW, but they probably won’t always be so.  Trends are cyclical, and what is out of fashion now may be all the rage next year.  For instance, Victorian furniture (previously so popular and expensive) is out, while mid-century modern furniture (once the bane of younger boomers maybe because it reeked of the boring bourgeoisie world of their parents) is still highly sought after several years of booming sales. But MCM furniture sales are slowly waning in popularity.  What will be the next trend?  Maybe, just maybe, it will be all those Victorian pieces full of frills and curlicues that someone was smart enough to buy a lot of while the prices where low!

All that you need are some helpful ways to help customers recognize the benefits of buying the furniture that you know is still fantastic and useful.  They want it, they just don’t know it right now.

If you want more ideas about buying, read 18 Tips on Shopping at Estate Sales.


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Choosing an Estate Sale Company You Can Trust


Most estate sale companies, just like most people, are reputable and honest.  A few are not.  Sometimes we need a little help in decided which is which.

Someone recently bemoaned the dishonesty found in estate sale companies.  They had read the headlines about some company that bilked their client, so it must be true that all of the companies are out to cheat you, right? Those articles don’t, of course, point out that the vast majority of estate sale companies across the nation are good, reputable and trustworthy because that wouldn’t make an interesting story.

How can you trust a company to do what’s right? As with any other aspect in life, some people are honest and some aren’t. There are no guarantees that whomever you choose will be honest (though I truly believe that you usually get what you expect.  Read here for more info), but there are steps you can take to help increase your odds of finding a suitable company. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Interview a prospective company in person.  They will want to see the property to be sold anyway, so set an appointment to get to know them.  Have your questions at hand so you won’t forget important issues.
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  • Make sure they are a legitimate company: do they have a license, insurance, experience?
  • Can they provide references?
  • Do they charge a reasonable percentage for your neighborhood/city/state?  Estate sale companies usually make their money by charging a percentage of all that they sell.  That percentage differs from job to job, from company to company, from location to location.  Some companies, perhaps those in areas with a low cost of living, can charge as little as 20%.  Other companies, many in high population density areas and high cost of living zones, can charge as much as 50%.  The degree of difficulty of a job can also influence the percentage charged.  Picking the company that charges the lowest percentage might work fine or it might be a catastrophe waiting to happen.  Often, you get what you pay for.
  • Do they charge sales tax? Perhaps not all states require sales taxes to be collected, but many do.  Find out how the prospective company handles this.
  • Note how long they have been in business and if they have any other qualifications that show they are serious professionals and not just a fly-by-night company.  Are they a certified appraiser (this is NOT necessary for an experienced estate sale professional, but it does show their level of commitment)? Do they have business cards? Do they have the necessary tools of the trade (many tables, display cases, etc).
  • Do they have a contract for you to read and sign?  If yes, read it over careful.  Have someone else read it, too.  Can they explain what it all means in a way you can easily understand?  Don’t sign the contract until you are comfortable with all the clauses.  If they don’t have a contract, I might be concerned.
  • Trust your instincts when you meet them. If you don’t trust them, don’t hire them. There is bound to be another company to hire instead that you might feel better about.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints filed against them or their owners (keep in mind that not all legitimate companies are members of BBB).
  • Check with Yelp or other customer review sites.  Keep in mind, though, that anyone can file an anonymous complaint–even the competition.  Nobody checks to make sure the complaints are fair or legitimate.
  • Most professionals would not risk their reputation by doing shady deals because it could obviously affect their futures in the industry. Do they suggest ideas that sound risky or unorthodox to you that another company would refuse to do?
  • If you are really a careful person, you can try running a background check on the company owner.  This might at least show whether they have ever been convicted of a crime, though it doesn’t prove that they are honest and honorable.

With a bit of caution and care, and a modicum of trust, you should have little difficulty finding a company that will handle your sale in a professional and upright manner.   To find such a company, ask someone you already trust– lawyer, real estate agent, someone you know who has already used a professional they liked — to suggest companies you can contact.  Or visit one of the websites that supply lists of potential companies in your area, such as


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The End of the Line

I see the end stories to the lives of way too many people. The following poem really struck a nerve for me.  If it doesn’t for you, then maybe you are doing things the right way.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

~ Mary Oliver ~

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Vindication At Last!

