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.
- 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.