Are you contemplating an estate sale? Curious about what an estate sale is or how it differs from your run-of-the-mill garage sale or yard sale? Have no fear, you’ve arrived at the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of holding an estate sale, even during a pandemic.
WHAT IS AN ESTATE SALE? An estate sale is a large sale of someone’s personal belongings. Similar to a yard or garage sale but on a much larger scale. Estate sales include a much higher volume of sale items and can feature high-ticket items, whereas garage or yard sales are usually just reserved for offloading a handful of second-hand bargain items.
WHY DO PEOPLE HAVE ESTATE SALES? People often hold estate sales after the death of a loved one as a way to liquidate their personal assets. However, folks also turn to estate sales as a way to declutter before a move, make extra money, or help elderly people relocate. Believe it or not, estate sales are on the rise, even during a pandemic, as more people are switching up their living situations, relocating to another city, downsizing, or, sadly, dealing with the loss of loved ones.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR ESTATE SALE AS SMOOTH AND SUCCESSFUL AS POSSIBLE While yard/garage sales and estate sales are similar, estate sales are much more involved — from inventory and pricing to advertising and day-of-sale operations. Every sale is unique, depending on the reason, location, items offered, and the buyers they attract. Whatever your situation, here are our best tips to help make sure your event is as successful and smooth as possible.
1. TAKE INVENTORY! First, you’ve got to decide what you want to keep, sell, or donate. If you’re holding an estate sale after a death, you’re likely looking to liquidate as many of the assets as possible. However, if you’re having the estate sale because you’re downsizing or moving, you’ll probably want to take a more discerning approach. Be sure to check the house from top to bottom for items to sell — you might be surprised at how many things you forgot you even owned!
2. PRICE ITEMS STRATEGICALLY This may be the most difficult part of holding an estate sale. Especially if you’re selling items that belonged to someone else. While rare items, antiques and vintage have a somewhat consistent price, many items will vary in price depending on where the estate sale is being held. Something that fetches a high price in New England may be relative junk in Florida — and vice versa.
Remember that buyers are objective, so try not to let emotional attachment dictate price. Determine the highest price you can reasonably ask, and the lowest price that you’re willing to accept. For items you might otherwise toss or that don’t have obvious significant value, consider bargain pricing or grouping them on a table or in a bin where all items have a flat price of $1, $5, or $10.
3. GET PROFESSIONAL APPRAISALS FOR ITEMS OF VALUE We strongly recommend getting a professional appraisal of everything you’re hoping to sell in your estate sale. Professional appraisers will make sure you don’t underprice — or overprice — your items. Plus, they’ll know what certain items are worth in your specific area and help determine if things like collector’s items and jewelry are the real deal.
4. DECIDE IF ANYTHING IS WORTH A QUICK FIX. You’d be surprised what a bit of TLC can do for a particular items appeal. A simple bit of Old English with Lemon, shine, paint, quick wash, or easy mend can turn an item destined for the trash into something worth selling. That said, not everything is worth salvaging, so weigh the time and materials it will take to fix or prepare the item versus how much it would be worth afterward.
5. CONSIDER TEMPORARY STORAGE Estate sales seldom happen overnight. Choosing a temporary storage option can help relieve time pressure and free up space during the process. You can use a self-storage unit to safely store items while you’re planning your sale.
6. HOLD YOUR ESTATE SALE ON A WEEKEND DAY For the heaviest amount of traffic and the most prospective buyers, host your estate sale on the weekend. Keep in mind that hosting your estate sale over a holiday weekend can be a toss up since many people travel out of town. Never hold an estate sale on Christmas or Thanksgiving, even if it falls on a weekend.
7. ADVERTISE YOUR ESTATE SALE AND INCLUDE PICTURES OF YOUR TOP ITEMS Advertise! Advertise! Advertise! This is the key to getting buyers to your estate sale. There’s always a chance that a handful of people will walk or drive by, but the serious buyers scour for the best sales by looking online, on social media, on Craigslist, and in newspapers. Be sure to take pictures of your most appealing items, showcase a range of what types of things people will find at your sale, highlight rare items and bargain bins, and triple-check that the date, hours, and address are correct.
8. SET UP YOUR SELLING AREA TO MAXIMIZE SALES Presentation and flow can be big factors in the success of your estate sale. Be sure to lay everything out in an obvious manner, clearly mark prices, spread your items out to keep the flow going, and avoid any layouts that can cause traffic jams. Make it easy for you to keep an eye on valuable items like jewelry, antiques, or collector’s items. If you’re hosting the sale in your current home, be sure to clearly mark any items that are not for sale. If you rent a portable container, you can hide away items you want to keep — or even use it for additional display space, since it sits right at ground level. It provides shade and protection from the elements, and if you don’t sell everything on the first day, it will be easy to hold another sale without having to lug everything back inside and then out again.
9. DECIDE IF YOU’RE GOING TO DONATE, DISCARD, AUCTION, OR KEEP ANY ITEMS THAT DON’T SELL In a perfect world, all your items would sell, but that’s rarely the case. But fear not, there are some next steps you can take for unsold items. If you’re really looking to make money, you can arrange to put the items up for auction, or possibly receive a tax credit by donating them to charity. Otherwise, decide if it’s something you might want to keep or would rather just throw away.
10. FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH ESTATE SALE TAX LAWS One of the major ways that estate sales differ from garage sales is that you’re likely to make a lot more money. This also means that it’s imperative to know and understand the tax laws surrounding estate sales as you’ll likely owe taxes from the event. In states like Delaware, Alaska, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Montana, you’ll be exempt from tax of any kind from your estate sale, but this is not the case in other states.
SHOULD YOU GO DIY OR HIRE A PROFESSIONAL ESTATE SALE COMPANY? Holding an estate sale isn’t as spontaneous or simple as setting up a quick garage sale. You can either choose to go DIY or hire professionals to help you. A DIY estate sale is a lot of work, but it’ll give you the most control and flexibility during the process. You’ll also get to keep all the profits (minus any taxes due). The DIY route is usually the best option for people who are holding an estate sale to make money and sell their own items.
On the other hand, hiring a professional estate sale company can save you a ton of time and effort. But that does come at a price. At minimum, you’ll have to pay a portion of your profits in the form of a commission rate. That said, some consider it money well spent, especially if the items for sale are not your own or you’re dealing with the death of a loved one and other challenges, such as selling a home or moving to a new place.
TIPS FOR HIRING AN ESTATE SALE COMPANY TO HANDLE YOUR SALEIf you decide to work with the pros, here are a few things to consider before choosing who to hire.
CAN YOU HOLD AN ESTATE SALE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC? If you’re planning to hold an estate sale while COVID-19 is still active in your area, be prepared to factor in social distancing and health safety measures. Set up your space with ample room for people to browse your items and limit cash transactions by using a service like PayPal or Vimeo. If you’re particularly concerned about risk, you may want to consider moving your sale online. If you’re working with an estate sale company, ask them what COVID-19 safety protocols they have in place.
The idea of holding an estate sale may seem overwhelming, but there’s no need to get stressed out. With these easy-to-follow tips, you’re already ahead of the game and on your way to a successful sale.
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