In some cases, I suppose the family of the deceased may be able to handle the estate sale in a garage sale manner but for the greatest amount of profit, a true estate sale is the key. This is especially true if you are dealing with an enormous amount of sellable items.
The first thing you want to do is NOT throw anything that could be sold. Old rotten clothes or broken glass items are one thing that you may do away with but there are so many other things most people consider trash but others find as a treasure. Some of these are old matchbook covers, business ballpoint pens, children’s games (even if missing some pieces), books with ratty covers, any age magazine (even the National Enquirer types), costume jewelry (the gaudier the better), fake flowers in ugly flower pots, lighters, family photos, old shoes, hats and even underwear. For everything your family member held onto, there is someone else in the world that will be willing to buy it. The price on the item may only be twenty-five cents but that is a quarter more than you had before.
The second thing you will want to do is decide if you want to do the sale yourself or hire a professional. The advantage to doing the sale yourself is you don’t have to pay a percentage of the money to someone else. The true professional give you a large number of other advantages IF you pick a good one.
Check into the person before signing any contract. Find out if the person does estate sales on a regular basis or only when the notion (or a desperate person) strikes. Check with your local Better Business Bureau. They may have comments on the person you are using. These comments may even be good ones. Avoid the fly by nighter that isn’t knowledgeable in all the various item possibilities. A professional will come with a virtual library of reference books, the amateur tries to bluff their way through and stick any price on something.
The next step in a profitable estate sale is advertising. I am sure most people have seen the homemade, garage or estate sale signs tacked up to fence posts or telephone poles with writing that is too small or simply illegible. In most cases the only thing you can do is hope there are arrows on each sign and that they are facing in the correct direction.
Most professionals will have signs printed up with the address, directions and some of the top merchandise (dolls, antiques, depression glass and tools) listed. In fact they may even have two different sets of signs created. The only difference being one will say Estate Sale while the other said Garage Sale. About three days before the big event post the signs in about a five-mile radius of the house. Remember signs aren’t all the advertising possibilities.
For the entire week before the sale ads should be placed in all the major (and minor) newspapers. This may cost $50 to $60 but in the long run will pay off. Make sure the ads give exact directions from the closest freeways or major roads as well as greater detail than the signs as to what all is offered. There are people that check for these types of sales on a regular basis. Not all of them are going to be antique dealers either. That is why you want to list as much as you can to catch the eye of readers.
Estate sales take time. Depending on the volume of merchandise, the sale can take from a week to several weeks to get ready. Garage sale mentality will be to slap everything on the floor or on a table as is. When having an estate sale, take the extra time to clean the better pieces like glassware, pottery, porcelain and nice pieces of furniture. People are more likely to not only buy but to pay more for something that looks good and not covered in greasy dust or dirt.
You may also want to group like items together. If you have sixteen complete sets of carnival glass, each with their own punch bowls, compote, candy dishes, pitchers and egg dishes, have an area set aside for the carnival glass lovers. If you have fine china, Depression glass, stem wear, Waterford crystal and such, display them so their beauty can be seen. You could even set the items up as if for a dinner party so buyers could see the pieces “in action.”
If you have a large volume of knick-knacks put up additional shelving to spread the items out. By placing thirty or so items on a small table, you have a greater chance of someone’s clumsiness getting something broken. Most buyers don’t worry about being careful since it isn’t their stuff they are dealing with. Nor is it their money.
Money is an issue in itself. A professional will usually make sure there is only one person handling it and only one person who can mark the price down on an item to make a sale. A great deal of money can be lost if you have five friends helping you and each one is knocking fifty cents to a dollar of each item sold. The best rule of thumb is to not mark anything down during the first part of the sale. If it is a three-day sale, wait until that third day to mark things down. Also go through before the sale several times and check prices on items to get them firmly planted in your mind. Buyers switching prices on a $70 1959 Barbie with a fifty-cent McDonalds toy isn’t at all uncommon. Security is always an issue.
If you are going to have possibly large amount of money exchanging hands, hiring a security guard or off duty policeman is often a good idea. Other precautions include making sure there is only one way into and out of the house, anyone coming in with large purses or coats are watched continuously and station a person in each room of the house. These will greatly reduce the theft rate. You will also want to make sure you do not keep any large sums of money. Make repeated trips to the bank if necessary. This may be difficult if you are running the sale yourself.
If you decide on a professional estate seller you should check them out thoroughly. Get references from previous clients. Make sure you get a written contract spelling out exactly what you get for your twenty-five to thirty-percent. Find out how often they do estate sales. Do they stay busy and if not, why? Go to one of their sales as a buyer before signing the contract. This is an excellent way to develop a true impression of how the person will run the sale. Research, advertising and professionalism are the keys to a successful estate sale. If the customer looks and sees a poorly run, cheap type of set up, they are more likely to pay only garage sale prices. If the customer sees a professionally run outfit that has taken the time to display, clean and mark each item, they are much more likely to not only pay better prices but also return on the following days.
One last thought on having a true professional do your estate sale. They have an established clientele that follow them to the various sales. If you plan on selling the real estate property where the estate sale is being held, let them know. Many times the professional can sell the house by letting the word out to anyone who asks and the best thing is you don’t have to pay a commission for the sale unless you want to as a thank you. A professional can relieve so much of the headache and heartache that goes with an estate sale but you must make the final decision of which way you want to do the sale. Regardless of the way, remember the difference between the estate sale and garage sale mentalities as far as display, advertising, security and pricing.