I’ve been called a fool more than once.  I’m okay with that for the most part.  My beliefs have often been called naive and unsophisticated (yes, I DO believe in ghosts, so deal with it).  At last, though, I’ve been vindicated in at least one of those wild and childish beliefs!  Science itself has proven me to be correct when I’ve asserted that Trust begets Trustworthiness!  You read right: through complex and thorough scientific procedures and testing, it has been proven that the level of oxytocin found in our blood “creates bonds of trust not just in our intimate relationships but also in our business dealings, in politics and in society at large.”  Furthermore, to trigger this bond of trust, “all you have to do is give someone a sign of trust.  When one person extends himself to another in a trusting way –by, say, giving money–the person being trusted experiences a surge in oxytocin that makes her less likely to hold back and less likely to cheat.”  You can read more about this miraculous discovery in the Wall Street Journal, if you want, but trust me!  I’ve always known that this was true, and this is one belief I’m ecstatic to have validated.  And you don’t even have to give me money to get me to trust you (but it wouldn’t hurt)!

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What I Hate About Running Estate Sales

The last few entries were a bit schmaltzy and people are starting to complain (Okay, nobody complained; it was just my opinion.  Either nobody else thought so, or nobody else reads my blog.).  With that in mind, let me tell you what I hate about estate sales:

  1. Clients who want to control everything.  They hired me, but I’m just a front, just a conduit for their ego displays.  They already have prices in mind for most of their belongings, usually greatly inflated above their resell value.  Maybe they just want to show off about what great taste they or their parents had.  I don’t know their reasons, all I know is that the sale will most likely tank and I will sell very little.
  2. Complaining neighbors.  I try to ensure that all my customers and workers obey the posted street signs and don’t hassle the people who live around my sale, but there always seems to be one person who loves to break the rules. That person is usually matched by one neighbor who is chronically unhappy, and the estate sale in their neighborhood is a great excuse for them to vent.  If someone is truly being bothered, please come talk to me and I’ll do whatever I can to solve the problem.  But please don’t call the property owner or the police before you’ve told me about the problem.  I’m not hard to find:  I’m almost always right at the front of the sale so that I can more easily handle whatever problems I see.  I want you to be as happy as I can help you to be.  It makes my job more pleasant, too.
  3. Thieves.  I don’t get them too often, but when I do, it breaks my heart and possibly even breaks my budget.  I take it personally when people steal from my sales; it feels like such an insult.  I’m a trusting person and I like it that way.  When someone steals, it hurts my image of myself and of other people  I don’t want to go through life being suspicious of others.  Besides, you may be stealing from a dead person’s family!  Maybe they need that money more than you do.  And if it is a foreclosure or downsizing sale, they almost certainly need all the money they can get.  For that matter, so do I!
  4. People who don’t play the game right.  If you ask me the price of something and you don’t like my answer, there’s no need to get huffy about it.  I’m not trying to pull a trick on you or to steal your hard earned money.  I’ve priced that item that way because I believe it is the correct price to ask for it.  Possibly I’m wrong, but its more likely that I will inadvertently price it too low than too high.  What you think is a outlandishly priced purse could be a Louis Vuitton that retails for thousands of dollars  or maybe that ordinary looking set of wineglasses is really a hand-blown set by Stueben that actually sells for several hundred dollars.  Even if it IS an ordinary item that I just priced higher than you want to pay, there is no reason to get angry or (just as bad) to slam it down and walk away.  If you are confused about why I priced something as I did, or if you just don’t want to pay the price I put on an item, just ask me.  I might tell you why it’s so expensive, or I might stand by my price because I think it’s fair, or I could possibly be willing to negotiate with you.  You won’t know unless you ask.
  5. Working hard on a sale and not making enough money to make it worth my time.  It happens.  I’m sure you can figure out why I hate this.
  6. Working on a boring sale.  I rarely get these kinds of sales, possibly because I choose carefully. Probably, though, it’s because I love digging through people’s lives and finding out about them, which makes most sales at least passably interesting.  However, occasionally sales have only ordinary items because the family has already mined the estate for all its gold (both literally and figuratively).  All I can hope for then is that the family at least kept the interesting stuff and didn’t just throw it away.
  7. When people tell me that I’ve got a great job because it’s so easy.  It’s not easy.  It requires heavy lifting, it’s dusty or dirty, we work long hours, and often it is messy and smelly.  It looks easy because I have years of experience doing it.  And it has taken me years of experience plus college courses in appraising that have given me enough knowledge to price ordinary items with confidence, or recognize my ignorance so I know when to do more research.  By the time the customers come in, the chaos we started with has been partially tamed and cleaned. If I’m being honest, though, I don’t really hate this part of the job, I just hate being told it is easy.
  8. People who can’t wait until a reasonable hour before calling me to find out the price of an item they want.  I know you are excited and want to get first dibs on that special thing, whatever it might be, but chances are good that I haven’t even priced it yet. And please don’t ask me to let you buy it early.  You always have some excuse about why you can’t come to the sale, but I know you probably made it up.  You just want what you want when and how you want it, and at the price you like.  While I’d love to sell you as much as you want, I have other customers who have seen the same pictures but are willing to wait until the sale to try to buy it.  Think about how rude that would be to them to just up and sell the item before they have a fair shot, and all just because they followed the rules and waited politely.  Also, I have a life outside of doing estate sales.  Waking me by calling at dawn or after I’ve gone to bed will not go in your favor.  But it does let me know that the item is of special interest so I know to price it just a little bit higher than I might have otherwise.  Hey, maybe I should thank you for calling and warning me!  Nah!
  9. Finding a treasure that turns out not to be one.  I’ve gotten excited about something before and been disappointed.  That Louis Viutton purse turned out to be a phony; the original oil painting turned out to be by an unknown family member; the gold necklace wasn’t a gold necklace.
  10. Worse than #9 above is having a customer find a treasure that I didn’t find first.  That hurts.  The worst one I’ve witnessed fortunately happened to someone else back when I was just a peon assistant: she had priced something in a hurry; a customer came,  grabbed it and laughed in glee as he explained to me just how rare his find was and how much it was really worth.  I never told that pricer about her mistake because I knew it would haunt her more than it did me.

