How to Choose an Estate Sale Company

The purpose of this item is to assist people in selecting a quality estate sale company, clarify some common misconceptions about estate sales. We believe a well-informed client will be our client!

EXPERIENCE: Experience is the least understood and most exaggerated credential in the estate sale business. This is the most important criteria in selecting an estate sale company.

  • Having conducted “a lot of garage sales”, or working rummage sales, or clerking in antique shops or flea markets is not real experience. There are many years of study, research, and actual business practice that provide the necessary experience to properly price estate items. Even with our years of experience we still find unfamiliar items, and proper research of these items is necessary for a “fair” return. That’s one reason that we don’t do “hurry-up” sales. We don’t want to be known as the company that sold a $5000 painting for $50 or sold antique silver at silver plate prices. Because we are known to properly identify and price estate items fairly, we have repeat customers in several states, including Texas, Michigan, Colorado, and New Hampshire that follow and shop our sales and schedule pick-ups by interstate freighters.
  • While I know how to judge a company’s experience, do you? One way is to look on Estatesales.net. Estatesales.net has been in business since 2002, and has become the premier company to advertise estate sale companies and their sales. Most reputable and licensed companies are members of Estatesales.net, and the number of years they have been a member is shown with their names. Even if a company moves or changes their name, the number of years as a member will follow these changes. The number of years as a member can suggest the experience level of the company, after all, anyone can become a estate sale company all you need are price tags, advertising, and possibly a few advertising gimmicks! Another option is to ask people in the area and even other estate sale companies. If asked, I will identify companies that I consider honest, ethical, and well experienced (I don’t comment on companies I don’t know or that I don’t believe are acceptable). Ask for references! However, it can be difficult to determine if the reference is from a real client or a friend of the business owner.

MISCONCEPTIONS, ETHICS ISSUES AND SCAMS

APPRAISALS: Settling some estates requires a personal property appraisal before the estate can be liquidated.

  • If you are required to have a personal property appraisal, it is important to understand that the term “certified personal property appraiser’ is a commercial term and not a legal term and has no statutory requirements. No state in the US has statutory requirements or certifications for personal property appraisers. The reasoning is that the value of most personal items is not universal. The part of the country; the local affluence; the culture; the climate; the historical preferences, as well as other factors like, the current economy, changing fashions, collecting trends, etc. make firm guide lines impossible.

ETHIC ISSUES AND SCAMS: The following are examples of questionable, but not uncommon, estate sale practices reported by clients and other reputable dealers.

  • Very low commission: Starts with the offer of a very low commission rate for doing a sale, with the promise that any quality item(s) remaining at the end of the sale will be sold at the dealer’s shop, booth in a mall or flea market, or auction house. Of course, the additional work involved requires a higher commission rate for the items removed. By pricing better items very high, it virtually guarantees a non-sale during the actual sale. Often, the contract’s fine print says that, if an item places in the dealer’s business doesn’t sell within a fixed period of time, the client must pick up the item or else the item becomes the property of the dealer. Under such agreements, the better quality items are priced ridiculously high so that an unethical dealer will have the opportunity to sell them later at a higher commission or keep them if the seller fails to retrieve them. This doesn’t mean all such offers are fraudulent. It does mean that sellers should make sure their contract terms are understood. With a number of “antique malls”, flea markets, and estate sale companies closing after a short time, it’s important to verify their business longevity. Members of the Estate Liquidator Professionals continue to debate the ethics of even making these off-site arrangements.
  • Another practice that’s troubling is estate sale companies charging an upfront fee or requiring a minimum fixed payment with an enticingly low commission rate on the balance of the proceeds. This practice invites a low cost set up, including a poor showing, poor pricing, and poor sales return. In other words, why spend added money on help and advertising when you’ve been paid in advance?
  • Another questionable practice that deserves mention is offers of extras and special pricing: Do you really believe you’re getting a special price because you’re a senior or you have a coupon, etc., etc. Another special is companies teaming to provide a “full service” experience. Over the years I have worked with and recommended companies to provide supporting services, but because quality and reliability can change too easily, we have never teamed with any other business. Any reputable company can suggest and coordinate quality supporting companies to do these extras. Stay focused on getting a quality sale and don’t be influenced by distracting offers.
  • All reputable estate sale companies are licensed and insured, and, of course have years of experience! An item that we believe adds cost without adding value is the recent trend for some estate sale companies to advertise they are bonded. Most bonds are “surety bonds” which generally means that if you pay a company up front for services and they don’t deliver as contracted you can claim against the bond to have a project finished properly. Since most estate sale companies work on a commission basis, the general consensus of estate sale companies is that a bond is an unnecessary advertising gimmick; however, more and more companies feel forced to buy them to compete with those companies claiming to be bonded.

SUMMARY: For the most successful sales, there is no substitute for true experience and professional reputation. That means years of buying and selling experience in your local area along with experience in buying and selling in the national market an added plus. Please, remember, “Not all estate sales are created equal”.