Tag Archives: thrift store

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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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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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?

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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.

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Filed under November 2011

How to Handle Difficult Estate Sale Clients

Anger Controlls Him

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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.

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Filed under October 2011