How to hold an estate sale (without hiring a pro)
After you inherit a house, there’s a lot of work to clear out the home before you put it on the market to sell it (or to rent it). As part of the process, you may want to consider holding an estate sale.
There are many advantages to holding an estate sale. First, you may be able to raise money from selling many of the left over items. Second, you will avoid shipping costs and/or dumping/garbage removal fees. If you decide to host this yourself, you will also avoid paying a fee to a professional estate sales company. Most estate sales companies charge up to 35% of the proceeds.
But, they are a lot of work, and it will probably take longer than you think, so plan ahead. This outline should help you prepare and run a smooth estate sale.
1. Preparation for an Estate Sale:
- Allow time to sort through the items you want to sell. Don’t underestimate how long this will take (and bring helpers). You’ll need to go through every room, every closet, all the drawers, shelves and cupboards, the basement, the attic, as well as the garage and any outdoor sheds. Be sure to keep any private papers, photos and other memorabilia. See more detailed information in these articles:
- Select a date(s). It’s ideal to run this over the weekend, usually for 2 days. Try to avoid major holiday weekends or other major events (e.g Superbowl Sunday). Hope for good weather as more people venture out (if there is a major snow storm or hurricane in the forecast, you may want to reschedule). If rain is in the forecast, don’t worry about it. By running it on two days, you will attract more traffic as well as more word of mouth. Also, be sure to plan ahead and allow yourself adequate time to sort through the items to determine what you’ll sell. Often, this may take at least a month.
- Do some research on pricing. You may want to visit other estate sales as well as do some quick research on eBay and Craigslist for similar items. You want your pricing to be accurate and reasonable (not too high, nor too low). You may find that some will bring you more than you expect and vice versa on others. Remember, you are looking for what people have ALREADY paid, NOT the list price (which reflects what the seller is HOPING for).
- If you have more valuable items, such as jewelry, antiques or artwork, you should involve a professional appraiser. Depending the value of these items, you may find that you’re better off selling these at an auction or to a specialist.
- Mark each item with a price tag. Try to find tags that aren’t too easy to remove.
- Determine who will be involved and their roles. It’s ideal to have a cashier at the front door and make sure it’s someone you trust. You’ll also want to have someone you trust in every room to monitor visitors, answer questions and watch out for potential theft. It’s also ideal to have an assistant cashier to tally purchases, double check the numbers and cover during breaks. Hire additional staff if needed.
- Advertise: Start with advertising online (e.g. Facebook (especially local facebook groups and local garage store/tag sale/sale groups), craigslist, your local Patch (if you have one), other local papers. There are also some online estate websites, such as EstateSales.net and EstateSales.org that will let you post your sale for free. You may also consider advertising in your local paper and/or pennysaver. If you are working with a realtor, you may want to notify them and see if they can help spread the word. Also, you may want to email some of your local friends/neighbors to let them know about the upcoming sale.
- Note: Avoid including your phone number on the ads…or else you may get a LOT of phone calls from others trying to solicit business from you).
- Be sure to add photos, whenever possible
- As you get closer to the event, post fliers on local bulletin boards (e.g. Starbucks/libraries/local stores). Don’t post more than a few days in advance as they will probably be removed during your prime advertising days)
- Consider paying for a local facebook ad (e.g. spend $10-$20) targeted to a very local area. I would look to do this the day before and during the event). Facebook ads are very inexpensive and can be very targeted.
- You’ll want to create (or order) some curb side signs for the days of the event.
- Organize the merchandise: Generally, it helps to merchandise the items by room (e.g. kitchen items in the kitchen, living room items in the living room, etc.). Be sure that you have tables to set the items on and be clear about furniture that you would like to sell. (And, also, remove anything that you absolutely do not want to sell. Remove it from the house, as it’s possible that one of your helpers may sell it by accident).
- Buy a receipt book. If you an estate executor or trustee, you’ll need to account for every sale. Also, keeping records will help you avoid disputes with buyers. And, it shows that you have planned ahead and working a professional sale. It will also help you reconcile the cash at the end of the day.
- Have a plan for afterwards – for the items that don’t sell: Arrange to give these items to a charity or for a trash pickup. Determine if there are items you would donate, and if so where.
2. The day before the event:
- Stage the house: First, make sure the house is super clean (including the bathrooms). Remember, this will help you sell the items, but it may also serve as a preview for the house that you may sell at a future date.
- Organize items by room and set up tables (and chairs) and make sure all items have price tags. Also, make sure you have a table and chairs at the check out. Make sure there’s enough room for people to place their items on the table (as well as their bag, so they can find their wallet).
- Take folded clothes and bed sheets out of the dressers and place them on top or on the bed.
