Hiring a Professional Estate Seller

Know What to Expect When Hiring An Expert for an Estate Sale.

Suburban yard sale, family moving out furniture
David Sacks/ GettyIamges

On the sad occasion when a family member dies, it often involves liquidating a large amount of the household items that the person owned. One of the less stressful ways to do this is by having an estate sale. Holding your own estate sale involves a tremendous amount of preparation. Another option is to hire a professional estate sale service. But how do you know if you are hiring a quality service? Here are tips to help you select a reputable firm to handle your estate sale.

Cleaning Up Before The Service Arrives

When you begin preparing a home for an estate sale, do not throw away any items until you have a representative from a professional estate sale service walk through the home. Some things that may look like junk to you could end up being worth a lot of money.

Unexpected items of value include:

  • Old magazines
  • Children's games and dolls
  • Logo-type ashtrays (such as those from casinos that no longer exist)
  • Sports memorabilia (such as a collection of college football glasses)
  • Gaudy costume jewelry
  • Vintage or dated clothing and accessories (shoes, hats, gloves)
  • Books, music albums and 8-track tapes
  • Photographs
  • Dated kitchen utensils, bowls, everyday dishes
  • Chipped, broken dishes or glassware (craft people love this stuff.)

Checklist for Hiring Estate Sale Professional Services

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

Contact the local Better Business Bureau to find out if there are any complaints about any service you consider hiring. Only hire a service that offers proof of being insured and bonded, and ask for references. A professional group will be able to meet your request.

Visit an Estate Sale That the Service is Hosting

What standards to look for:

  • Did you see professional signs directing you to the location?
  • Was it advertised in the local newspapers in your city and surrounding towns and cities?
  • Were you greeted upon entering the premises?
  • Did it feel like a garage sale rather than an estate sale?
  • Was security provided to help direct cars and secure valuables?
  • Were enough people on hand to answer potential buyers' questions?
  • Were the items organized and clearly priced?
  • Does the service seem to have an awareness of how things were priced to avoid being taken by price switchers?
  • Were display tables provided to help display large collections of glass and collectibles?
  • Was glassware clean, knickknacks dusted, linens cleaned and folded?
  • Was the money collected in a systematic way and secured?

What You Should Expect From A Professional Estate Sale Service

A professional estate sale 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 collectible 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 estimate. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of that an estate service will over-price an item so that they can take advantage of the "total buyout" agreement if the item does not sell during the sale.

Second Opinion on Valuables

You should get at least two appraisals on valuables that you will be selling. Many appraisers own antique stores and they may be interested in purchasing items or auctioning them off after the estate sale has ended. Make certain to read the estate sale service contract before you agree to selling anything independently before the sale.

After The Sale Is Over

Professional services often offer a "cash buyout" on items not sold at the sale. Do not expect top dollar for the leftovers. Most sales offer major discounts on the last day that the event is held and if the items did not sell during that time, the value of what is left is not going to be great. The buyout is usually based on a percentage of the selling price and it is discussed prior to the contract being signed.

Finally, all money should be settled between you and the service immediately after the sale has ended and the house should be left clean and in order.

I hope these tips help you find a good service and your sale is a success.