Overall, it looks like there isn’t much I hate.  That’s a good thing.  I’d better stop now before I get schmaltzy again.


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What We Carry With Us

This is just for those who run sales or are interested in running them. Or just for the curious. Here is a list of the stuff I often take with me to an estate sale:

Tape: cellophane, blue painter’s, duct, red or yellow warnings. We use many kinds for many different jobs: hanging signs with prices printed on them or signs that warn of steps and other dangers or signs encouraging you to come this way for more treasures; weighting our outdoor estate sale sign stands with rocks so that the wind doesn’t blow them over…again (lame, right?); marking uneven areas on the floor or jutting overhead cabinets so that people will notice them and therefore hopefully not trip or not bump their heads; closing off cabinets or doorways into rooms or portions of rooms where the public is not invited to enter.

Price tags: many sizes and styles. Lots of blank stickers upon which I can record prices; various size tags with strings so that I can mark big items like furniture or tiny items like jewelry. I haven’t tried the print-as-you-price type; they seem so impersonal, even if they do look more professional to some.

Hammer: claw hammer, for pounding in an occasional nail when needed or removing an occasional nail that isn’t needed.

Nails: for pounding with a hammer (see above) if needed to hold something up or to keep something else down.

Rubber mallet: for pounding in stakes, for pounding on walls to get attention (never have, but maybe should have).

Rubber gloves: for wearing when I need to stick my hands into unpleasant or scary places.

Face masks or air filters: disposable one that can be worn when air quality is poor. This job can be hazardous to one’s sense of smell; these help.

Locks: for locking places that can be locked and where I don’t want customers to enter. I use them mostly on gates and garage doors, but have used them on attic doors, basement doors and a few cabinets.

Flashlight: for peering into dark spaces: attics, basements, closets. Get the picture? We usually find plenty of need for this item.

Folding canopy: to provide shade outside when needed. I don’t always bring it with me, but I have it in my warehouse if I need it.

Folding chairs: as with the folding canopy, I only bring them when I need them.

Folding tables: lots of them, usually. How many I bring with me varies from sale to sale. I use them to display product upon and for my checkout area.

Tablecloths: I put them on my folding tables to make them look prettier.

Apron: for keeping my clothes from getting dirty and/or dusty.

Paper towels: for cleaning messes, etc, because you never know when you might need some messes cleaned.

Toilet paper: See Paper Towels. It is not pleasant when you arrive at a house to begin work and you find there is no toilet paper. It happens too often to overlook.

Measuring tape: to measure items, of course. Some items are only differentiated from reproductions by their measurements. Sometimes one just needs to make sure an item will fit where one wants to place it.

Safety pins: just in case.

Plastic bags: for putting stuff in; for giving to customers to put stuff in once they’ve made a purchase. I find that all I really need are the grocery store bags I get when I shop. I get a lot.

