Posted in: Homeowner tips, Selling a home

The ins and outs of estate sales

Antique desk

Key Insights

  • An estate sale is like a large-scale garage sale that can sell high-end, new, expensive or sentimental personal items.
  • You can hire an estate sale company to manage your estate sale for you.
  • Managing an estate sale is a multi-step process.

You might have seen signs haphazardly placed around your neighborhood with “estate sale” written in big, bold letters. But until you’ve been to one–or have had to plan one–it’s hard to comprehend how large of an operation it is and how it differs from any other types of second-hand sales.

What is an estate sale?

To put it simply, an estate sale is a way of selling personal items. Think of it like a large-scale, more formalized garage sale. Similar to a garage sale, estate sales often take place on the person’s property (though an estate sale will typically leave items inside the home for viewing rather than lugging them onto the front lawn).

The biggest difference between a garage sale and an estate sale is that a garage sale is held because people have unwanted items they’d like to get rid of, but an estate sale occurs because the items need to be sold. This often means that well-loved items go up for sale, even if they are high-end, new, or represent a significant purchase.

Estate sales can be held for a variety of reasons. Boomers moving into senior living, empty nesters downsizing, moving to warmer weather or to be closer to family, and workers relocating for jobs are just a few groups who might engage in an estate sale. However, for most, an estate sale is brought on by the death of a loved one.

When to bring in a third party

Estate sales are a lot of work, and for those who are unable, unwilling or working with other beneficiaries, bringing in a third-party estate sale company to manage the sale might be a good idea. Not only does hiring an estate sale company take the burden off, but estate sale companies can often plan estate sales more quickly and more accurately appraise items for sale to ensure beneficiaries are getting top dollar. This is especially helpful if you’re handling an estate sale for a loved one who didn’t follow an estate planning process before passing.

Estate sale companies may charge 30-50% of the gross sales, but often don’t charge a flat fee or require you to pay upfront. They may also deal with other aspects of clearing a property, but you’d need to talk with the company to see what services they offer.

If you choose to go with an estate sale company, be sure to ask the right questions and do your research to avoid getting scammed.

How to plan for an estate sale

If you inherited a property and want to run your own estate sale, there are a number of steps to take and things to keep in mind.

Establish the items you want to sell and price them strategically: Look at eBay, thrift stores and consignment shops to get prices, or (as a rule of thumb) mark them at about 50-70% of their retail value. For special items, you might want to get an appraisal. Either way, establish the lowest price you’re willing to take and remember that negotiating prices is a big part of estate sales.

Advertise the sale and check with local ordinances: Advertise your sale by hanging flyers, buying ads in the local paper, establishing a website (list your best items with pictures, descriptions and prices), posting on social media, and placing plenty of those yard signs. Be sure to check your local county ordinances for rules and regulations and obtain any permits you may need to host an estate sale.

Stage to sell: Clear out the space for buyers, clean up the items you're selling and price them clearly, and organize the items so they’re easy to find and poised for maximum sales.

Make a clean-up plan: Decide what to do with the items that don’t sell–are they worth bringing to a consignment shop or an auction house, or is it better suited to the donation pile? Keep in mind that some items may not be accepted by donation centers and may have to be sent to a recycling center or dumpster.

Think about what will happen after the sale

Once the estate sale ends, you’ll be left with an empty space. If your plan is to sell, it’s better to work with a REALTOR® early on and take advantage of their expertise. Reach out to Edina Realty or your agent to get started on selling your property so you have plans in place to move forward.

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Status Definitions

For sale: Properties which are available for showings and purchase

Active contingent: Properties which are available for showing but are under contract with another buyer

Pending: Properties which are under contract with a buyer and are no longer available for showings

Sold: Properties on which the sale has closed.

Coming soon: Properties which will be on the market soon and are not available for showings.

Contingent and Pending statuses may not be available for all listings