Should I hire an estate sale company or auction company?

jockewingAugust 16, 2010

My grandmother recently passed and left me her home and all contents. It is a house full of mid-range but quality furniture, some of it from the 50's and earlier in excellent condition. There are also some appliances, a moderate amount of jewelry, home decor items, etc. The type of stuff that's usually in a middle class household.

I have basically already unknowingly done a lot of the work for them, as I have already gone through virtually all the closets and drawers, organizing the stuff that's "saleable" and tossing the rest. It seems like a lot of their fees are to pay for going through the drawers and closets and organizing everything.

The auction company wants 15% and wants $1000 for advertising and hauling the stuff to the auction house. If I pull in $3,000, I'll be paying them virtually 50% of it. The estate sale people want 35% plus only $120 in advertising, so I'd come out a little better.

I am just weary of giving up control on all of this to someone. I found on E-bay that just the chairs from the dining room set my grandma has (it is a "Tell City" solid rock maple set from the 50's) are going for $200-$400 a piece, and my grandmother has the table, 8 chairs, a bench and a glass front china cabinet in pristine condition. I asked the estate sale lady what she'd price the whole thing for and she said $500?? I would think at LEAST $1500. I am just scared she's gonna price everything really low to get rid of it fast. And how do I know they aren't just going to pocket half of the proceeds? I asked, and they don't itemize anything except items over $500, which may be nothing according to her pricing. How am I going to know if she didn't just pocket half of the profits without an accounting of everything (at least all the furniture, appliances, and more expensive items). And she discourages me from being there. I want to be there. It's my stuff and my house. She also wants a key to have daily access to the house to sort and price.

A friend suggested I put the best furniture pieces on Craigslist just to see what interest there is and to get a possible price before I agree to any contract with an estate sale place. I am just afraid of how people at these sales expect to get everything at such low prices. That's fine for knick knacks and old pots and pans, but I don't want to give away solid wood furniture in excellent condition.

I'm starting to think that maybe these estate sale companies and auction companies are really for people that have a lot of really expensive antiques or jewelry or for people that don't want to do any of the work of selling the items and are willing to accept virtually any price just to unload everything quickly and easily. Am I wrong?

The estate sale lady could not give me any kind of estimate of a ballpark figure for the sales proceeds. Am I wrong to expect at least a range based on similar sales she's done in the past? I just am wondering how much profit one of these outfits must expect to pull in order to make the sale worthwhile if they have to pay people to help organize and price for several days in advance and then to staff the sale for 3 days. I mean they would have to expect to earn at least a $1,000 right? (meaning a gross of around $3,000)

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She's not giving you an estimate because everyone's items really are different and the market is not great in general right now - no one can predict what will sell and not. Do not make yourself crazy wondering if you'll be ripped off - the business is what it is and they see huge volumes of all kinds of stuff every day - a lot of it junk, plenty of it valuable, and you're no more likely to be taken advantage of than anyone else. You're free to try to sell the stuff yourself or not, but it's your choice. The thing is, these places do NOT look at individual pieces (like the rock maple) and mentally price them at what they might be worth individually (been there, went through that and made myself crazy too). It's a kind of take it or leave situation, so don't antagonize them or you might have no way of selling! It's a kind of a small rip-off - but equally so for everyone (and the perks of the business) and most people just suck it up and bless the convenience. It's up to you to decide.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 5:18AM
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Put ads in the paper and CL and sell it yourself on a weekend. Be sure to use the term estate sale. Conscript a couple of people you can trust to help you. Don't be greedy with your asking prices and be ready to deal. Mark stuff down if you see it isn't moving.

Start at a reasonable but early hour. 7 or 8 in the morning works, but be prepared for people to be there early clamoring to be let in. Post signs stating the sale will start exactly on time, not before, and do not knock.

What ever is left goes to anyone who wants it or the dump, and you are done.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 6:54AM
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Just went thru something similar. We sold our house & moved to a much smaller place, so had lots of nice items to get rid of - not typical garage sale items.

First step for us was to put the big, expensive items on Craigslist. It will help if you are in a metropolitan area so you'll get more interest. We priced things fairly & they all sold quickly. We didn't get what things were worth in a retail setting, but got way more than at an estate sale. Items in the $400-1000 range sold with very little haggling - our theory is that if you put up something nice, at a good price, the person that buys it is searching for that specific item & happy to find it. We had the flakiest people in the $100 - below range. Lots of no-shows & weirdness on those items, so I'd only put the big, expensive stuff on there.

If you've never done craigslist, a couple of things that people suggested to us were great: Don't put your phone number in the ad - you'll get calls at all hours & get a "throwaway" email address from & ditch it when you're done. We got a lot of what I think were people fishing for email addresses.

Once the big pieces were gone, we did a garage sale. It was awful - hottest days of the year so far + some unpleasant people - but we made some great money on things that were still too good to give away. Lots of haggling - we accepted almost any offer... unless the person was a total jerk.

