It is a familiar story: one of your family members passes away and something must be done with their possessions. They had A LOT of possessions. If it was a senior citizen, they often had a whole house full of stuff. You and the family go through everything, and divide up what you want. Perhaps you even hold a garage sale. Even so, there is still A LOT of stuff left and it needs to be either sold, disposed of or moved. Often, people in this situation turn hire estate sale experts. This can be a rocky road. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid any future estate sale problems.
First, know that not all estate sale experts are truly qualified. Most have minimal appraisal experience, at best, and have obtained their knowledge by working in antique stores, or holding lots of garage sales. Most localities do not regulate estate sale people so they do not need business licenses or insurance.
Unfortunately, not all estate sale experts are honest. Every Realtor out there knows of at least one case where possessions that should have been sold just simply disappeared, or where entire households were sold for less than what their contents are worth.
Do you think particular items and/or collections are truly rare and precious? Have a known auction house both appraise the pieces and sell them if they are worth something. A good example are jewelry items that you are not going to wear. Many auction houses will accept good photos of these items and then let you know if they can further help you.
If you are sentimentally attached to one of your deceased loved one’s possessions, keep it for a while even though you may not display it or use it. After you have stored the for a few years, you might not feel quite so sentimental!
Okay, so how do you prevent problems when you are choosing an estate sale professional?
First, determine what your own wishes and goals are. Do you need help dealing with the sentimental and emotional side of liquidating a loved one’s things? Are you short of time and want this chore done as quickly as possible? Do you want to get top dollar for the remaining items? Knowing your own motivations and communicating them to the estate sale person will be the first step in a smooth transaction.
Next, interview at least two estate sale people. Meet with them in person at the home where the items to be liquidated are located. Do not be shy about asking for ballpark values on items.
Ask for three references, and CALL those references. Ask how the estate items will be handled. Will there be one or more on-premise sales? If so, what about security? Does the estate sale person plan to show the possessions to various collectors that he/she has a relationship with? Will he or she put items on Craigslist or EBay?
If there is an on-premise estate sale, will the estate sale handler be bringing in other items? Often, the handlers bring in remainders from other sales and attempt to sell those as well. The co-mingling can present accounting problems later on.
How will the estate sale person handle the remainders? There are always items that do not sell. There should be a plan in place for removing those items without charging you for the hauling. Many charities will haul stuff for free.
Will the estate sale person make sure the house is “broom clean” when the last items are removed?
This next part is very important, because this is really how trouble can ensue. How does the estate sale person’s accounting work? How will you know what sold when, and for how much? Ask to see a sample of their accounting. Nobody is going to really care about the small nick-nacks, but if the larger or more valuable items are not going to be itemized by date and price sold, the estate sale person may not be the best one for you.
Now we get to the “This is not Antiques Roadshow” part. No matter how expensive an item was when purchased by the deceased, realize that it may not have held its value. A good example are sets of china. They are very difficult to sell because everybody already has all the china they need. Couches and chairs do not hold value, even if they are in great condition, because new furniture is quite cheap now.
Also, ask the estate sale person if there are enough items left to make it worth their while to take on the sale. They need to make a living, too, and you want them to value the estate enough to do a great job.
Hopefully, the estate sale person that you choose will be the answer to all your prayers.