14 Reasons to Hire an Estate Sale Professional Instead of DIY

You have a houseful of stuff that you need to get rid of soon, so what should you do?  I know you’ve watched Antique Roadshow and maybe American Pickers or Pawn Stars.  Perhaps you’ve even watched estate sale shows such as Cash & Cari or Big Brian.  So now you think you know enough to hold your own estate sale. After all, how hard could it be.  Right?  You put stuff on a table, put a price on it and then you make lots of money.   I have some advice for you:  DON’T DO IT!  I’m sorry.  That was rude of me.  Let me rephrase that:  PLEASE don’t do it!  In my opinion you would be making a mistake and here are some reasons why:

1. Do you know what this is?

You get a point if you guessed that it is a basket.  You get a hundred points if you know who makes it and how much it can sell for.  Your house may have plenty of  items that look ordinary, and may BE ordinary, but there are a few common things that can bring uncommon amounts of money.  No, this basket won’t make you rich, but wouldn’t you hate to sell it for a dollar and THEN find out it’s worth $50?  I know I would.  Keep in mind, that is not the price you will likely get for the basket even with an estate sale professional, but you will likely get more than a dollar, and you won’t feel like an idiot.  (look up Longaberger. Or better yet, read this article on ehow.com where I borrowed the above photo.) There are so many items like this that you will never know them all, and none of them are featured on Antique Roadshow.  A professional has usually seen enough to know the values of at least a few of these, and what they don’t know they either learn by researching or by asking one of their many experts.  Now, for two hundred points, tell me how many of these you know and what is their value?:

2. Are you physically strong enough to handle heavy lifting in difficult conditions?  Yeah, yeah.  I know, you go to the gym eight times a week and you can bench press 300 pounds, but that gym is clean and air conditioned.  And those weights fit neatly on the ends of shiny bars.  What if that weight takes the form of fifty boxes of clothes sitting in an  open shed for forty years so that they are now full of rat droppings and spiders?  Sound good?  Still want to handle that?  A professional does it all the time without (much) complaint.  Okay, they’ll complain about the droppings, but who wouldn’t?  They’ll still do it so you don’t have to.

3.  Do you have a heart of stone and bad hearing? It is physically stressful to hold an estate sale yourself.  The set-up, the pricing, the staffing are all difficult, even for a professional.  When you add in the fact that what you are selling may have an emotional impact on you, the stress is tripled. Do you really want to see strangers pawing through your mother’s underwear drawers or your grandfather’s beloved pipes?  Can you handle the kinds of comments that you are likely to hear as those strangers walk through your family home saying things like: “How could they live like this?” or “Who would have such bad taste as to have [insert a past decorative style or kitschy collectible or those clothes your uncle wore while golfing] in their house?”  I’ve heard comments like those, but they don’t bother me (much) because it isn’t MY bad taste or cobwebs they are commenting on.  People aren’t usually cruel on purpose, but they can be oblivious at times.  Stupid at other times.  It’s hard to ignore them, though, when it’s personal.

4. Do you know the difference between My Favorite Aunt’s Precious Vase and a pretty glass vase of no great value? Many people are too emotionally invested in their Mother’s Treasures, or the reminders of a marriage torn asunder, to be able to separate the perceived value of an item from its actual value.  I know that your grandmother kept her family silver and never used it because it was way too special and valuable, but it’s possible that “silver” is really silverplate and not worth nearly what you think.  Also, despite what you see on Antique Roadshow, etc, not everything in your house is worth a fortune.  Not even the antiques, which are often not as antique-ish as you think.  It takes a lot of emotional distance and a good eye to price things appropriately sometimes, and that is another time when a professional comes in handy.  We see the items, not our love of it or the memories attached to it.  Also, what you paid retail for something is not a good indication of how much it will sell for at an estate sale.  Public tastes and  interests change over time.  Few people want to buy those collector plates or your Beanie Baby collection now.  Maybe they will come back into favor, maybe not, but don’t expect to get top dollars for them.  Also, technology is changing so rapidly that the computer you paid several thousand dollars for just a few years ago, probably is only good as a door stop now.  Let it go.

5.  Do you feel comfortable selling junk?  I mean, real junk.  Lots of people who have estate sales think they should clear out the “junk” so that only the “important” things are left.  Like the antiques and the silver.  What many don’t realize is that the people who frequent estate sales often want the other stuff.  Like the half-used cleanser from under your sink or the rusty old door hinges in the coffee can in the garage or the collection of unpaired earrings that have been awaiting the reappearance of their mates since you lost them twenty years ago.  Can you resist the urge to clean up so that those strangers won’t realize what a mess your cellar or garage or drawers are?  Once again, a professional thrives on selling obscure or surprise items.  But surely nobody wants these old Christmas cards, you say?  And this old set of bowls?  And this leftover shampoo?  Yes!  They want them!