We had some great leftovers. Really - no junk at all. We called some local charities, but none of them could come get it & we were were busy with our move by this point - so we went back to craigslist & found a really nice man who now makes a living picking up leftover items & selling them cheap at flea markets. He took everything & left it super clean! Even if he put 25 on each item, he will make several hundred dollars on our items. We did the same thing for some scrap metal that we had on the property & again - clean as a whistle.

Good luck - it will take some time & effort on your part, but you'll make more money if that's your only goal. If you don't want to put the time in & your sanity is important to you, hire someone - it's hard work! It was worth it to us & might be to you since you, too, have nice items that you know the value of. We made $1,000's more than if we had hired someone to do it for us.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 8:37AM
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One more thing. We did a pre-sale day on the garage sale stuff & invited some antique shop owners, people with resale booths & lovers of unusual stuff that we knew of. We did quite well that day. Little to no haggling over price & they got some good stuff at good prices that they could easily make a mark-up on. Win - win!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 9:06AM
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I don't know, I just feel weird giving control of the dispersal of these items my grandparents worked so hard for to a stranger. I don't like just giving these people a key and free access to come and go as they please, and I don't like that they don't want me to be there during the sale. Just gives me the feeling that they don't want me to see what they're doing. I know this makes it look like an easy decision (do it myself), but it is tempting to just hand it all over to someone else. My main problem is staffing on the days of the sale as I've already done much of the sorting work.

Is it normal in these types of deals that the seller would not provide me with an accounting of the items sold and the price they got for each item? Am I just supposed to take their check a few days after the sale with no way of at least partially validating the amount?

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 10:16AM
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Well - what if you sell the big furniture pieces yourself & let them handle the small, everyday items?

It is not an easy decision to handle it yourself - it is a lot of work & annoyance. Just depends on what it's worth to you. I'm guessing no third party is going to give an accounting of each item. It would take forever to inventory & keep track of what sold & how much. I'm not sure why they wouldn't want you there day of sale though. That does seem kinda strange.

Bottom line is that you will make more $$ if you do it yourself. The flip side is, it's all "free" money to you, so if you want to skip the headache, it may be just as good to give up control & just reap what monetary benefit you get & be grateful for the amazing gift that your grandmother gave you! Let us know what you decide & how you do!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 10:29AM
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beachlily z9a

That's an uncomfortable feeling, isn't it??

Good luck on whatever decision you make.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 10:31AM
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Another option on some of the 50's furniture - are you near a big city? That furniture is very popular & maybe there is a store that specializes in that era. I know in Dallas, there are several. Some might even be interested in arranging shipping if you contacted them with great items.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 10:35AM
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I would bet that the reason they don't want you there is that in this kind of a situation, the owner can get in the way. Maybe they're sentimental over things and won't want them to be sold. Maybe they're going to be unhappy at the price things will be sold at due to emotions. Etc. I would bet that these professional estate sales people have seen all that and simply don't want to deal with it.

Your dilemma is that you want it done easily but that you also want to maintain control. I think the answer is, you can't have both. You either reliquish control and trust that it will be done well, or you maintain control and put in the hours and effort yourself.

Me? There's no way I would turn over that stuff to an estate or auction company. But that's me! When my mother passed away, my sisters and I took what we wanted and the rest I either offered to friends in need or sold or gave away to charity. I wanted control. And it was work but I was ok with that.

Based on your other post regarding fixing the house up before selling, it doesn't sound like you're in a huge hurry. So maybe you'll be better off doing what was suggested above.

List the larger items on craigslist for a few weeks to try to sell them individually. Plan an estate sale of your own for a weekend in the next month or so and sell whatever is left. The rest, give to charity.

This will take work but it will give you complete control over what sells at what price.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 11:48AM
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Could you hire an appraiser then donate to a charity and take a tax write-off?

When we built a home in an entirely different style from our old home, we donated what we couldn't use to a charity that has a big annual sale -- and deducted fair market value from our taxes. Volunteers from the charity came and picked up everything.

You may want to do this in two stages, holding back *some* furniture while the house is being shown. Many buyers have a hard time visualizing what will fit in an empty house.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 1:47PM
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Do not do use the estate sale people unless you have absolutely no time to do it yourself! My family just used an estate sale/auction house company and the experience was horrible. My parents live 2 hrs away from my grandmother's house and the estate sale ppl were supposed to meet them at 8am to begin packing. With NO phone call or anything they didn't show up till 3pm and then got upset when they were kicked out at 10pm! They made a huge mess (left pop bottles and food wrappers everywhere) even though their boss claims they never do such a thing (we have pictures) and they even broke a lot of the things they were handling. (running stuff into walls, dropping glass items). And yes they just sell it for whatever price they can get to get rid of it and make some commission. You would be better off doing as suggested and trying to sell it yourself.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 2:18PM
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I found on E-bay that just the chairs from the dining room set my grandma has (it is a "Tell City" solid rock maple set from the 50's) are going for $200-$400 a piece, and my grandmother has the table, 8 chairs, a bench and a glass front china cabinet in pristine condition. I asked the estate sale lady what she'd price the whole thing for and she said $500?? I would think at LEAST $1500.

