EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
HOW TO CHOOSE AN ESTATE SALE COMPANY: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
STEP BY STEP: CHOOSING THE RIGHT ESTATE SALE COMPANY FOR YOU
Picking the right estate sale company can be a difficult decision. There are many different companies that offer similar services, each with their own pros and cons. You need to know what you’re looking for in order to make an informed choice about which company is best for you. This comprehensive guide for estate sellers will make it much easier.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
WHAT EXACTLY DOES AN ESTATE SALE COMPANY DO?
An estate sale company (or estate liquidator) helps organize and arrange the sale of estate contents. They will ease the burden of dealing with estate property while helping the estate obtain as much as possible for the contents.
A reliable estate sale company can also help the estate executor and heirs save time and avoid costly mistakes.
Most people dealing with estates will choose to utilize the services of a professional estate sale company in order to get the best results during this difficult time.
These terms are virtually interchangeable – they all refer to essentially the same service. The only exception is an estate planner, who may simply help coordinate. By using the information on this page, you will be able to choose the perfect service provider, regardless of what title they go by.
WHAT ESTATE SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE?
Reputable estate sale companies can offer both standard services and a range of additional services. Different types of services include valuations, cleanouts, organization, as well as the sale of contents. Some services will incur an extra fee. You will want to discuss these options upfront.
Sale / Liquidation
WHAT ARE THE 2 MAIN TYPES OF ESTATE SALES AND WHICH IS BETTER?
AN ESTATE AUCTION
OR A “TAG SALE“
With a “tag sale,” you will have lots of curious “lookers” walking throughout your property, increasing the risk of property damage and theft. Crowd control is a problem, especially since many are not really there to buy, but to look. And sometimes, unfortunately, to “take.” Tag sales are actually “discount” sales, where the prices only go down, sometimes drastically. It is not unusual to see discounting of 50-75% before the sale is over – this is common practice. Tag sales are difficult to monitor, since the price dropping and haggling takes place behind closed doors, and you can’t observe what goes on. For these and other reasons, a tag sale may not be in your best interest.
“An estate auction, however, attracts competing buyers. They have the option to bid online, reducing unwanted foot traffic and increasing the number of potential buyers. Buyers are only permitted on the property for a controlled preview, or to pick up their purchases. That means less risk and greater security. Another big plus is that with an auction, prices can only go up. There is no discounting. You’ll be able to observe the entire bidding process online. Plus, with an estate auction, you’ll get an itemized report showing every single transaction – something most tag sale services will not let you have.”
An estate auction can actually offer greater piece of mind, more transparency, and the opportunity to get true market value for the items for sale. In fact, estate auctions can attract more buyers, since even out-of-town buyers can easily participate and bid online. More buyers is the key to the best selling price for the items you are selling.
If you want maximum buyer exposure, less “lookers” going through your property, and the opportunity to achieve higher prices, an estate auction may be the best option.
ESTATE SALE SERVICE
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Click on a question to see its answer:
Important things to consider
How soon should I contact an estate sale company?
You’ll want to do this immediately. There is no need to wait until you are “ready.” It doesn’t matter where you currently are in the estate or probate process. Since an estate sale has to be planned, you will want to consult with and give the estate liquidator a “heads up” as early as possible. They can even help you with reliable referrals to other services you might need, such as an estate attorney, real estate agent, professional appraiser, financial planner, or other professional. If you already have estate attorneys or a real estate agent working for you, the estate liquidator can work hand in hand with them. You’ll want to get your estate sale professional on board to help you as soon as possible.
How does an estate sale company work?
First, you will sign an estate sale contract which outlines how the sale will be conducted, what will be sold, the fees, and when you will be paid.
Next, the estate sale service will begin the process of organizing and inventorying the contents. This will include making items as presentable as possible and taking professional photographs.
The estate sale company will then begin marketing the sale. The entire process is usually completed fairly quickly. Once items are sold, you will be presented with an itemized list of all sales, along with a check. Post sale, most good estate liquidators will pay you within 15 days, if not sooner.
What should I expect from a reputable company?
You should expect a good estate sales company to know and understand what you are going through. You have lost a loved one, and they should be there to support you and make things easier.
You should also expect better results than you might have gotten otherwise. Other options, such as a garage sale or yard sale, will pale in comparison to the likely results generated by a good estate sale company. When it comes to selling personal property, an entire estate is likely to achieve higher gross sales when personal belongings are professionally sold.
How do I choose the best estate liquidation company for me?
This is an important decision. Don’t leave this to gut instinct, and make sure you review the key points in this article first.
First, you’ll want to determine that they are a legitimate, professional estate company.
