Tell me about your experiences running Estate Sales or having one
December 17, 2014 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I have been going to a number of estate sales lately, and they always vary so much. I have a number of questions about structure and what-not, and I am hoping that people who either have run them, have worked for companies that have run them, or have used companies to run them, might be able to help me.

1. How much does the average estate sale gross?
2. What happens to all the leftover stuff?
3. Does the deceased's family do anything to prep the merchandise, or do they just take whatever they want to keep and then let the company set up 100%?
4. Do the companies typically price stuff off the tops of their heads, do they look things up one by one, or do they have people with specific areas of expertise?
5. Is it really worth doing, after the company takes their cut?
6. How are all these companies pricing tube TVs at $25-100? I keep seeing that. It seems bizarre.
7. What are the liability rules? If I fall down a flight of poorly-lit, steep stairs at an estate sale, who's responsible?
8. What's up with estate sale companies who have hand-made signs that look like a 5-year-old wrote them? Is this deliberate?
9. What's up with the perpetual sales that just run for weeks and weeks and weeks? Is it really worth the seller's time?
10. Does a fair amount of the nicer stuff disappear to eBay and consignment shops ahead of time?
11. How much theft is there? Breakage?
12. Are there fewer sales in winter, at least in snowy areas? It seems that way.

Thank you for your help in satisfying my curiosity.
posted by Slinga to Shopping (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
4. It varies.

6. These are the sales you want to stay away from.

7. Google "premises liability [your state]".

9. Not a true estate sale. Sounds like the signs you see in rural tourist areas, "Antiques", "Handmade Quilts" et cetera.

10. Not at sales conducted by reputable agents. By attending them you learn which agents in your area are reputable (See the answers to #6 and #9 above).

12. Yes, this is the case in the Northeast US as well.
posted by mlis at 3:51 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

2. What happens to the leftover stuff?

My family had an estate sale a couple years ago. Part of the service from the estate sale company was that after the sale, they took everything to an appropriate thrift shop, charity or dump and left the house completely empty and ready to be sold. That's the only question I can answer for sure about our experience.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:13 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

An elderly aunt of mine died a while back and the family had an auction, but we cleaned everything out of the house so that it could be rented so I guess it's similar to an estate sale. To answer 3 & 5, we boxed up anything that we wanted to be sold and set aside the rest for ourselves or other friends/relatives who had requested specific items, but we bagged up things for the Goodwill rather than having the auctioneers do that. Some of it probably would've sold, but whatever. The auctioneer took a 35% cut of the sales. My dad and his brother both got about $1500 each, I think, so not a ton of money but it also wasn't really much work for either of them.
posted by jabes at 4:27 PM on December 17, 2014

My mom collected antique glass. When she died I hired one of her friends who owned an estate sale company. He charged a 30% fee. Since he was a fellow collector he was able to notify other collectors in a five state area as well as putting notices in the newspaper and specialty publications. He also took care of all the unsaleable things by hiring a salvage company that hauled off everything at no cost to us. By getting someone with a working knowledge of my mom's hobby, he was able to maximize the value of the estate. We ended up more from that sale than the sale of her house.

If the estate contains specialized collections, consult an expert to get top dollar. If the house is just full of an old persons junk, have the equivalent of a garage sale and run it yourself
posted by Grumpy old geek at 4:45 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd caution someone to be really, really careful about hiring someone to do an estate sale. After our dad died, my brother hired an auction company (Bolton Auctioneers in VA), that did virtually zero advertising, signage, etc, and basically only advertised privately to their friends. It grossly limited the participants - so there wasn't any competition. They all knew each other very well. It was so fucking scammy. I have absolutely no problem sharing that info whenever possible, and generally spare no opportunity to warn others about their practices. The auctioneer also poked me in the butt (technically a form of sexual assault) in, as he said, an attempt to get my attention. And left numerous drunken voicemail messages for my family members.

We were able to recoup some of the fees, but the contents of our family house sold for FAR (FARRRR) less than if we held even a simple yard sale. I have no doubt that their "customer" friends re-sold the items elsewhere, and probably returned a cut back to Bolton. I'd be happy to share more details (or they can be found on Yelp).

Anyway. If you do an estate sale, and do hire someone who "does the work" for you, vet the company very, very carefully. Do your own advertising - even if it's just in the local paper, Craigslist, whatever. If we had to do it all over again, I would have done a generic yard sale.
posted by raztaj at 4:48 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

1. It depends on the amount and quality of stuff.
2. Goes to a thrift store or charity. Some places have relationships with specific shops. Or TGIFridays.
3. Depends on how into it the family is.
4. When you do it often enough, you get a feel for what you can sell stuff for. Any questions about specific items, you go online to check it out.
5. I depends on how involved you want to be. If you don't give a shit about what you clear from the sale, then it's totes worth it. If you do, then probably not.
6. Either there are owners of shitty motels scrounging sales for these door stops, or someone wants one for their basement treadmill, or it's going to be used for the Nintendo 64 console on Throwback Thursday. Who knows, there's some secret reason, or they're clueless.
7. Dunno.
8. Probably. People feel like they're getting a deal if they buy from an amateur. If it looks too slick people think that the stuff is overpriced.
9. No. Probably someone thinks that if he leaves it out long enough, someone will actually buy that box of 8-tracks.
10. Yes
11. Quite a lot of theft actually. Who goes to yard sales to shoplift. You would be surprised.
12. Yes, Yard/Estate/Garage sales are fair weather events. Anyone who tells you different is a lying liar.

