Liquidating Grandma Holdings
July 20, 2010 8:27 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I need to turn my Mother-in-Law's estate into cash to fund her long term Alzheimer's care. Should I plan to call one of those estate sale companies or are there better options (an ebay seller service, maybe)? What should I know ahead of time and what scams should I watch out for? What is fair to pay for a fee or percentage? And any recommendations for the Houston area?

We cared for Joyce, who has Alzheimers' disease, for about 10 years in our home. But her disease progressed to the point that she needed 24 hour care, more than we could provide and take care of four kids. The good news is that she has moved to a great care situation -- she is living with her beloved nurse who has just opened up a private elder care home. My wife's sister happens to be a probate lawyer who keeps up the legal and financial side of Joyce's case. So, as things go for families affected by Alzheimer's, we have it pretty good. Praise God.

Her children have agreed that we should sell her things to fund her ongoing care. We decided that, if any child wants an item to keep, they will buy it in the sale so that she can get the maximum funds from her estate. We're hoping to have some time between the pricing of everything and the public sale for the kids and grandkids to all get first dibs. But we need to make as much money as possible so Joyce can continue to live in her relatively happy care situation as long as possible.

So what options are best? One of those estate sale companies who conduct a sale on-site? Or one of those companies that try to sell everything online? Does anybody do the hybrid approach? What is a reasonable percentage for the company to take off the top of the sale? And is there any way that I can verify the prices they put on the items independently so I can be assured that we're not getting ripped off?

Also, specifically, the first number I found to call in Houston was a company called "Caring Transitions." The cheesy name and the fact that they papered Houston Craigslist services section with ads makes me wonder if they are a scam. Anybody have experience with this company? Are they legit?

Totally noob to this whole thing. Who out there has been through this and can help us?
posted by cross_impact to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Estate sales companies generally make sense for very large estates full of valuable collectibles, artwork, etc.

You may find that most of your mother in law's belongings have only sentimental, and not financial, value.

The first question I would tackle is whether her belongings fall into the sentimental category, or the financially valuable category. If she has a lot of truly valuable (not just sentimental) items, then by all means hire a company to sell them off. I'd try to negotiate a straight fee with such a company, though they may insist on getting a commission on each item sold.
posted by dfriedman at 8:35 AM on July 20, 2010

Depending on the size of the estate, the commission will be between 10% and 30% of the gross revenue. The smaller the estate, the higher the commission since they have relatively fixed overhead costs for advertising, wages, etc.

Save yourself a lot of work. Don't try to sort out the junk or clean things up. A good estate sale company will do that for you and dispose of any junk that doesn't sell. Ask for references and talk to them.
posted by JackFlash at 9:08 AM on July 20, 2010

Something I learned years ago is that when you ask for references, try to make sure they're legit. I know someone who got scammed by someone who handed out "reference" phone numbers that were other people in on the scam.

If they're a real company, they should have a business license.

Check with the BBB. If the BBB doesn't have an entry for them, it may be that they're just 1) not a member and 2) never had a complaint, but it also might be that they're not legit. That was a problem with the above scammed person, too; no complaints at the BBB...but the scam hadn't been around long enough under that business name to have any, yet.

Try to get real names of people running the business, and do web searches on them. Sometimes a business name won't come up, but a person's name will, operating under a different business name or even in a different state.
posted by galadriel at 9:30 AM on July 20, 2010

galadriel: If they're a real company, they should have a business license.

Neither Texas, nor Houston specifically, requires a general business license. Certain types of businesses (security companies, most general construction contractors, trade services like plumbing or electrician) require licensing, but your business-anyone-can-start-without-special-education doesn't.

If the business is incorporated, check the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts' taxable entity search to ensure the corporate status is up to date. If it is not incorporated, you will need to check with the county where the business is primarily located and look for an assumed name or a doing business as certificate.
posted by fireoyster at 10:13 AM on July 20, 2010

No experience with the company in question, but the answers suggesting that this only really makes sense for larger estates are right on. Unless you're talking about a volume in terms of both quantity and quality which is beyond your ability to handle yourselves, i.e. your only option is to pay someone to do it, you 1) don't need it, and 2) can't afford it.

Look, most of what she owns is, no offense, going to be crap. This isn't saying anything bad about Joyce; most of what everyone owns is crap, i.e. things for which there is little or no secondary market. Even used furniture goes for a fraction of its new price unless it's of outstanding quality and age. But kitchen items? Wall decorations? Linens? It's entirely possible that the estate will get more out of either donating this stuff to a charity and claiming the deduction or saving them for when kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/etc. start furnishing their own households than by trying to liquidate them.

Things you can probably sell for some non-negligible fraction of their actual value:
- Cars
- Major appliances (washer/dryer, TV [if it's new enough], microwave)
- Major furniture (beds, dressers, couches, etc.)
- The real property itself

I'd try to move any vehicles on Craigslist and think about a consignment store for the furniture and appliances. Everything else is probably best sent to a charity or the basement.
posted by valkyryn at 10:40 AM on July 20, 2010

you didn't mention this as an option so maybe you've already ruled it out, but is thee any possibility that you could do this yourselves? an estate sale is basically a big garage sale, right? if you go to a few sales in the area you'll probably get a good enough idea of pricing & how to advertise & all that.

or you (or someone else in the family) could go to a few sales & find someone who seems legit that way.
posted by katieanne at 11:40 AM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, sounds like an objective assessment of her estate's value is needed first. Can I add on a request for leads on that? Or do I have to wait until next week?
posted by cross_impact at 12:07 PM on July 20, 2010

Best answer: You area Realtor's Associations can direct you to someone who can help value any property while you feel your way through selecting a realtor. Check out tips online if you're a first time seller.
posted by Mertonian at 12:28 PM on July 20, 2010

Best answer: As a frequent estate sale shopper, I will say that yes, the majority of items at an estate sale are mundane, but they do sell. (in fact, those are the things I like best - says the woman with ten bars of vintage Ivory soap in her bathroom cabinet!)

This company has a pretty good FAQ about their services. Even if you don't use them, their website has good information for someone who is going to hire an estate company. (the horrible web design is actually kind of reassuring!)
posted by vespabelle at 5:39 PM on July 21, 2010

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