Sharpies: Yes, that specific brands and No, I’m not getting a kickback. They last the longest and keep their point the best, or at least that is what I’m convinced of until proven wrong.

Pens: for writing notes or lists or doodles.

Sticky notes: (Okay, I know you all know that I mean a specific brand, but one product placement per article is enough). For quickie notes to customers (Don’t enter HERE either!) or to staff members (Don’t tell customers that the tree is for sell!). Also good for reminders to self (Don’t forget to bring cash for the check-out!)

Trash bags: for the disposal of trash or for the collection of stuff to be donated. Lots of them.

Cash box: For holding cash when customers make purchases so that I can give them change.

Cash: See above. I usually find that small bills work better than big ones for the initial pot. I also always put a note with the cash with the starting amount, which keeps me from forgetting how much I started with so that I don’t inadvertently split MY cash with the client (it’s never happened yet, but best to be prepared).

Receipt book: To write receipts. I usually only give them when they are requested.

Notepad: Every company runs their sales a different way. During a sale, I write down every thing I sell and what it sold for. I don’t want to be bothered with using a computer for this because electricity isn’t always available. And when it is available, it isn’t always handy.

Clipboard: for holding notepad or notes or just to make me look official.

Electric cash register: I only use this occasionally. I have found it to be more of a bother than it is worth. However, at times it comes in handy.

Smart Phone: A must. Good for looking up values of many items one finds in an average household or for calling an expert who can identify that weird doohickey one of your staff just found hidden in a closet. Also great for calling friends to talk them into bring you lunch when you’re working too hard to take a break. I also use it to keep track of employee hours. There is also a camera, a calculator, a calendar, my address book, and Scrabble for your break. Oh, and Facebook because, you know, you might want to tell your multitude of friends what you just found while organizing the garage. It’s advertising, right?

Digital camera: I have a camera on my phone, but I still prefer to use my digital camera because I feel that it takes better pictures.

The Square: fantastic app on my smart phone that lets me take credit card payment wherever I am. Has a device you plug into your phone so that you can slide credit cards, but can also let you enter the numbers manually. Magic!

I think that’s it. I always seem to forget to list something, but this is enough to get you started. Perhaps your company always takes something that you think I might find handy. I’d appreciate the suggestions, since that is part of why I’ve started this blog: its a great way to share.


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18 Tips on Shopping at Estate Sales

This is a companion piece to my earlier entry about how NOT to shop at estate sales.  If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.  Shopping at estates sales is not only economically sensible, but it is also ecologically responsible and possibly financially rewarding.  You get great stuff at low, low prices!  And you can either use them yourself, give them as gifts or sell them at a profit.  Whatever your reason, here are some ideas about how to go to an estate sale:

