Do you think you need an estate sale, but unsure of where to even begin? You are not alone! It is new territory for almost everyone.
Grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine while I ramble with the intention to broaden your awareness of the business of estate sales (and it is a business) and what you should expect, what you should run from and what you should simply be aware of.
Just a couple of decades ago estate sales were conducted only for the wealthy. It was a 'white glove' event! During this time, each city had one or two companies to address the estate sale needs of their communities.
As of 2017, Houston has nearly 100 companies addressing clients needs to downsize, relocate, mix households or address the death of a loved one. It is estimated,
in the US, that the estate liquidation industry has increased by 650% in the past ten years to address more than $150M in sales each month (yes, that is one hundred and fifty-million in sales each
and every month!)
Conducting estate sales is a serious business. It is not your grandma's garage sale. To ensure a positive outcome, plan in advance! I cannot stress that enough.
A reputable company is usually booked up weeks if not months in advance with other client commitments (this is a good thing!). If you anticipate to call a company or two and have an immediate solution, you are setting yourself up for a disaster!!!
Either plan for a successful sale or expect serious heartbreak.
The First Step:
Does your neighborhood/community allow estate sales?
Many neighborhoods have Deed Restrictions which do not allow for estate sales, garage sales, yard sales and the like. It is best to have a clear understanding of what is allowed before meeting with a company. Most all Deed Restrictions are available through your HOA or online.
If restrictions exist, some companies may migrate the contents to another client home or conduct a Private Sale if appropriate.
Note - if you don't know the community restrictions and the company you hire does not either, the possibility of the sale being shut down is a reality.
The Second Step:
Educate yourself by visiting estate sales.
Whether you are visiting one of the companies you are considering or simply have stumbled upon one, look for the following:
* Is there good signage leading you to the sale?
* Is there good signage in the yard, at the door,
inside the home?
* Is the staff friendly and welcoming?
* Are staff members easy to identify?
* How are the contents of the sale presented?
* Are they clean?
* Are they easy to access?
* Are the contents organized or a jumbled mess?
* Are the prices easy to locate on items?
* Is the sale well attended?
* How are purchases removed from the sale?
* Are shoppers struggling to take items out or
are bags/boxes provided?
At the end of each visit, ask yourself if this is a company you would want to represent your home and contents. If so, grab a card and call the company after the sale has concluded.
The Third Step:
Just as you would search out a good plumber, a qualified physician or a great mechanic do your due diligence and interview several estate sale companies. They are not all alike!
To find one you feel will best meet your needs you need to spend quality time researching. I would recommend interviewing at least three companies.
Word of mouth is a wonderful source and a trusted way to locate a reputable estate sale company or to rule one out.
Ask friends, co-workers and neighbors for recommendations. Look online and follow signs that may lead you to a weekend sale.
Know that most companies have client commitments set up in advance of meeting with you. You want to hire a company that is busy, they are working their business!
What I recommend looking for:
* A company that has been in the business for a
minimum of four years under the same name.
More on that further down.
* A company that accepts credit/debit cards.
* A company that has an online presence.
* A company that can offer current and past referrals.
* A company that is booked in advance.
Questions to review during the interview:
* Who pays for staffing?
* Who pays for advertising and what does that include?
* Is there security and who pays for it?
* Who pays for credit card and NSF fees?
* When and how are you paid?
The interview process will be done on-site, typically taking thirty minutes to an hour. The company will look in all the cabinets, closets and corners to visually and mentally review the contents.
During this meeting, you will each discuss the potential of a sale, their staffing and each other's schedules.
The Fourth Step:
Decide on a company, establish dates and sign a contract.
The volume and condition of goods dictate a majority of the preparation schedule. Most estate sales will take from a week or two up to several weeks to prepare and execute a sale from beginning to end. Preparing, researching, pricing, staging and executing a sale takes time. Establish dates to provide house keys, sale dates and dates to retrieve keys with payment of the sale proceeds.
Read the contract thoroughly before signing, do not feel pressured to sign immediately.
Ensure the contract is professional, addresses all concerns and provides a Termination Clause.
Ask about insurance and bonding.
Insurance and Bonding are two completely different things. I could state my thoughts and opinions, but here is an article on Angie's List which sums it up perfectly.
I am insured through ACNA, I am no longer bonded.
I found being bonded was more of an advertising perk than a business benefit or necessity for this industry.
If a company has either, great? Ask for a copy of their policy or certificate. If a company has neither, keep looking.
Client's are expected to have current Homeowner's Insurance. I will want a copy of the policy.
Note Regarding Commissions and Contents:
It is understandable that one of the first questions typically asked over a telephone conversation is "what is your commission?"
Just as a mechanic cannot provide you with a quote over the phone when you explain there is a noise under the hood, I will not quote a commission until I have seen the home, the contents, the condition, the quality and the quantity to determine the manpower required for the project. The greater the manpower required, the greater commission typically.
A hoarders house will require much more time and effort than that of a minimalist.
The estate sale company you will hire has accepted the sale based on the projected commission of ALL the contents that were discussed to be in the sale.
If those with keys to the house (homeowners, family, neighbors and friends) begin to "shop" the house, the company has the right to charge full commission on the items that have left the home.
Furthermore, the company has the right to walk away from the sale if the remaining contents do not provide for a financially successful sale.