You’ll also want to know up front what their fees are. What do those costs include? Make sure their fees cover all set up expenses. Fees will vary; lower fees don’t necessarily mean that you will end up making more money. If they cut corners, you could end up with even less. An experienced company can earn you more than any difference in fees.
Most importantly, you will want a written agreement that outlines what they will do for you, when they will do it, and when you will be paid.
You’ll also want to review the list of questions to ask on this page, and make sure you get satisfactory answers. (See, “Questions to ask a prospective estate sale company.”)
Many people also utilize an estate liquidation company to help them downsize. While most people refer to this as a “downsizing sale,” some also call it a “living estate sale.” If you or a family member – most commonly seniors – are looking to downsize and dispose of unneeded household contents, a downsizing sale may be the ideal solution. A professionally conducted downsizing sale has the potential to generate more income than if you were to sell the contents almost any other way.
BEHIND THE SCENES:
INSIDE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO KNOW
Click on a question to see its answer:
Estate Sale Details
What fee or percentage do estate sale companies charge?
Most operate on a commission basis; very few operate on a flat fee basis. Commissions will vary, but generally you can expect fees to range from 20% up to 50%, with most somewhere in the middle. The cost of a typical estate sale is determined by the size, scope, and complexity of the project. In some cases, when there is a large quantity of lower value items, commissions can occasionally be higher. If special services are required, such as removal of trash, junk, or unsaleable items, there may be an additional fee. This is something that you should discuss up front. For more details on fees, you can also read, “How Much Do Estate Sale Companies Charge?”
Could I just have an estate sale myself?
You could, but there are drawbacks. When someone asks that question, they are usually thinking that they might somehow save money. After all, from a distance, it looks pretty straight-forward. However, there is more to a successful estate sale than meets the eye. Keep in mind that a professional company does this all the time, knows the best way to maximize sales, and has lots of customers. They also know what mistakes not to make – something you won’t have years to learn.
For a one time event, it simply does not make sense to attempt to something like this without professional expertise. For those very few people that try to do this solo, it typically ends in lower sales prices, lots of items unsold, and a huge amount of time wasted. Ultimately, there is no “savings.” That is why the vast majority of people end up utilizing a professional estate sale firm to help them get the best results possible.
How does estate sale pricing work?
Estate sale pricing always involves some degree of guesswork. That’s because there are many variables: item condition, how common something is, local demand, seasonal factors, and more. If an item is priced too low, it will sell for less than what it is worth. If it is priced too high, it will remain unsold until most of the buyers have passed it over. Then, at the last minute, it will have to be heavily discounted. Pricing leaves a lot of room for mistakes.
For this reason, tag sales are far less likely to get true market value than would an estate auction. An estate auction generates competition, which helps raise prices.
When someone makes a purchase at a typical tag sale, it only means that they got to the item first. It does not mean the item sold for its true value. Keep this in mind when deciding between a tag sale or an estate auction
Is there much difference between estate sale companies?
There can be huge differences from one estate sale company to the next.
Some estate sale companies are focused on getting in and getting out. You will be just a number to them. When they are doing a lot of sales, it may not matter as much to them if your sale doesn’t make as much as it could have.
Others will go the extra mile and surprise you with the amount of effort they put into your sale. A caring, compassionate estate sale service is worth its weight in gold.
Take for example, an estate auction. With an estate auction, every single lot is carefully and professionally photographed so that it brings you the most money possible. Regular estate sale companies won’t go to this much effort. It’s all about moving on to the next sale. While the fees are comparable, an estate auction provider gives you substantially more service.
What sells best at estate sales?
A profitable sale starts with items people want. These “valuable items” can vary depending on the location, time of year, and how common the items are. Some things that can sell well include certain types of furniture – with Mid-Century modern being one of the most desirable categories. Other popular items include vintage toys and games from the 1950s and 1960s, certain coins, and particular vinyl record albums, among many other items in current demand. If you have an item from any of these categories, the results could surprise you.
What are some estate sale risks?
If you use a conventional estate service, they will decide all the prices – which could allow you to be taken advantage of. Many estate liquidators are reputable, but some may not be. What if they buy some of your items themselves, after THEY decide the prices? What if they discount your items for their friends? What if they also operate a retail location, consignment shop, or antique booth where they could resell your items later and pocket the difference? These area all risks.
In general, estate sale companies are unregulated. Outside of going to court, there is not much protection for you if you have a problem with an estate sale company. On the other hand, estate auction companies are highly regulated. They are required by government licensing authorities to look out for your best interests. You are much less likely to have a problem with an estate auction company because the government will step in to assist you.