  1. If you’ve never been to an estate sale, then expect a learning experience.  Estate sales are for everyone, not just the rich, or the poor, or whomever you had once thought they were for.  They are for you.  You are not being intrusive by entering someone else’s home.  You have been invited in.  If it is in the home of someone who has died, don’t feel like you are being disrespectful by going through their stuff.  They won’t care.  They would rather you buy their treasures than to have them go in the trash.  Their family would also like you to buy things.  They have already removed the items they want to keep.  What’s left are things they would rather you buy.  You are helping the family by buying as much of the things in the home as you want and can use.  And the staff at the sale also want you to buy a lot.  You are helping them, too.
  2. Estate sales are not just for shopping for antiques and other expensive stuff.  Most estate sale also have lots of ordinary items for sale, like clothes, pots & pans, ironing boards, vases, cleanser and garden tools.  In fact, usually you will find any possible type of item that you would normally find in your own home.  So why pay retail for laundry detergent when you can get it for a margin of the cost.  Need a coffee table?  What about bathroom rug?  You’ll likely find them at an estate sale.
  3. If finding something specific is important to you, plan to get to the estate sales early.   Some items will go fast at a sale.  If there are photos of the household goods available, look them over carefully and plan what you would like to buy before you go to the sale.  Remember, though, that not everything will be photographed.  What you really want to buy may still be in the house, but may not be in the pictures.   If possible, contact the company to be sure the item is still available.  Some companies sell items before the sale, if they can,  because that is often the best way to get the best price for their client’s property.  Knowing the company’s policy will help you decide what is the best way to get what you want.
  4. Come prepared to pay cash.  Some companies do take checks and/or credit cards, but you shouldn’t count on it.  Bring plenty of cash with you; you can always take the money back home with you if you don’t find something you want.  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, my company can and does take credit card payment, but it’s not what I prefer.  There is always a fee to be paid for the service and it also means that I have to put my own dollars into the client’s fund because the credit card charge goes directly into the company’s account.
  5. Be respectful of the neighbors.  Don’t stand in their yards, block their driveways, or otherwise be rude.  I know that you think it won’t hurt to park in front of their drive because you are just going to run in for a second and there is NO other place to park.  Don’t do it.  It always takes longer than you think it will.
  6. Make sure you follow the rules that the estate sale sets up.  Every estate sale company has their own way of handling a sale.  Maybe they put up a sign-in sheet, or give out numbers, or run their sale on a first-come-first-in basis.  Whichever they choose, you need to follow it.  Don’t put up your own sign in sheet even though they’ve specified they don’t do that.
  7. When you finally get inside, don’t just randomly grab anything and everything that you think you MIGHT want to buy.  When a customer does that, it prevents others from having a chance to purchase some items.  I’ve had customers bring up a ton of stuff for me to hold that I thought they planned on buying, only to have them come back after shopping an hour and then have them go through their pile and discard half of it.  Not only do I lose potential sales from them, but nobody else was able to buy the stuff either.  And if they’ve had me hold stuff while they shop until the crowd dies down, then the potential that someone else will come along to buy their discards is less too.
  8. Be considerate of your fellow shoppers.  Don’t bogart the good stuff unless you actually plan to buy it; don’t grab stuff from someone else’s hands (yes, I’ve seen this happen); don’t push in front of another customer to reach something before they can; don’t dig through someone else’s pile of goodies; smile a lot and complain rarely.  This should be a fun experience for everyone.
  9. Try to shop in an orderly manner.  See above, but also: walk, don’t run; don’t create a mess if you can help it (and you know you usually can); while waiting in line (either to get in or to pay) talk with your neighbors or stand quietly, but please don’t grumble.  The staff are trying their best to move the line along quickly.
  10. DON’T STEAL.  That says it all.  You know what’s right.
  11. Never leave unattended any items you plan to purchase.  While above I admonished people to not dig in someone else’s pile, you shouldn’t tempt them by leaving a delectable selection sitting unguarded.
  12. Feel free to bargain with the estate sale professional, but don’t get angry if their idea of a proper price differs from yours.  And be reasonable.  Don’t offer a dollar for something marked $20.
  13. NEVER be rude to the estate sale professional.  It’s never profitable for you.
  14. Get on the estate sale company’s  email list.  Even though you might find out about their sale through another source, being on their email list is usually a better idea.  Sometimes companies will offer a pre-sale open only to their followers.
  15. Take your time at the sale.  Those who hurry often miss things.  It takes a while for you to see beyond the clutter of stuff so that you can see the individual items.  A sale can feel overwhelming at first.  Take a breath and wander for a bit.  Try to ignore the people rushing past you and just be in the moment.  Sounding a bit zen?  It is.  Your treasure will often find you when you least expect it.
  16. Look in less obvious places.  Everyone will search on the tables and counters, but it takes little effort to look under the tables, in the corners, in odd gaps.  Is there a garage?  What about under the house?  Any place that isn’t strictly forbidden is fair game, in my opinion.  But on that note:
  17. Don’t enter where you’ve been forbidden to go.  I know it’s tempting to open that door that says KEEP OUT.  Who knows what treasures may be hidden inside!  Unfortunately, those treasure need to be kept from you for a reason, whatever that reason may be.  Probably it has the family’s items that they plan to keep, or maybe it contains the estate sale crew’s personal belongings, like their purse or coat.  Be respectful and leave it alone.  The same goes for drawers and cabinets marked as areas to leave alone.
  18. Enjoy yourself.  Life should never be so serious that you can’t enjoy the experience of shopping, or even just being among other people or interesting stuff.  Look around you and see how someone else lived their life.  Admire their belongings and appreciate their interests.  Or just be glad that you didn’t have to live with that avocado green refrigerator or that brown shag rug.    Think about how much money you are saving by not buying retail.  Or think about how you are helping the environment by not letting the stuff be added to the landfill and how your carbon footprint has been reduced by reusing and not just buying new stuff that had be manufactured, thus using up even more of Earth’s precious resources.  Whatever.  Estate sales can be lots of fun if you approach them the right way.

As always, I’m sure I missed some tips.  Please feel free to add your own.