6.  Do you have eyes in the back of your head?  No?  Well, I don’t either.  But a professional usually  has years of experience with people who would gladly pay them nothing for this gold watch today.  We know a lot of the tricks that people can pull in their attempts to help themselves to the items we’re selling.  And trust me, there are a lot of tricks.  I feel people are basically good and honest, but they often seem to forget those qualities at estate sales.  Many will try to steal from you!  Don’t let them.  Hire a professional with a good team.  No, I will not reveal some of the tricks we’ve learned to watch for.  No sense giving anyone ideas.

7.  Can you deal with people who like to haggle?  By haggling, I mean they want to pay you twenty-five cents for the lovely vase you priced at $10.  “But it’s got a chip and the color is ugly and I don’t really even want it, but sell it to me for a quarter,” they may say to you.  Or “I only want a couple pictures out of this book, so can you sell it to me for ten cents instead of five dollars?  I’m just going to cut it up.”  Or maybe they’ll just bring the item marked $20 and they’ll lift their eyebrows as they say: “How about a dollar?”  Once or twice, or even five times, most people can handle this kind of haggling, but it takes a fair degree of fortitude to handle it for six hours a day for two or three days straight.  A professional should be able to take it without breaking down and crying.  Can you?

8.  Can you attract a crowd?  You shouldn’t have to learn magic tricks or send your nephew out to the street to dance with a giant arrow.  I’m sure you know how to place an ad in the paper, but do you have an extensive list of people just waiting to go to your sale?  My guess is not.  You might have some relatives and some neighbors and friends, but they will usually either come to be supportive or come to be snoops.  They may buy a geegaw or such to be polite, but they are not the true, hardcore estate sale shoppers that every good sale needs in abundance in order to be successful.  A professional has connections and knows ways of getting the word out to the right customers who want what you have to offer.  Professionals have real signs, too, but not those clever marking pen signs you’ve made on the side of a box.

9. Do you really not have something better to do?  Estate sales are long, hard work interspersed with stretches of tedium. You don’t need that.  Go on a trip to the beach instead.  Let the professional slave away in the heat and dust.  They love it.

I know that was only nine reasons, but they are all so good that they feel like fourteen. Hire a professional for your sale and you’re likely to be extremely glad you did.

And now that you’ve decided to hire an estate sale company, how do you make sure that you’re hiring a good one?  Read Choosing an Estate Sale Company You Can Trust.


Running thief image borrowed from http://www.marvinleblanc.com/blog

Haggling image from englishfromfriends.com/blog, who got it from http://girliegirlarmy.com/)


Filed under August 2011

17 responses to “14 Reasons to Hire an Estate Sale Professional Instead of DIY

  1. AMEN! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “I’ve done garage sales before and it’s really the same thing” or variations on that theme that really all add up to “we’ll save money if we do this ourselves”. Uh…no you won’t, and you just might end up never speaking to the rest of your family if you try. (You really think that you and your brothers & sisters are going to agree on prices – and I mean reasonable prices that are going to result in sales – or that you can get thru this with no one’s feelings being hurt?)

    And can I add one more reason to your list – people don’t like going to estate sales run by the family. In fact, when I run a sale I do everything I can to discourage family members from attending, because here is what invariably happens – family members run into neighbors at the sale, they start chatting about the deceased, customer has an item in hand that they want to buy, family member sees it and says “oh, I’d forgotten all about that, mom just loved that”, customer says “oh, you’ll want to keep it then” and hands it to family member, customer leaves and family member decides they really don’t want the item after all. Result: Lost sale. Or family member stations themselves by the front desk and starts a running commentary on items being purchased, customers lined up to purchase items start fading away because this makes them uncomfortable. Result: Lost sales.

    • You are absolutely right. I should have added all that. I have the same problem. I tell the customer that they are welcome to attend the sale if they must, but that I strongly discourage it for just the reasons you listed. I tell them also that it will likely be very uncomfortable for them to watch people pawing through the things that had belonged to their loved one, and that they will not like some of the comments people say as they do that pawing. If they still insist on being there, I ask them to not talk to the customers and to avoid letting people know that they are family. It doesn’t work well, but what can you do? I mean, besides dropping the sale.

