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The Ins and Outs of Estate Sales

Jewelry at an estate sale.Following the death of a family member, you may find yourself needing to sort through many possessions accumulated over the deceased’s lifetime. An estate sale is one way to distribute those items that you do not want or need quickly and efficiently.

While selling someone’s furniture, jewelry, artwork, antiques, and other belongings yourself can mean a great deal of time and effort on your part, there are companies that help families sell items. An estate sale company will do all the work in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds — typically anywhere between 25 percent and 50 percent. The company usually handles organizing the inventory, staging the house, appraising the value of items and setting prices, promoting the sale to the public, and hiring workers to run the sale. You may need to pay a separate fee to the liquidator for cleaning up following the sale, including donating or disposing of any goods that do not sell.

Keep the following in mind when getting ready for an estate sale:

  • First ensure that you have the legal right to sell the property. There cannot be any unresolved estate issues. Companies may request legal documentation showing that you have the right to dispose of the property.
  • Remove from the house anything you want to keep before calling in the liquidators, but avoid throwing too much away – one person’s idea of trash might be another person’s treasure.
  • There is no regulatory body that oversees the estimated 15,000 estate sale companies in the United States, so before hiring one of them, rely on a referral from a trusted friend or family member and do some research. You can search the website of the American Society of Estate Liquidators, a trade association that requires its members to meet certain requirements and abide by an ethics code.
  • Check your local Better Business Bureau and Yelp for complaints about companies you are considering, or attend a sale run by the company.
  • Make sure your liquidator carries insurance in case there are any accidents while buyers are at the estate sale.
  • Ensure the company offers a written contract.
  • Ask any prospective liquidating company how it handles security, what happens to goods that do not sell, and what type of clean-up is included.
  • Note that many companies discourage families from being present during the actual sale.