Tag Archives: estate sale tips

Choosing an Estate Sale Company You Can Trust

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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 estatesales.net.

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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.

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Filed under December 2011

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.

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

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

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Filed under August 2011