EBay is a wonderful tool to gauge pricing, but you need to look at what things have sold for, not what they are offered at. Do a search for Tell City Furniture, then click Advanced Search, and then click the box COMPLETED LISTINGS. All those BUY IT NOW posts - those didn't sell. Prices listed in RED did not sell; prices listed in GREEN sold.

Maple furniture isn't selling these days. If you can store it and hang on to it for another 10 or 20 years, then maybe you will get the price you want.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 5:40PM
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One thing to remember is that the $500 chair might have sold 1500 miles away, and it just happened to match the 5 chairs someone was making into a set of 6.

Looking at the completed auctions on eBay, I see a lot of unsold stuff at $200-400 a piece.

If you really don't want to think about this now, rent a storage unit and park the stuff for a few months. It's too hot for garage sales now, and in the fall things move better.

List things a few at a time.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 1:46PM
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When we moved to a retirement community, we took a lot of furniture, etc., to an auction house. If I remember correctly, their percentage depended on the price of the item. For example, they got 20% on small items and less on the larger ones.

The thing is, this auction house has auctions every Tuesday and lots of dealers come to the sales and consequently, you don't get anything for the items. What's needed for the sellers are collectors, not dealers. Of course, with the economy, people just weren't buying. I could have cried at the little amount some of my things brought. I had a little red rocking chair that I had when a child in the 40's. I don't think it brought more than $15 or $20. I just didn't have the room for it. Plus, we had a lovely white wrought iron porch set that didn't bring much either.

And when we were going to sales, it seemed that everybody was bidding against us when we bid on an item..LOL

I collected celery stands and sold them for probably less than I paid for them. Alas...

    Bookmark   August 26, 2010 at 4:24PM
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I closed up my parents home and got very little for their furniture. It was so sad but that is life. You could do some sales via craigslist or garage sale. I go to estate sales almost every week and shy away from the furniture because it is always over priced. You have to come back the second day when they knock off 50 percent and take offers. Seldom do I see anything worth a look. I'm still looking for that Nelson mid-century clock, but have not found it yet!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 2:59PM
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Well I decided to just go ahead and hire the estate sale company after deciding all the work was just too much. 3 friends of her came to staff the sale and I stayed there the whole time. There was no way I was turning over all of that stuff without me at least being able to see what was going on, even though the lady seems trustworthy.

They priced everything and displayed it really nice. Turned the whole house into a "boutique" almost. There was a line of 50 people at 8AM Saturday. Could hardly move throughout the house until at least noon there were so many people. I sat in the living room and pretty much watched the woman and kept mental notes of what she sold most everything for.

She actually seemed to price alot of stuff slightly high as today (the 2nd day) was half-price day. And she did stay pretty firm on most of the prices. She was pretty good at selling stuff and getting people to buy more than they initially wanted. Several antiques/silver dealers that frequent her sales came and bought lots of things. The turnout was fantastic. There was heavy traffic virtually the entire time.

The house is now BARE! 95% is gone, even the drapes from the living and dining room! About 6-8 boxes of odds and ends and one old console TV are all that's left. Even after giving her her percent I'm confident I will have made more than had I done it alone, not even considering me having to find and pay help and the hours and hours of setting up and pricing I didn't have to do. I just wrote down the list of stuff I saw being sold and how much it sold for. I know I made at least $3,200 after her cut just from the stuff I actually saw her sell and can remember. She probably sold a another good 2-3 grand if not more than that from the stuff I can't specifically remember.

As long as I don't have problems getting paid without shenanigans, I can say so far it was definitely the right thing to do.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2011 at 9:12PM
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Glad to hear it worked out for you.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2011 at 10:56AM
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Thanks for the follow up! There are so many posts on here where you have to wonder about the final outcome. Glad it worked out for you!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2011 at 9:15PM
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Well just talked to the estate sale company. It turns out we grossed almost 8 grand on everything! I was very surprised. My grandmother had nice things, but she was not the type to waste lots of money on material things--there really wasn't alot of valuable stuff but we sold everything, so it all added up.

So even after her percentage, I did quite well! It's nice when things turn out right for a change!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 10:52AM
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Estate sales are huge here! (Cash and Cari on HGTV is filmed in this area).

When our relative died, someone in the family did an estate sale in the house -- mind you the occupant smoked like chimney and everything was outdated -- still grossed over $2,000. I was shocked!!

People will buy anything for the right price.

I have had wonderful success the few times I have used Craigslist. I have never had any nutjobs or bad experiences.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 11:41AM
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Put an ad on Craigslist that says "Estate Sale" and do your own. It isn't rocket science. My friend did this just for a major move. They sold everything. Many, many more people show up and are prepared to buy big for an estate sale listing than for a garage sale listing...

and, you have control. And, you keep the commissions. (And, advertising on Craigslist is free).

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 2:10PM
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Sorry. I had no idea this post was so old! I don't know why GW does this. Didn't dig this one up, just responded to a "new" post.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 12:13AM
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