This is a business and as such must be profitable.
Special Note on Emergency Estate Sale Commissions.
For whatever reason, you need an estate sale now....waiting is simply not an option. You can expect to pay a much higher commission for a company to reschedule other client commitments to accommodate your immediate needs.
Not everything will sell.
Determine prior to the sale what you believe you wish to do with non-sold goods. Once the sale has concluded, walk the house and review your plan.
Clean Out Services address the non-sold goods where companies will pack and donate these goods.
Some companies offer this as part of their commission package, some companies offer it as a fee-based service and some companies do not offer it at all.
There is no right or wrong. As the client, you simply need to know what to expect and plan accordingly.
You want a particular company to conduct your sale....but they said no!!!
A company typically declines a sale for one of four reasons: location, scheduling, financial or a challenging client.
Location - If the client home is too great a distance for all to travel to and from daily, if the location is cumbersome for shoppers to either park or walk to or there are deed restrictions, the company will decline.
Scheduling - I am amazed each week with the number of calls I receive asking if I can conduct a sale within the next week or two!!! Those of us conducting reputable sales are usually booked out several sales in advance with each sale taking time to prepare and conduct. If you want a positive outcome.....plan for it!
Financial - Companies have staff and assorted costs/business expenses. For that reason, companies have a minimum that a sale must gross. If the company determines that the sale would not be profitable, they will decline.
Challenging Client - For those of us who do our job well, we are fortunate that we can be selective and by design of this business we must be. Challenging clients include those who are far too emotionally attached to the contents to move forward; clients that believe the contents have a far greater value than what the secondary market currently offers; clients who want a sale conducted only on their terms without the knowledge of the liquidation industry and clients who simply make everything in life difficult!
Throw nothing away! Give nothing away!
Focus only on what you and yours wish to keep, leaving all other goods in place. The company you hire will determine what is sellable and what is not.
Examples of what you might think you should toss, but shouldn't:
* Broken, chipped, cracked china - Mosaic art projects
* Mismatched or broken jewelry - Artists will repurpose
* Strange older clothing - Theater groups
* Vintage clothes - trendy amongst the younger shoppers
* Old bedding - Pet rescue groups
* Sheets - plant coverings, drop cloths
Notify all family and friends so they can spread the word about the upcoming sale.
Leave all utilities on, manuals and receipts in a central location,
If the home is for sale, have flyers/information available to hand out.
BIG UGLY RED FLAGS
Within any industry, there will be disreputable companies/individuals. Arm yourself with the knowledge to ensure a successful outcome.
On any given weekend in the Greater Houston area, there are more than two dozen estate sales being conducted. If the companies are all competing for the same shoppers' dollar, what sets them apart to ensure the shoppers come to your sale?
What to know and be suspicious of:
One Last Ramble
I began conducting sales over 15 years ago.
At that time, there were less than twenty companies in Houston conducting estate sales. Currently, there are nearly one hundred companies advertising their services. Daunting!
Two things to help you narrow down your options:
Google the company.
There are several companies that have sadly made the local news for consistently not paying homeowners after the sale; companies that change the locks on a house and all the contents disappear; companies that have accurately earned negative reviews on a variety of websites and companies that are being managed by ex-cons.
While information is not always accurate online, consistency in what you read will better prepare you.
Review company details on listing sites.
Specific websites (estatesales.net, estatesales.org, estatesale.com) exist solely as a listing site for estate sale companies to market themselves and their upcoming sales. Within these sites, company details can be located.
Estatesales.net has existed the longest of these sites, over 10 years at this point, they list the length of membership of companies.
I would recommend focusing on companies that have been a member for 4+ years.
Do not focus on their name or the order they are listed.
Focus on tenure. If they have made it at least four years, in theory, they are a legitimate company and not learning the ropes by conducting a sale at your expense nor have they changed their name to hide from their previous actions.
Note - While these sites are
exceptionally useful, they are in business to make money. Period!
Historically they have not reacted to legitimate complaints of poorly managed companies and seldom do they retract a company from their listings. In other words - it is not their intention to protect consumers from the various illegitimate companies that utilize their services.
Here are links to give food for thought when considering estate sales:
There is a younger generation shopping estate sales more than ever these days. They
are completely aware that older furniture is made well, made to last. Their mindset is reuse, recycle and repurpose. While they may not care for the 50-year-old mahogany finish, they need
the table as the older shoppers do not. Older shoppers have a house full of furniture!
The younger generation is going to buy, strip, stain or paint that table then boast to their friends the deal they got. Introducing other younger shoppers to estate sales.
In other words - someone in their 50's doesn't usually need a dining room table while someone in their 30's does. Why is this relevant?
Someone in their 30's shopping for a table first goes online. It is second nature. They are leashed to technology and use it to their advantage.
If you were in their shoes shopping for a table, that you will minimally be spending a few hundred dollars on, are you going to view a sale where there are no pictures to represent the contents or will you quickly, with your smartphone in hand, check out the next sale?
Who a company markets to impacts who shops a sale.
Yes, there are a few reputable companies in town that conduct sales without posting a single picture. They have a strong following of regular shoppers who know their sales. All very positive! The negative - they are missing out on an entire segment of potential shoppers by not providing a visual presentation of the sale.
By minimizing their marketing efforts, they minimize your revenue.