Most of the time estate sales are used to liquidate property after someone dies. The heirs take what they want and the rest is sold at auction.
But an estate sale can be an easy and profitable way to downsize, getting rid of possessions you no longer need or want and allowing you to move into a smaller home for your retirement years. Having a yard sale, on the other hand, takes a lot of work and you are usually left with a lot of stuff when it's over.
There are other reasons to hold an estate sale. For one thing, an estate sale, advertised locally, will likely bring out people who don't normally go to yard sales. An estate sale suggests a better class of merchandise, if you will.
You can also bring in a professional to do all of the work. Small, independent businesses specialize in running estate sales. They have experience and know how to maximize the results.
Best of all, they will look through all the items you want to sell, analyze them and put a price on them. If the company is also an auctioneer, it will know where to start the bidding and how much each item is likely to bring. The company takes a cut of the sale's proceeds – you keep the rest.
More people are doing this. Last weekend former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and his wife held an estate sale for that very reason. The children have moved on and they're ready to downsize.
The Schilling sale was huge, considering they have a seven-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot home. You don't have to live in a mansion in order to hold an estate sale. You do, however, have to have at least some compelling items to bring people out – things like antiques, art, tools or furniture. Your CD collection by itself probably isn't going to be enough.
The best way to find a company to run your estate sale is to ask around and get a referral or two. These days, the Internet can also come in handy.
A site like EstateSales.Net allows you to search by state, finding companies in your area that provide this service.
When choosing a company to run your sale, compare the commission they charge with the services they offer. At a minimum they should do all the pricing and prepare your items for sale.
Some companies also offer an online component, allowing shoppers to purchase your items online. Local buyers can pick up the item the day of the sale to avoid shipping charges. The company will not only book the sale and collect the payment but arrange for the shipping, at the buyers' expense.
When comparing estate sale companies, make sure they are licensed and have the legal authorization to provide the services they offer. If they are also bonded, that's even better. A bond is a form of insurance that guarantees the company will hold up its end of the bargain.
A reputable company will also provide reference and testimonials from former clients.
You should also ask how the company plans to publicize your sale. If possible, try to attend one of their sales in your area before you sign a contract.
Do it yourself?
Should you try to hold an estate sale yourself? A lot of people do it but it can be hard work, especially if you have never done it before.
Plenty of websites offer instruction in running a sale but few give you much guidance about whether you should or not. Martin Codina, author of the book “Liquidating An Estate,” says you should consider running your own sale if you have possessions valued at less than $5,000 and are confident that you know what your things are worth.
You should hire a professional, he says, if there are high-value items needing expert research and marketing or you have items that need extensive organization in order to properly stage a successful sale.