Source, my Uncle Joel who was the king of the yard sale! (RIP Uncle Joel.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:04 PM on December 17, 2014

4. Do the companies typically price stuff off the tops of their heads, do they look things up one by one, or do they have people with specific areas of expertise?

I've known a couple of people who work for "fine art & antique auctioneers" (like Christie's) and they were often called in by heirs/executors of the estate/the estate sale company to appraise estates, since they had a fairly broad knowledge of a variety of possibly valuable objects (books, furniture, glassware, ceramics & pottery, paintings, jewelry, etc etc etc.) They weren't necessarily deep experts in any specific thing, but they knew something about a lot of things, so the heirs could get an estimate on everything just by calling one company. They did this for a fee, of course.

My friends also noted that people who run estate sales often pick up a similar level of knowledge just though experience.

10. Does a fair amount of the nicer stuff disappear to eBay and consignment shops ahead of time?

My friends' companies were often given an opportunity to make an offer on all or parts of the estate before the public sale. And if there are valuable specific pieces or collections, estate sales agents often know collectors or dealers who specialize in certain areas, and may sell to them ahead of the public sale.

So if by "nicer" you mean, like, Tiffany glass or a 150-year-old set of silverware (made out of actual silver), yes, it's possible if not probable that those pieces are gone long before you arrive.

5. Is it really worth doing, after the company takes their cut?

Well, a lot of times it's not so much about making money as it is just that the heirs or survivors simply don't want the stuff, or have room for the stuff, and don't have the time or energy to deal with selling things themselves. It's kind of like asking if it's "worth doing" to take your car to a mechanic for an oil change - some people will say, "God, yes, it's a filthy job that I have no interest in doing", others will say, "Heck, no, I can do it myself in an hour and it costs 10 bucks, I'd be an idiot to pay someone else to do it."

Sometimes, too, a sale is required since it's in the terms of the will. Or on the order of a probate court if the heirs can't agree on how to divide the deceased's belongings - then everything gets sold, and the heirs just divide up the cash, problem solved.

6. How are all these companies pricing tube TVs at $25-100? I keep seeing that. It seems bizarre.

*shrug* Not everyone in the world is up on or interested in current technology. Or can afford it. Or has the technical wherewithal and/or inclination to go online and find the cheapest prices on new flatscreens.

As long as the actual TV still works, you can still watch stuff on it, hook it up to a cable box that has analog outputs or a digital-to-analog converter for over-the-air broadcast TV or a DVD player. Hell, there are still some low-power TV stations that will be broadcasting analog until September 2015.

I'm sure there are quite a few people willing to spend $50 or less for a TV so the kids can watch Frozen for the eleventy-millionth time down in the basement; $100+ for a new LCD TV maybe not so much.

And then there are undoubtedly people who simply haven't gone TV shopping for years. The last time they checked, a 32" LCD TV was 400 bucks, so $100 seems like a pretty good deal to them.

Plus for some people any money saved is good. The cheapest 32" I found on the current Wal-mart site is $150, so there is no doubt in my mind that somewhere out there someone is willing to spend $100 for a used 32" TV, even if it's tube. Because that means they didn't spend $150.

Last but not least, there are still a handful of tube TV aficionados out there, often for older gaming consoles.

Add all that up, and the estate sales company might as well see if they can get a few bucks for the TV's before they go into the trash.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:30 PM on December 17, 2014

A relative recently moved out of her long-time household into a retirement home, and sold off most of her stuff. She collected Americana-type antiques and artwork. First she gave away what she could to relatives, then an auction house came through and took 50ish items to sell at auction (for a 50% commission). Then an estate sale company came and held a sale over two weekends to try to get rid of the rest of the stuff. I believe they took a 30% commission.

1. Her estate sale grossed over $8K, but I don't know that hers was "average". A lot of folk art and simple antiques.

2. Leftover stuff - the extended family all got another chance to grab some of it. The estate sale company offered to take a few larger items to hold onto and sell on consignment. The rest ended up in my parent's garage, where they held a garage sale and might try to sell some of the remainders on ebay before sending it to Goodwill.

3. The company did most of the set-up, including dusting, arranging, and signs. The big role for the family was going through the stuff in the first place to decide whether to keep it or put it in the sale.
posted by twoporedomain at 1:56 PM on December 18, 2014

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