How to clear a deceased estate efficiently?
June 30, 2019 12:11 PM   Subscribe

I have purchased a house from a deceased estate. Picking up the keys next week, however I have a strong suspicion that all the personal possessions that were there when I viewed the place will still be in there. Can you help me brainstorm how to tackle this efficiently?

The place is a two bedroom terraced house including shed and cellar. The owner lived there from 1955 until recently and it is in a bit of a state - I'll eventually remodel as cash allows. Next weekend is the first chance I have to grab the keys (the house is two hours from home) and I want to dedicate the next few weekends to sorting stuff out. I'm expecting rooms full of furniture and unsellable crap. My first thought was to clear just one to start with to make a 'base' / clean zone and have somewhere to put my mattress. I don't have a car so also thought about ordering rubbish bags from Amazon, gloves, cardboard boxes, bleach (...?) in advance?

Is it premature to order a skip without knowing what's there to throw away? Have you done this before, any tips? Thanks!
posted by teststrip to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t know how relevant this is, but a friend of mine bought an “as is” home from a deceased estate and made quite a bit of money throwing stuff up on line to sell and she even found hidden cash in random places. So keep a keen eye out as you go through stuff!
posted by katypickle at 12:30 PM on June 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

Have an estate sale!
posted by erattacorrige at 12:40 PM on June 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

Contact a local estate sale management firm. They’ll come out and have a look and let you know if a sale is possible/profitable and suggest options if not (ie, a home clean out firm who will attempt to sell what the estate wouldn’t/couldn’t, dump/recycle the rest, and will charge you a fee (reasonable, in my experience)).
posted by notyou at 1:03 PM on June 30, 2019 [10 favorites]

Oh! Get the estate sale firm in there before you sort and toss! The one’s I talked to about clearing my father in law’s place complained that too many people toss stuff the estate sale firm could have sold before.
posted by notyou at 1:06 PM on June 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

There was a post on Metafilter recently about a Canadian antique dealer who purchased a hoarder house that had been lived in by the same family for over 50 years. Hopefully your situation isn't anywhere near as daunting, but some of the strategy may be useful.

At the time the Mefi post was made there were 7 videos, there are now quite a few more. Full list here.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 1:18 PM on June 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

A distant acquaintance of mine is an auctioneer, and assuming it's just a normal house full of normal stuff (and not a health hazard or other horrifying thing), he and his (long suffering) wife would deal with this by doing all the sorting for you, assembling it into lots, advertising and running the auction, keeping a cut of the cash, and giving the rest to you. Old cars, furniture, farm equipment, old clothes, the unopened vintage box of laundry soap, everything. I helped with this process once (only once.)

If you call around you can surely find a similar setup.
posted by fritley at 1:35 PM on June 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

In the UK, if you need to bring in professional help, this is known as house clearance - if you google that phrase with your locality, you'll find companies that make a living out of going in and taking everything away from these kinds of properties. I think they vary - I assume they'll all skim through for anything they think they can sell, and then go through and do some combination of bin/recycle/donate the rest.

Especially if you don't have a car, it's probably worth concentrating your initial efforts on looking for anything you want to keep, then at a certain point, shelling out the cost of turning it over to the clearance company and getting rid of the rest.
posted by penguin pie at 2:07 PM on June 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Step 1: contact 3-4 estate sale folks and see how many you can get to meet you out there. They offer different combinations of services at different fee levels so it worth talking to few.

Step 2: when you are out there, start to look around to get a sense of what might have value - it is easier to get estate folks interested when they have an idea what might be there. When I had to this, the house was in rural Vermont so it was a several hour drive for the estate sale folks to come out and look so we had to convince them it worth even considering it. If you have time and want to maximize income you try selling things yourself but takes a lot of time to manage each individual transaction.

When we did this, the sale guy had his own system for going through the house, pricing everything, and organizing the sale. He had a number of antique dealers who regularly shopped his sale to stock their stores. Anything left in the last hour was sold for like a $1 per bag - theory being better than sold than scrapped. Clearly we could have gotten more money if we had had the time to find the right buyer for each item but no one in our family was willing to take that on.

