Estate Sales Aren’t Just for Dead People

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Long before we die there may be reasons to divest ourselves of a bunch of stuff … and I don’t mean a few trips to the thrift store amounts of stuff. We’re talking a LOT of stuff to get rid of—like, almost everything you own.

It could be that you need to pay off a large debt, move house, or even just downsizing to free yourself up for a lighter life.

In all of those cases, and others, too, it may make sense to unload most of your stuff in one go.

To the overwhelmed readers hoping to unload a lifetime of collected items … this post is for you, too. 

Because as it turns out, there is an excellent almost “get out of jail free” card for your particular stuff challenge: an estate sale.

Yes, you too can have an estate sale. Even if you’re alive, and even if you wouldn’t consider what you own to be an “estate.” You don’t have to be a Kennedy or a Kardashian to have a successful—and surprisingly lucrative—estate sale.

FYI, if you think estate sales are the same as garage sales, they’re not

YOU run a garage sale, so you do all the advertising, displaying, pricing, and selling. You also sell each item individually—usually after some exhaustive haggling—and if you’re lucky, net about $1 an hour for all your trouble.

Estate sales are run by professional companies. Selling stuff is their business. All you do is point them in the direction of the things you want to sell and receive some money at the end. 

Yes, they keep a percentage—but you’ll also earn a heck of a lot more than $1 an hour. (Think as much as $10k in a weekend for the contents of a 3-bedroom home.)

WHY HIRE SOMEONE VS DIY?

It’s ALL about the value of your time.

If one of your first questions is whether you’ll earn what your stuff is worth, or if you’ll get more doing it yourself, let’s break down the math

You’ll have to invest something to clear out those closets: your money, or your time. And to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, you should be able to put a dollar value on your time. 

It may be a low estimate—but for our purposes, it’ll get the job done.

Let’s imagine that the stuff you want to sell is worth $7,000 fair market value.

First of all, what it’s worth is never what you’ll get for it at a garage sale. No one goes to those things looking to pay market value—they go looking for a bargain.

They know that you would probably rather NOT bring it back into your house more than you ultimately care about the money.

So your $7k market valuation is really replacement cost, not what you’re likely to earn.

Common knowledge is roughly .10¢ on a dollar, so your $7k value is more likely worth $700.

And you will spend dozens of hours managing the sale, from start to finish. Let’s guesstimate 40 hours:

5 hours promoting/advertising 

3 hours setting up

24 hours = 8 hours a day x 3 (best practice says start your sale on Friday)

3 hours breaking down

5 hours removing all leftovers/unsold merchandise

And let’s say you spend those hours over 2 weeks.

Great, if you are a W2 employes, take your annual salary and divide it by 52 to find out what you earn in a typical week.

If you’re a contractor, look at last year’s tax return and take your total gross income and divide it by 52 to get your number.

Or let’s just take the proposed minimum wage of $15.

$15 x 40 = $600

That’s what you’ll effectively “spend” selling your stuff yourself—but of course, instead of dollars, you’ll spend hours.

So you’re looking at a net gain of $100 for 40 hours invested … seems not quite worth it, right?

Now, you might actually be able to net $4-5k for that stuff at an estate sale—because they know how to price and extract the greatest value from your items.

So, you may have “spent” 25-30% hiring someone else to do the heavy lifting… but you didn’t spend 40 hours AND you paid for someone’s expertise to get top dollar.

Also, that clutter provides $0 in value to you if you don’t even want it.When you’re calculating value, think about how much time you have, and how much you’re willing to invest in selling your stuff. Is spending time selling your clutter worth the cost to you, in terms of time and stress?

Only you can answer that question. You may LOVE selling your things online—and we’ll explore how to do that in an upcoming series.

But understand going in that selling your own stuff involves writing descriptions, taking photos, replying to emails, answering phone calls, handling inspections, pickups, and possibly even deliveries, etc. … and all of that takes time.

HOW TO FIND AND VET AN ESTATE SALE COMPANY

That’s where estate sale companies come in.

For a fee—often a small deposit plus a percentage of sales—an estate sale company will handle the entire process for you, from pricing to advertising. 

Of course, not all estate sale companies are created equal. Here are some tips on finding local companies that work fairly:

  • Attend at least two estate sales in your area to get a feel for how different companies operate. This will also give you a good idea of what services to look for in the company you hire.
  • Check references—odds are that someone you know has a friend or relative who’s had an estate sale and can refer a company to you.
  • Read online reviews. And don’t forget the Better Business Bureau as a resource.
  • Interview at least two companies, and get quotes/appraisals from each if you can. 
  • Make sure they’re bonded and insured.
  • Check for professional membership. There’s no formal governing body for estate sale companies, but some professional organizations lend credibility. In the United States, the American Society of Estate Liquidators (ASEL) and the National Estate Sale Association (NESA) are both well-regarded and can point you in the right direction.

Wondering which questions to ask when you’re interviewing estate sale companies? Here’s a list to get you started.

  • How long have you been in business? 
  • Can you walk me through your process?
  • Do you specialize in selling certain kinds of items?
  • How do you appraise and price?
  • How do you handle valuable items?
  • What’s your marketing and advertising strategy?
  • What do you do with items that don’t sell?

THE ESTATE SALE EXPERIENCE

If the company you hire has done their job right, there will be a line of people outside your home on day 1 of the sale.

That’s right. A line of people outside YOUR home. Even though you aren’t rich and you don’t have Chippendale furniture or priceless artwork adorning your walls.

And if you ARE wealthy and DO have that stuff, the line will be that much longer.

A company will handle all of the steps for you, from sorting and pricing your stuff to marketing the sale to managing individual transactions. All you need to do is sit back and watch the $$ roll in.

Or better yet, give yourself a spa day. It may be quite stressful watching strangers pawing through your previously precious items.

Anything that doesn’t sell might get put on consignment by the company you hire. Sometimes, these companies will even donate the leftovers for you. Other times, that final sweep is up to you.

We recommend that you pick a company that handles the process from start to finish, and will get rid of anything that doesn’t sell on your behalf.

That way, you’re left with nothing at the end of the sale … except a check and a lot of empty space.

THE BOTTOM LINE

All told, estate sales are a great way to sell a lifetime of functional useful stuff in just a few days, with minimal effort. You undoubtedly earn more money than you would by selling it yourself, and you’ll definitely expend less effort.

Before you make a decision either way, do the math. Decide what your time is worth, and which resource you’re willing to part with as you downsize: money or time.

Interview estate sale companies and do your research before hiring anyone. They’ll be in your home and handling an aspect of your finances, so don’t just hire the first company you see on Google and call it a day.

The estate sale process is generally pretty quick and painless, and can be a magical way to turn a house full of stuff you don’t even want into money.

And that’s what I call a bargain.

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1 Response

  1. Avatar Theresa Felger, SPHR says:

    Great article. I held a spring clearance sale last week only made enough to annoy my husband. It was a lot of work then I still took items to DAV store.

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