These risks make it preferable to utilize an estate auction service. An estate auction will be more open and observable, and will force buyers to bid against each other. This prevents discounting, secret deals, and lets you watch and observe.
What cannot be sold at estate sales?
There are some things that can’t be sold at estate sales – or any other sale. This includes legally prohibited items, such as most ivory, certain types of wood, and alcohol. Your estate liquidator can help provide guidance.
What does not sell as well at estate sales?
Dark wood furniture and antiques have fallen less in favor and tend to bring significantly less than they used to. This includes dining room tables, china cabinets, and entertainment centers. China is also another casualty of declining popularity. However, despite this reality, those items are still more likely to sell and bring better prices at a professionally run estate sale than by selling them any other way. They may not bring the same prices they used to, but you are more likely to get what they are currently worth.
How are unsold or remaining items handled?
An experienced estate sale liquidator will make every effort to sell as much as possible, but some items may not be saleable. These may include things that are broken, hazardous items, or items with little or no value. Your estate sale company will provide you with guidance on how to best handle items that don’t sell.
How does an estate sale service handle sentimental items?
A professional estate sale company will always be alert to sentimental and personal items. Personal photos, scrapbooks, letters, and similar items that are discovered should be set aside and given to you. Often, heirs are surprised at the treasure trove of family memories that they didn’t find themselves, but that were saved for them by the careful staff of a reliable estate sales company.
How do I prepare for an estate sale?
The first rule of thumb is: never throw anything away. Remember the old saying: “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” You might discard something that is actually worth money. In fact, you may be surprised at what some people will pay for things you might otherwise discard.
If you are considering using the services of a professional estate sale company, as most people do, you will want to speak with them as early as possible. Do this before you make any decisions about the property, or move anything. They will provide you with suggestions about what to keep and what to discard.
You will also want to make sure the contents are safe and secure. This will mean keeping the utilities on if the property is unoccupied. It may be a good idea to change the locks if you cannot be sure that nobody else has a key. You will also want to maintain homeowners’ insurance until all property is sold.
Your estate sale company can provide you with additional recommendations.
Can I successfully arrange an estate liquidation if I live out-of-town?
Absolutely. For example, estate sale company Juris Auctions serves clients in multiple states. It is not unusual for clients to live far away, in another state. The company will carefully walk prospective clients through the whole process over the phone. In fact, everything can be handled without a client ever needing to travel. The company will then manage and supervise the property and project from start to finish. After the sale, the client will receive a detailed report, along with full payment, in just a matter of days.
Who usually makes the arrangements for an estate sale company?
Typically, either the estate executor or a designated family member will work with the estate liquidator. In some cases, estate attorneys will make estate liquidation arrangements when the executor or family member is unavailable to do so.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
21 IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK A PROSPECTIVE ESTATE SALE COMPANY
Estate Sale Company Questions
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FULL LIST OF QUESTIONS
Make sure you ask the following very important questions of any estate companies you speak with:
- Do you collect sales tax, when required?
- Do you accept credit cards? (Accepting credit cards is important because not accepting them will mean less buyers).
- Do you leave the property “broom clean?”
- How will you handle unsold items, or leftover items?
- Do you put as much effort into every sale, regardless of size, even if it is not a big, major estate sale?
- What is the time frame? How many weeks or months in advance do you need for scheduling, and how many sale days are needed?
- Will you be adding extra items to my sale? (That can distract buyers from YOUR items!)
- Do you own or operate a retail location or antique mall booth? (That’s a possible conflict of interest if they were to buy and resell your items there.)
- Am I allowed to attend the sale? (Most won’t permit this, since it can be awkward for both you and buyers.) However, with an auction sale, you can always watch and observe online.
- How will I be paid, and when will I be paid?
- Do you have a website? Social media?
- Do you use a contract and will everything be spelled out?
- Will I get a complete list of every single lot and transaction? (Insist on it.)
- Will you ever discount my merchandise? (This should never be necessary if items are correctly priced. With an auction sale, discounting isn’t possible.)
- Will you or your staff buy any of the merchandise? (This is a BIG problem if they are pricing items!)
- Will you allow anyone to buy in advance? (Never good.)
- Are you insured?
- Are you bonded?
- Are you licensed?
- What are your fees? Is there a minimum? Are there any set up or other charges?
- Do you have a (verifiable) business address? Can I easily reach you using your contact information?
- Where will you be advertising? Will this include social media?
If you’d like a professional estate sale company that meets all of these requirements – and more – we suggest contacting Juris Auctions for a free, no-obligation assessment of your needs. Simply call 1-901-254-8200.
WHAT TO EXPECT
ESTATE SELLER WILLIAM THOMPSON TALKS ABOUT HIS OWN EXPERIENCE
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