Filed under December 2011

How to Shop at Estate Sales (if you are shopping for trouble)

Have you ever shopped at an estate sale?  Well, here is some advice to help you get the most out of the experience.  Granted, it might also get you banned for life or arrested or beaten by your fellow shoppers,  but what do you care!  For REAL tips, read 18 Tips.

1.  Make sure you get there early!  In fact, get there the night before to make sure you are first in line.  If sleeping in front of the door isn’t feasible (like maybe you have a really great party to go to and will be too drunk to drive to the house), start a sign in sheet the night before and pin it to the door.  If there is already a sign-up sheet started and your name isn’t on the top of the list, toss it out and start another one!  Tip:  if you forget the sign-in list idea (maybe you got way too drunk) and can’t get there the night before, just bring a list with you in the morning.  If others are there before you, wave the list at them to prove that your name is on the top. And don’t worry if the estate sale company has its own way of doing things; rules are made to be broken.

2.  Don’t worry about the neighbors.   I’m sure  the neighbor will understand if you park in front of their driveway.  I mean, you have to park somewhere, right?   It’s not your fault that those people who got there way too early have already taken all the good spots, so go ahead and park where you can.  You’ll only be there for a few minutes anyway.

3. Once you’ve secured your proper place at the front of the line, guard it from all possible usurpers!  Don’t let others try to shame you or bully you out of your god-given place; be assertive and stand your ground. Fight for your rights!

4.  Get in quickly and grab as much as you can.  Don’t worry about whether you grab things you actually want to buy–you can figure that out after you finish shopping.  If it looks good, hoard it from other greedy shoppers.  If anyone tries to rifle through your stuff, a quiet yet intense threat of violence will work wonders for sending them scurrying away.  Once you’ve worn yourself out and have looked through every possible hiding spot and torn through every neatly piled table, then you can go back and sift through your own pile.  Don’t waste your precious time putting anything back where you got it. Just toss any unwanted items to the side; the staff is there to clean up after you.  You’ve got other sales to rush to and shouldn’t waste any time.

5. It’s every shopper for themselves!  Keep an eye on your fellow shoppers because they may find something you might want before you can.  If that catastrophe should occur, be prepared to use subterfuge, if necessary, to get the prize.  If they have an unattended pile, it’s an easy matter to grab the desired item when they aren’t looking.  Otherwise, trick them into setting it down for some reason.  Setting their purse on fire might work.  Or try grabbing the item from their hands and claim that they had stolen it from your pile.  All’s fair in estate sale shopping.  They’d do it to you, too, given the chance.

6. If the sticker price is too high, remove it.  That’s right, be a sticker picker. You deserve a better price.  And they won’t likely remember what they put on it before.  Chances are good that they’ll price it lower this time, especially when you utilize the ideas listed below.  Of course, in the off-chance you run into one of the many estate sale professionals who DO remember what they priced things at, be prepared to pay more than otherwise because they obviously can’t take a joke.

7. Insist that the cashier give you a lower price than what is marked.  You know they are trying to cheat you by pricing way too high.  Once they know you are on to their scheme, they will lower their price some.  If not, here are some ideas to force their hand:

  • Offer them a dollar for the item.  This lets the cashier know that you are nobody’s fool and that you won’t pay their outrageous prices.
  • Even if the prices are reasonable, offer them three-fourths less (that’s 75% off, in case your math is bad)  just to get the respect and low price you deserve.
  • Pretend to be buying a lot of items.  Many estate sale people will offer a discount if you buy a bunch.  Once they offer you a good discount on everything, pick out only a few items and demand the same discount on those.
  • Tell them you’ve seen the same item sold at a tenth of their price at the last sale you were at.  It doesn’t matter that this isn’t true.
  • Tell them you are only going to cut it up or tear it apart to make something else anyway, so why should you have to pay the full price for the whole thing.
  • Act like you know more about the item than they, or you, do.  If they claim that it is a Fenton carnival glass cruet and they’ve priced it at an inexpensive $15, tell them they’ve been smoking crack because YOU know it’s a cheap glass thingy that you’ve seen for $3 at the local discount store.  Offer them a dollar.  If they point out the Fenton mark, stand your ground.  You can’t back down in the face of facts.  Remember, show no fear.
  • Point out that you can’t make any money reselling the item at the extravagant price they are offering it at.  After all, if you can’t make any money, why should they?  Once again, it doesn’t matter if this is true.
  • Demand to see the person in charge.  The cashier is a nobody that you shouldn’t have to deal with anyway.
  • If all else fails, be extra rude and obnoxious.  Announce loudly that they are trying to cheat you.  Say you know the property owners personally and you know they would be shocked by the way the sale is being run.  Refuse to leave until justice is done. In other words, just be your usually self. If you make a big enough fuss, they might give you a lower price just to get rid of you.  Whatever works, right?