- Display dinnerware, utensils, small appliances on the kitchen/dining room tables and/or counter tops.
- If there are paintings or pictures, leave them on the walls, but be sure there is a price tag so that people realize these are for sale. (As mentioned before, if you have a valuable artwork, you may want to involve an appraiser and potentially auction these off).
- Keep small valuable items such as jewelry and coin collections by the checkout tables near the exit (where someone should always be monitoring, so that they’re not as easily stolen
- Clear a path and create a logical flow for guests. Make sure the rooms aren’t too crowded (and if they are, move items out of the area or to other rooms). Create a logical pathway so that people know where to go (Think Stew Leonards or Ikea). Consider signs with arrows. This will help avoid milling around and will also make sure that your guests don’t miss key rooms or merchandise.
- Buy or make signs with arrows and labels for entrance, exit, check out, etc.
- Go to the bank: You’ll need plenty of cash, especially small bills so that your can make change. Decide ahead of time if you will accept checks (and what your procedure will be (e.g. check license).
3. The days of the event:
- Wear comfortable shoes! Yes, it will be a tiring and draining day, so make sure you have comfortable shoes (and clothes). It will make life easier. And, make sure that you have comfortable chairs to sit in. You may consider bringing a seat cushion. The more comfortable your shoes and chairs are, the less tired you’ll be…and you’ll be in a better mood…and this will help you sell more.
- Make sure the house is a comfortable temperature. This will not only help you get through the day, but also you want people to be comfortable so that they buy items (rather than want to exit the house quickly). If it’s hot, consider using a fan or two. The ambient noise will also create a more relaxed atmosphere.
- Be sure to have a plan for food/snacks/drinks. Have extra water bottles and light snacks on hand for you and your helpers. It will go a long way in keeping the energy and morale up. Be sure to have a plan for lunch. Most people will order in (or pick up a pizza or something). You want everyone to focus on the task at hand rather than on making food (plus cooking can really smell up the house for hours and this can be a distraction for your guests). If you plan to order food, order it BEFORE everyone gets hungry as it make take 45 minutes for delivery. (Or a similar amount if someone needs to pick up the food).
- Be ready to start BEFORE the posted time: Often you will find early birds will pop up unexpectedly at the door (often 1-2 hours earlier), so be prepared. They figure that the best items go fast, and they are there to find the best discoveries. Decide ahead of time if you will allow early birds to enter a few minutes early.
- BUT, DO NOT ALLOW people to come in and browse while you’re setting up/before you’re ready. This is an easy way to have items stolen (and yes, unfortunately some people plan it that way).
- Control the crowd: Limit the number of people that you will allow in at any one time (determine this ahead of time). Having too many people at once isn’t smart as people are less likely to buy if it’s too crowded. You will also have challenges keeping up, and of course there is a higher likelihood that some people will walk off with some items without paying (and yes, some visitors are looking for this opportunity, so avoid it).
- Be sure to have someone stationed and monitoring each room (and/or an extra person to periodically wander each room). Prevention is key here.
- But, be sure that your helpers don’t offend the honest guests. Have them smile and nod and say hello.
- Limiting the traffic flow in the house will also reduce breakage and the chance for squabbles over items
- Control the entrances and exits: Related to above, you want to make it easy for people to pay you and harder for people to steal items. So there should just be ONE entrance door and ONE exit door. Lock/block off all of the other ones. Do not add extra distractions for you or your guests.
- Be mentally prepared and remember that this is business, not personal. Be prepared for the crowd of people in your house (or your inherited house). Try to put your emotions aside, especially if you have lost a loved one. Know that you will have strangers pawing through the merchandise (you do the same thing when you’re in a store). Buyer’s don’t have a personal connection to your house nor your family. While some of their comments and questions may seem rude or insulting, remember that it’s just business and you have an objective…sell as much as you can. Being rude back will not help you achieve your business objective. Keep emotion out of it.
- Reconcile the cash. Be sure to do this each day of the sale. It will minimize mistakes and help keep everyone accountable.
4. After the estate sale:
- Arrange for pickup and removal and any leftover items. This may involve ordering a dumpster or calling a junk removal company, whichever is easier. (Remember at this time, you’re going to be fairly tired and emotionally drained.
- Consider donating some leftover items. Drop these off the next day. Get receipts for donations and you may be able to deduct these on your taxes.
- Clean up: Remove any posted signs (in the house, on the streets).
- Take a break. You deserve it. Order some food, and put your feet up and relax. Or, go out for nice meal for a change in scenery.
- How to sell an inherited home to settle an estate – The Ultimate Guide
- How much does it REALLY cost to have your house sit on the market for 6 months?
- Supplies to clean out your parent’s house
- 17+ places to find hidden money in your parents’ house
- Can you sell a house “as is?’
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