Friday, January 29, 2016

11 Questions I Wish I Had Asked My Estate Sale Company

In February of 2005 I was tasked with managing the clear-out and sale of my great-grandparent’s house in Galveston, Texas. Having spent summers with them on the island, I was familiar with the 60+years of collecting my “Mom” and “Pop” had cleverly stacked, stuffed, tucked, or shoved into every inch of their home.  Online research on the resale value of several of the items supported a plan of listing the items for sale on and donating the unsold items to charity. A treasure-hunter at heart, I allotted four weeks for the project and excitedly began organizing the items in the home. 
Three months later I stood in the middle of my great-grandparent’s living room, absolutely defeated and finally admitting I was in over my head.  The project had become unmanageable due to the volume of items in the home, my lack of experience in how to group items for sale, problems with listing on-line such as calculating shipping and dealing with returns, and because my emotional attachment to the items was slowing me down.  The project was over the time budget, financial goals were not being met and I was desperate because we now had a contract for sale on the home with a deadline for closing in five weeks.  
A friend of a friend recommended hiring an estate sale company. At that time there was very little information available on the internet about estate sales and only a handful of companies in the Gulf Coast area that provided this type of service.  The friend had been to several estate sales hosted by one particular company and gave me their contact information.  After a brief initial phone call I scheduled an appointment for the following day.
The meeting lasted an hour and I was relieved when he confirmed the contents were collectible and valuable and that the estate qualified for a sale.  He stated his company had an opening to host the sale in two weeks and would market to their mailing list and local publications.  Aware of the daunting task that lay ahead of them, I signed the contract and met him the following day to give him the keys.
What proceeded was one of the worst and most transformative experiences of my life. Admittedly, even if there had been a dearth of information available about the process of estate sales, I probably would not have done due diligence beyond a cursory check on the internet.  I also realize that at the time I was so desperate for a solution I would have agreed to just about anything.  What I did not expect was to be blatantly lied to and stolen from.
I was ashamed and embarrassed when, a month after the estate sale, I revealed to my family my concerns about the estate sale company. I was initially given several different sales figure totals, I had not received anything in writing regarding the sales figures or inventory as initially promised and the estate sale company had not returned calls or emails in 10 days. Ultimately, I learned that nearly everything I was told by the estate sale representative was false and we discovered the company had cherry picked the higher-end items to sell to friends or to themselves at highly discounted prices.  My family felt violated and the more research I did on estate sales the more I learned just how grossly we were taken advantage of. 
These are the questions I wish I had asked my estate sale company:
What is your process from beginning to end? Each estate sale company operates differently. While there is no one correct way to do estate sales, there are common best practices including taking very good pictures and lots of them- often times there over 200 pictures advertised per sale.  Advertising early and in the most beneficial forums is essential to a high sell-out rate and ultimately the financial success of the sale.  The length of time required to conduct the sale also varies with each company. My team requires a minimum of 3 weeks to complete a sale for marketing purposes.  However, some companies will only commit to spending 3-4 days preparing the sale before opening up to the public.  The client and estate sale company must discuss what the client’s ultimate goals are to determine timing, but again, the more time allotted for marketing the better the sale.  If you have the time, it would better serve you to choose a company willing to dedicate more time to marketing. 
How will you communicate? Clear communication is absolutely necessary for a smooth process. It is reasonable to expect an update twice per week during the set-up phase.  Communication can be difficult if there are too many people involved in the process.  I recommend appointing one person as a point of contact who will disseminate information.  Email, phone and text are viable methods of communication. I recommend asking to be informed of the daily sales total each night of the sale.  This is an opportunity for you and the estate sale company to communicate any changes in plans should financial goals not be met.
How do you market the sale? There are several different ways to market the sale including advertising online with websites such as and,,, Facebook and other social media forums.  Some companies choose to also advertise in the local newspapers or circulars, place signs on streets surrounding the sale, and may send out an email to their own email list of shoppers.  I recommend a good mix between the estate sale websites, social media sites and print media such as newspapers and local circulars.
Do you accept credit card? Most companies accept credit cards but have individual policies of minimum total requirements.  I recommend hiring a company that accepts all major credit cards as it is convenient for the customers, is trackable and lends credibility to the company and the event.  On average, credit card purchases constitute between 70% to 85% of transactions.
Do you own a resale store? I recommend asking this question because if the estate sale company is responsible for organizing, pricing, selling and then, finally, disposing of the assets of the estate, you create a closed loop in which the estate sale company is responsible for everything from beginning to end and, if they are not a reputable company, you open yourself and your family to risk.  This is why communication is extremely important!
Do you itemize the estate? The most effective communication and organization tool we use is the itemized list of items valued at $30 and above provided to our clients. The list describes the item, the starting price and the actual sale price of the item.  If the estate sale company does own a resale store, I recommend requiring this list and also spot checking the values.  You should feel comfortable asking how prices are determined and pointing out specific items of question.
When/How do you receive the proceeds from the estate sale? I would recommend hiring an estate sale company that guarantees payment within 7 business days of the final day of the sale.  Make certain the estate sale company offers either an electronic or printed copy of a financial summary of the estate sale.
Have you ever not paid a client? There is never a reason to not pay a client. Make certain the contract includes an address the proceeds can be mailed to should the company not be able to reach you. 
What is to be done with the items that are left over? The goals of each client are different but your estate sale company should be willing to accommodate your needs.  This may include coordinating the donation of remaining items to a local charity, obtaining buy-out bids for a lump sum purchase of the remaining items, and offering vacuum and mop cleaning service for owner re-entry.
Have you or any of the primary operators of your company been convicted of a felony? Texas is a buyer beware state and it is considered part of your due diligence to ask these questions as you are safeguarded against companies making false statements.  Use your own judgment when considering the response made by the company.
Does the estate qualify for an estate sale and if not, what are my other options? If you have been told by multiple estate sale companies that your estate does not qualify for a sale, a good company will inform you of other options available to you, what his/her recommendations are and will also offer contact information for those alternatives if it is available. 
Now, over 10 years later, my team and I conduct estate sales in the Clear Lake and Galveston area. I built the company with the primary goals of lifting the veil of secrecy off of estate sales, educating and preparing clients on the process, hosting clean, organized and honest sales and finally, having fun! 
If you find yourself needing additional tips and other information, such as a sample estate sale contract, please feel free to contact us.  There are several more, in-depth, questions I would recommend asking in different estate liquidation needs.
I recommend interviewing at least three different companies to determine the best fit for your goals.  Finally, do your due diligence!
I wish you the best of luck and hope your estate sale experience is a positive  one!