8. If you don’t get a reasonable price, steal it.  Wait until the item has been returned to the display and then slip it into your purse or backpack.  Tell yourself that it’s stuff the family doesn’t even want anyway, so why should you have to pay an exorbitant price for it.  And you know that it will be given to a charity or maybe even thrown away if nobody buys it, so go ahead and take it.  You have needs, too.  In fact, why go to the trouble of trying to negotiate with those greedy idiots in the first place?  Rip them off before they try to do it to you.  Who do they think they are, trying to rob a hard working person like you?  They’re probably rich anyway.  Right?


If any of this advice sounds good to you, or if you already know all of this but were hoping for some new tricks, then my next advice won’t please you: stay away from my sales!  Please!  For more serious tips about shopping at estate sales, read 18 Tips for Shopping at Estate Sales.


Filed under November 2011

Why Do Hoarders Hoard?

The term “hoarder” is one you hear a lot these days. At one time the term was used to refer only to those with a profound and psychological inability to limit their attainment of possessions and/or the inability to dispose of them once they have been attained. Nowadays, the lapel of hoarder is pinned on anyone who has a lot more possessions than is usual. As an estate sale professional, I have first hand experience with the hoarding behavior of the American people, at least those on the west coast. A few days ago, I read an excellent blog called So Many Things, So Little Prosperity, (written by William L. Scurrah, a retired college English instructor who writes about “a deeper view of important ideas and issues”) that presented some of his ideas about why there are so many hoarders in today’s society. In my comments on his post, I added my findings to his, and this is basically what I wrote.

Most hoarder households I have worked on (and there have been many) have fallen into one or more of these categories:

  • Adults with a home full of their own purchases who have inherited the household belongings of their parents or other relatives. This may be directly related to the category of people who hang on to things because of the memories associated with them, but it may have other reasons: people are often so busy that, at the time, it just seemed easier to put all that stuff into the garage or storage unit until one has more time to deal with it. It can also be a form of perceived savings for the future.
  • People (mostly the elderly or those who have limited mobility for whatever reason) who have been lured in by the ease and the promises that they have found on late night shopping channels.
  • People who have made a lifestyle choice or have been forced by the economy to downsize, which leaves them with all the huge household trappings crammed into a much smaller space.
  • People with an ingrained thriftiness that butts up against the cheap products being produced today, which can lead to an abundance of broken purchases that that the person still hopes can be fixed or somehow still be of use.
  • People who hang on to stuff because of the memories associated to them. Maybe it’s due to the fast pace at which today’s society changes, but many people–the elderly chief among them probably because they have so many years to hold on to–cling to things that still are “the way they were”.
  • Many are collecting as a safeguard against a bad economy: buy at a cheap price now (often by shopping at garage sales or discount stores) so that they will have it later when it will be much more expensive to purchase.
  • Rarely have I encountered a hoarder of expensive symbols of a conspicuous consumption (though I did just do a downsizing sale in an expensive community that contained exactly that). Perhaps I have found less examples of this kind of hoarder because family members are often happy to obtain all of these types of hoarded possessions, and it therefore doesn’t make it into the sale.
  • People with a compulsive or pathological hoarding disorder, which (according to Wikipedia) ” is the acquisition of possessions (and failure to use or discard them) in excess of socially normative amounts, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary. Compulsive hoarding may impair mobility and interfere with basic activities, including cooking, cleaning, hygiene, sanitation, bathroom and sleeping.”

Whatever the reasons, our society is indeed becoming a hoarder nation. It’s good for my business (who else wants to deal with the masses of possessions), but I’m unsure what it says about our lifestyles in the long run.


Filed under October 2011

How to Handle Difficult Estate Sale Clients

Anger Controlls Him

Image via Wikipedia

You know the kind of client I mean:  they hound you, bully you, accuse you of cheating them or of not knowing your business.  They claim you made promises that you never did, never would.  They bitch, moan and complain about everything despite all your best efforts to give them your usual, excellent service.  I know what you’d like to do, but maybe there are some things to try on them before you act rashly.

