Estate Sales - Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Sales
By John Romaine
Saturday, 28 February 2009
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Just what is an estate sale?

An estate sale or estate liquidation is a type of garage sale, or auction to dispose of a substantial portion of the materials owned by a person who is recently deceased, or who must dispose of their personal property to facilitate a move whereby they may be incapacitated to care for their own belongings themselves.


What are the reasons for an estate sale?

The most common reason for an estate sale is the death or passing of the property owner, and the consequent need to quickly onsell that persons belongings. The remaining family members may have no interest in the bulk of the personal belongings left by the deceased, or may simply lack a place to store those belongings or goods. Where the survivors of the deceased cannot agree to the disposition of certain property, it may be by court order that those goods to be sold in an estate sale with the proceeds to be divided between the survivors. Therefore the proceeds or goods leftover may be determined via a will.


An estate sale may also occur because the property owner will be moving into a situation where they will be unable to keep or maintain their belongings - for example, a move to an medical institution, assisted living facility, a retirement village or a rest home for the disabled.


As you could imagine, this would be both a difficult and sensitive time for those involved, however for buyers it can be an opportunity to pick up some great bargains. Especially larger household items such as whitegoods and furniture that may not typically go on sale at regular garage sales. You can be almost certain that estate sales offer a lot more in terms of both variety of goods as well as the amount of goods being sold.


How are estate sales held?

Estate sales are usually conducted by a professional, for a percentage of the revenues. The liquidator may also charge the estate back the costs to give said sale, including but not limited to advertising, marketing, research, labor, security, refreshments and other fees incurred in giving a successful sale. The presence of a professional liquidator may be necessary because the scope of the process is likely to be overwhelming to the survivors. Furthermore, the liquidator often has a tremendous loyal following of dealers, collectors and public. They may be familiar to buyers who have been coming to their sales for decades, and trust that they will price wisely and fairly and steer them toward finding their niches within each collectors realm, and for the specialist's knowledge and experience with pricing antique items, and general value knowledge of all types of household goods and personal property value, his or her following of customers, and the specialist's experience in disposing of unsold goods in an unsentimental manner after the run of the sale. These professionals often times take a percentage of the net proceeds anywhere from 20-50 percent due to their ability to double or even quadruple the gross sales outcome by their organizational presence.


In summary, typically estate sales are managed by professionals, unlike garage sales that are usually held and organised by the property owner.


What are some considerations I should make before hiring a professional to assist?



  • Avoid signing the service contract until you have a complete understanding of what you are signing. If you are emotionally stressed have a friend or family member with you when reviewing the details of the contract.

  • Contact the local government authority for complaints on any service you consider hiring.

  • Ony hire a service that offers proof of being insured and bonded.

  • Ask for references. A professional group will be able to meet your request.


What should I expect?

A professional estate sales service will assess the value of the items in the household and make price recommendations. A good service will come prepared with antique reference books, a camera, and an average household item price sheet for your review.


Most professional services will want to be fully responsible for the event, including a certain amount of house cleaning. Other services may break down the costs based on what they will be responsible for, however, a really good service will be interested in being consistent with how the estate sale is presented and will want most of the control. Reputable services have regular customers who appreciate the standards that their service provides.


A professional estate service will discuss rates with you. This can run between 25 to 35 percent of the total money made during the sale. Ask questions and avoid working with any service that cannot answer your questions directly and point you to the place in the contract that covers the questions you have.


Check antique and collectable books or Internet sites such as eBay for ideas on what things sell for (not just what they appraise for) and verify that the service is close to the same estimates. Unfortunately it is not unheard of that an estate service will over-price an item so that they can take advantage of the 'total buy out' agreement if the item does not sell during the sale.




Sources - about.com, wikipedia