      • I just repeat over and over that family at sales makes customers uncomfortable and uncomfortable customers mean lost sales – but that doesn’t always work as you know. I recently had a sale where the family member I was dealing with was fine with not coming to the sale, but then her sister-in-law showed up. First thing she did was to come charging up to the desk, shoving aside customers who were in line to buy items, and demand in a loud voice “where is that glass relish dish, you promised to hold that dish for me”. Now I’d NEVER MET the woman before, but I’d heard about her from other family members. I told her to look in the dining room where we had set up tables and off she went. Two minutes later she is pushing aside paying customers again to tell me that the dish is not in the dining room and where did I put it. I finally got rid of her (and back to my paying customers) by suggesting that someone might have already picked it up. Off she went to follow people around the house, which wasn’t good either but I had to get her away from the front desk. She finally left a few hours later, but then about one o’clock I noticed that the number of customers had really dwindled. Later I found out that “someone” had stolen all of our signs leading into the plat. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  2. Silent Partners Estate Sales of New Orleans

    I LOVED this article. As an estate sale professional myself, all I can do is say “AMEN.” Having family members insist on coming to the sale is one of the biggest headaches I have. It is just too emotional for them and always causes problems. I am strongly considering refusing to take a sale if family members will be present during staging or the actual sale – it has really gotten THAT BAD.

    • Thanks! It is indeed difficult when the family is present at the sale or even at the set-up. I’ve done them, though, with varying degrees of success. I guess it all depends on who the person is that would be present.

  3. any of you commenting here in So Calif?

  4. Thanks for the to-the-point take on leaving it to professionals! As an estate sale company in business for 35 years in the Los Angeles area, we know first hand the difficulty home owners have doing it on their own. We touch on all of these points when talking to clients, but find that the most compelling reason not to do it yourself is the overwhelming stress they will be avoiding by working with pros.

    • Thanks for visiting. I get your estate sale notices emailed to me all the time. You seem to have some great sales. I also run estates sales down in Orange County. I don’t know how many times clients have expressed their gratitude for taking over the arduous task of running the sale. They are indeed very stressful, especially if you’ve never done one before.

  5. Belinda Winters

    Elsewhere on the internet we read about scams that the estate sale seller pulls, such as pricing things low to sell to friends who show up early or even having a day before sale where valuable antiques and other items are quickly “sold” and there is no proof of the sale. They also tell you to be at the sale, preferably near the paying table. Of course, an honest seller wouldn’t really mind.. I have to wonder about the rest…

    • Belinda, Thanks for visiting my blog and for raising an important issue: 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, but there are steps you can take to help increase your odds of finding a suitable company. First off, make sure they are a legitimate company: do they have a license, insurance, experience; can they provide references; do they charge sales tax? Arrange to meet them in person, and follow up by checking their references. 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). 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. Most professionals would not risk their reputation by doing shady deals because it could obviously affect their futures in the industry. 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. But speaking of trust: I don’t suggest that clients hang around the check out table for several reasons. For one thing, it is insulting to the professional you’ve hired. If you ran a store, would you always hang around the cash register just in case your employee decided to steal? It’s unlikely you would, so why would you do it at an estate sale? Like I said, if you don’t trust them, don’t hire them. Do the sale yourself, if you feel that nobody else is trustworthy. You’ll likely earn much less AND it will be a huge amount of work for you AND you will undoubtedly make lots of mistakes that will cost you even more money, but you’ll save a professional from the headaches of dealing with you. It is also very distracting to the cashier if you are always hanging around, partly because clients tend to to end up talking to all their old friends and neighbors who stop in to the sale, which causes an absurd amount of congestion where it is lest needed. And how would you feel if someone was always looking over your shoulder? In my company, I don’t really mind when the client is at the sale, but I certainly don’t encourage it because it is unnecessarily difficult for everyone involved. If they do attend, they must first agree to follow my few rules: they aren’t allowed to be “family members”, but instead must either act like a regular shopper or like a new employee who knows nothing about what to do. If friends or family come to the sale, all talking must be moved outside immediately. This is because I have found that the real shoppers often feel uncomfortable when family are there because they feel like they are intruding. These customers usually end up buying much less and leaving much sooner. It is my job to insure the sale runs as smoothly as possible and that it makes as much as it can. Since I’m a professional, I don’t need to be babysat to ensure my honesty. Do you?

  6. Thanks for the great advise. Yes, you’re right. There are many benefits of hiring estate sale professional. They know the ins and outs of this industry and how to advertise to ensure a successful sale every time.

  7. I like how you said that an estate sales professional knows people and has connections to those who would really like to purchase your stuff. My wife’s mom just passed away and left a bunch of stuff to be sold. We don’t really know anybody who would like to purchase it, so we will have to look into hiring someone who has the expertise and connections to get rid of all this stuff.

    • Thomas, where is your wife’s mother’s home? I’m located in Southern California. In the off chance you are nearby, I’ll be happy to do a free consultation at the home. Contact me at aboveallestatesales@gmail.com. However, if the home is somewhere else, I suggest you go to either estatesales.net or estatesales.org to find a reputable company in your area. Remember, though: don’t throw away, donate, or give anything away until a professional has had a chance to evaluate the situation. Hope it works out for you!

  8. Pingback: Why Hire A Professional Estate Sale Company - San Antonio Estate Sales LLC

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