The plan was to see what was left then call a charity to see if it was worth their while to send a truck to pick up what they could use and then order a skip and toss everything else. Fortunately for us, the buyers offered to take what was left and dispose of it (in exchange for a price concession) so we never had to deal with it.
posted by metahawk at 2:14 PM on June 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

We had a great experience with an estate sale guy in the Tacoma, WA area. We had to sell my FIL's house as well as dispose of stuff, so not only did he run the sale (after we'd gone through and sold/retrieved things important to us and FIL's friends), he arranged to help us get the lathe out of the basement (even though we sold it, not him) and then remodeled the house and flipped it, all for a reasonable return to the estate.
posted by lhauser at 6:16 PM on June 30, 2019

Thanks for the feedback so far. Can I reframe this slightly - I'm unlikely to pay someone else to do it. I'm on a strict budget after buying the house :)
posted by teststrip at 11:45 PM on June 30, 2019

Some estate sellers and auctioneers work by taking a cut of the profit— can’t hurt to call a few in your area and see if that’s an option.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:15 AM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I had a neighbor host a "purge" sale where everything bigger than your hand was $5 and everything smaller than your hand was $1, cash only, and the place was cleared out in six hours. If you're just looking for an effective and efficient way to clear out the house and earning money is secondary, try it.
posted by juniperesque at 6:38 AM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

We had an auction of all my dad's stuff after he passed. In this case it was a lot of old tree clearing equipment, tools, machinery, etc. The auctioneer took care of everything and took a cut of the profit plus advertising costs. My mom figured she would break even after paying for advertising, and ended up making over twenty grand. She didn't have to pay anything up front, so that could be a good option for you.
posted by thejanna at 7:08 AM on July 1, 2019

The only advice I can offer you is this: if there are books, go through each one, page by page. Same thing with LPs (record albums) and CD cases. Long story, but my ignorant ass aunt wouldn't let any of use go through anything, she heaved it all to the curb. When she was gone, we went to work. We found about $1200 in cash, several bank books, and other miscellaneous things. We told her like 8 years later. She wasn't happy.
posted by james33 at 7:37 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Renting a skip does seem premature until you can examine it all. In the US, you can buy a thing called a Bagster (brand name) that you can fill at your own pace and then later, pay for a company to come and pick up. If there is anything like that available in your area, I think that would save you a lot of money. From the comments on that page, the pick up fee varies by location. Most say it is cheaper than a dumpster rental.
posted by soelo at 7:44 AM on July 1, 2019

If you're in the UK and trying to do this cheaply, then for larger items the British Heart Foundation (and other charities) has furniture shops and will come and collect furniture that is saleable. Your local council will probably collect so much bulky waste per year for no or low cost. A cheaper alternative to a skip is getting a hippo bag. If you have access to a car, then you can take a lot of stuff to the municipal waste (the tip) but you should read the rules carefully before you pack things up. If you have a lot of time, then smaller items could be sold on eBay, although I'd be inclined to just donate to the nearest charity shop.

I would organise nothing much in advance since you don't know what the state of the property will be. It may be empty, or partially empty or full. And it could be any level of cleanliness. The only things are basic essential cleaning products and tools, and somewhere to sleep. If it is terrible, then clear a bedroom, plus the bathroom first. Then tackle the kitchen (if you're on a low budget, you can't afford to eat takeaway forever) and then the remaining 2 or 3 rooms.

Congratulations on the new house.
posted by plonkee at 1:58 PM on July 1, 2019

One of our customers found a gold coin wrapped in a rag in the toe of a shoe. We bought it from her for 1200 dollars. This customer is a person who deals with estates- she gets half of everything she can sell, and gets rid of whatever she can't some other way (donating for a write off, recycling, trash). You'd obviously want someone with some good references.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:44 PM on July 1, 2019

Your perception is that it is unsellable crap, but I was SURPRISED at the stuff people bought when I had an estate sale. If your plan is to just toss stuff, I highly recommend having some estate sale companies come out and look at it. At least in the US they get paid a percentage of the sale proceeds so there’s no out of pocket for you and a lot of potential to make some extra cash.
posted by jeoc at 8:49 AM on July 2, 2019

In an unexpected twist it was completely empty - not even a teaspoon! I'm almost a little disappointed after all this advice... Thanks all!
posted by teststrip at 11:41 PM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

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