Let me make this perfectly clear right up front: I don’t have any secret weapons against angry, crazed clients.  However, I believe there are a few tools that might help against the more ordinary kinds.

  1. First and foremost, always get a signed contract before you begin ANY work.  If you don’t already have a good contract, you might consider asking a lawyer to draw one up for you.  If you already have one, you might consider having a lawyer look it over.  Don’t give in when your client  says that they are so busy but will get you one “soon”.  Get the contract signed first.  Once you have a contract in place, make sure you follow it.
  2. Don’t make any promises to your client that you can’t keep.  Know your limitations and stay within them.
  3. Make sure you schedule enough time to adequately do the job you were hired to do.
  4. Strongly encourage your client NOT to attend the set-up and the sale.  It’s a difficult situation for those who are too invested in the things being sold.  Why make it more difficult for them and for you?
  5. Breath deeply and relax.
  6. Think of all the treasures yet to be found and get to work.

With these few rules  firmly entrenched in your brain, what can you do if your client still acts crazy?  Try to remember these:

  • Go into every new situation with a positive attitude.  If you go in expecting trouble from every client, chances are good that you will find it.  Clients often pick up on negativity.  If they hire you anyway, then it may be that they, too, are seeking trouble.  Watch out.  That’s not a good combination.
  • It’s not about you, it’s about them.  Many people who act angry towards you are really angry with themselves; you just happen to be in front of them.  Try not to take it personally.  If you still feel you are reacting to their anger, perhaps then it is time to look within yourself for some answers.  Step back and take stock of the situation. Are you reacting because you thrive on angry situations?  If you decide that you are indeed encouraging the anger, it should be easier to defuse the situation or to at least stop reacting strongly to the other’s anger.
  • Don’t try to beat them at their own game.  They are likely much better at fighting than you are because they’ve had years of practice.
  • Be firm in your resolve.  An angry person may try their best to beat you down.  Don’t try to appease those kinds of clients because it rarely works.  The more you give in, the more they will demand.  State your stance firmly and clearly right up front and if they don’t accept that, plan to walk away from the situation.
  • React slowly when confronted.  Give the situation a while to settle before you react.  If the difficult client forces the issue, you can always leave for a while or otherwise remove yourself from the conflict.  When you react too impulsively–throwing back angry words or writing that nasty email–often things are said that will only make the situation worse and the difficult person even more difficult to deal with.
  • Remember, you don’t always have to be right.  It shouldn’t be about your ego.  Sometimes you are in the wrong and you need to accept that. If you are indeed wrong, work at coming to a reasonable agreement with your client.  If the situation doesn’t improve, then it doesn’t matter if you were right or wrong, it may be time to terminate your services to that client.
  • Make sure you are in fact doing the best job you can do.  Your client deserves your best.  If they complain about what you are doing, take a look to see if there is any validity to their claim before you dismiss them as whiners.  If you still believe that you are doing a good job, then you may just be dealing with an unhappy person.  Either accept that they will continue to complain or take steps to change the situation.  That may mean that you will need to stop working for them.
  • Be caring.  At some points in our lives, we all get angry or hurt.  In the estate sale business, this is especially true because most–maybe all–clients who are in need of an estate sale professional are in stressful periods of transition.  Maybe they’ve lost a loved one, or must move from their home or must sell everything due to divorce or other calamity.  Few people go through these types of situations completely unscathed, even when they have wanted to move or divorce or kill off a relative (well, it could happen).  Show them some compassion.  Let them vent a little. Understand that they are hurting and may be taking it out on you.  You’re a big professional.  You can take it.
  • Practice forgivenessWhat ever the reason is behind the actions of a difficult client, you might as well learn to let it go and forgive them.  This is especially true once the sale is over.  Remember: “Holding a grudge against someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  A difficult client may leave you feeling drained and negative, but by holding on to those feelings, you are only hurting yourself.
  • Stop chewing it over and over again.  It’s over.  I know you may want to keep talking about that horrid client you had who made your life miserable, but by doing so, you are just prolonging the pain.  If you need to vent, try writing the client a long, mean, nasty letter telling them just what you think of them.  Then tear it up.  Don’t recount the tale in a blog or bring it up to every new client you meet.  These acts will not help your career and will likely sour it and you.  Spit it out and move on.  Your next bite will taste better for it.
  • Learn your lessons well.  I believe that every difficult situation we experience has some kind of lesson we need to learn.  Take the time to think about what went right and what went wrong, and learn how to do things better next time.


Filed under October 2011