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How Do You Plan For and Run Your Own ESTATE SALE? Some Practical Tips.

Home » Blog » How Do You Plan For and Run Your Own ESTATE SALE? Some Practical Tips.

I try to write this blog every Sunday.  I have missed the past few Sundays as Laurence and I were running an estate sale in a local town.  Not only do we have our shop, Studio Antiques, we offer Estate Sale services for other folks.  Increasingly, people are trying to handle this activity on their own. I thought it might be helpful to share a few points on how to run your own estate sale.

So, first things first. How is an Estate Sale different than a yard sale? Normally an estate sale includes everything in and around the house. You can expect to sell everything from the bed in the master bedroom to a half box of laundry detergent from the garage to a potted plant from the garden.  People coming to your sale will open every cupboard, door and drawer.  They will even try to get into your attic or basement. Make sure you are willing to be okay with this before inviting the world into your house.

In the scheme of selling antiques and collectibles, the Estate Sale is just one step up from the yard or garage sale, and one step below a live auction.  Some estate sales take place off site, but I personally cannot imagine moving the contents of an entire house in order to sell them. An estate sale is the best tactic to clear an entire house fairly quickly if you have an elderly person who has passed or has been hospitalized.  The preparation can time consuming; so you may want to think this through before tackling it on your own.  There are all kinds of estate selling services out there.

1) What is your objective for having the estate sale? Is it to make money or empty the house? You can do both by knowing the value of your inventory.  It would be a good idea to visit a few estate sales before taking your own on.

2)  Everything needs to be visible to customers, so the first thing you need to do is open every cupboard and drawer. If you have the space, it helps to pull things out of the cupboards or closets (keeping the doors open) and place them on table and counter tops.  Your tidy space will not be tidy for long.  Arrange things as best you can so that customers can see what you have for sale.

If someone happens to live in the house or have items they don’t want anyone going through, put them all in a room or closet that you will LOCK. If you don’t remove or lock up your special property, someone will be going through it.  No holds barred in the estate sale world.

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3) Price as much and as many things as you can. A sharpie and some painter’s tape can help you write and stick labels on things. This is one of the most important steps, and it isn’t easy to do without experience. This is also precisely one of the reasons you may want to hire someone with experience, and is especially true for homes with antiques and/or collectibles. When items are priced, you will save a lot of time.

People will spend very little money on small items in your home including glassware, kitchenalia and everyday household items.  You will be able to get more for larger furniture items, but you need to manage your expectations.  If your prices are TOO high, you will end the sale with much of what you started off with. If your prices are too low, you will sell a lot but may have left money on the table.

Selling off family items can be difficult. One tends to feel a sense of higher value for sentimental things. (We often suggest that family members detach themselves from the selling activity. It is frankly less painful.)

To make pricing a bit easier for you, pick out the items you sense are worth something and check either Google or look through eBay Completed Listings.  There is also a great tool called TerapeakTerapeak allows you to review eBay completed listings for historical data.  Looking at results for the past few months should provide adequate history.

Remember, it isn’t what a person is asking for an item that matters, but rather what the item sold for. Use that information as a guideline for pricing. (You will need to ask less than the online seller achieved.)

Plan to actively negotiate prices every day. Some sellers have a strategy of full price first day, a discount (25% – 50%) on the second day and an even deeper discount on the third.  Do whatever seems to work. If you want to clear the house, keep that objective in mind.

4) Determine your physical layout and who is working with you. You will want at least one other person and more if you have them. Depending upon the size of the home, people can be stationed throughout the house for customer service and pricing assistance.  They can also keep an eye out for people wanting to get things for “free”.  Plan to negotiate to make the most of your sales opportunity.

You should always set up with a single point of entry and exit from the house. We put a card or other small table & chair at the front door where the cashier (me) can greet people entering and collect money from people exiting.  This will help reduce your chance of theft.

When everything is tagged with a price, collecting money is easy. I write down all of our sales in a notebook by date, item and amount collected.  That way I know exactly how much money was made and on what. I recommend accepting cash and credit cards only (Square and PayPal both have mobile credit card applications.) Check with your accountant for any rules on declaring the income.

5) Pick your sale date(s).  As you are working and getting an idea of time necessary to prepare for the sale, pick an upcoming weekend for the sale to take place.  Make certain there aren’t any conflicting events like the Super Bowl or Easter.

Different days of the week will bring out different customers.  Fridays are good for antiques dealers.  They will come out to cherry pick your best items for resale.  Saturdays bring out the general populous (and may be your busiest day); while Sundays are for those folks looking for the items you are almost ready to give away.

Our sales generally run Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We start early, about 8am (sometimes 7am) and end at about 3pm.  We will stay late if there are customers at 3pm. We never kick anyone out at the end.

6) ADVERTISE the sale.  Where do people in your area go to find out about estate, moving or yard sales? Ask around if you don’t know. Ask a friend who likes to go to garage sales or ask the local antiques dealer. The places they suggest are the places you will want to place an ad. Sometimes the ads will be free, other times you will pay $10 to $20 for a line ad.  They may be in print, online or both.  Have good pictures of what is for sale that you can use in the online ads.

Suggestions for advertising are Craigslist , The Penny Saver  and Estate Sales.net. You may need to budget $100 or a bit more for advertising; but it is well worth the expense.  Check out the submission dates for advertising. You may have a deadline of a week earlier than the ad to get your copy in, so don’t wait until the last minute. Also, don’t forget to put up signs in the neighborhood advertising the sale on each day of the sale.

7) Prepare your tools for the sale day.  I’m referring to things you might need during your sale.  You have already anticipated the opening cash you will need to complete transactions, but don’t forget the other stuff. What could that include?!?

You will need some office supplies like scotch tape, pens, markers, paper and scissors.  You’ll also want to remember water, snacks and/or lunch. Is it going to be cold? You might need a sweater or on the other hand maybe a hat to shield your head from the sun. Need suntan lotion? Think it through. Nothing worse than needing something you can’t go out to get.

8) D-Day is here.  The night before the sale, leave a clipboard, paper and pencil at the front door. The clipboard is there so that early arrivals (there may be many) can sign the sheet. If you have an over abundance of eager beavers, the list will help you manage the number of people in the house on a first come, first serve basis.

Before you let people in, get inside. Turn on all the lights and open the cupboards and closets.  Be certain your exits are closed and the only one open is where the cashier is. Keep anything small and valuable (jewelry) close to the cashier. (It is easy to have these things stolen. Even right in front of your face.)

9) What do I do with the leftover contents?  Pack it up and give a call to a local charity like Salvation Army .  Another good choice is Habitat for Humanity .  They will accept, and often pick up, household items including furniture.  You may also have some local charities you may wish to support be they a church or temple or even a homeless or other charity. You can also take a tax deduction for your donation.

We have made between $3,000 and $10,000 (or more) on a good weekend. Do your preparation and have fun. BUT.  It is a tremendous amount of work and you may find it worth your while to hire an outside firm. Like Studio Antiques 😉




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