If you’ve never experienced one, an estate sale can be quite overwhelming. In essence, an estate sale is similar to a garage sale. They both contain pre-owned items that someone is selling from their home, typically for low prices, to get rid of the items while making a little profit. However, the similarities pretty much end there.
In an estate sale, the items are sold from inside of the home. Strangers come through the home and buy everything. You might think I’m exaggerating here, but I mean everything. I’d say that customers think it’s for sale unless it’s nailed down, but I’ve had people ask to purchase the window treatments, kitchen cabinets and even a bidet. The people that attend estate sales can be very enthusiastic. They often show up hours before the sale starts and hang out outside your home until it is open for sale. They will buy things you never imagined would actually sell: plastic cups, silverware holders, a broken clock, etc.
The other main difference between the two is that a garage sale can happen anytime. Usually when you’ve acquired enough items to warrant one and it can often be a spur of the moment event. An estate sale typically only happens during a major life-changing event. Sometimes, when the owners of a home pass away, the best thing to do with the estate is to sell all of the items inside. Other times, the owner is downsizing into a much smaller space and no longer has a need for all of their items. If the goal is not to sell a significant percentage of items in the home, you are likely better off having a garage sale instead.
Many people hire estate sale companies to assist them with the estate sale. If you plan on doing so, be sure to communicate effectively with the estate sale planner. Typically, sticky notes work best to mark the items that are for sale as opposed to the items that the family will be keeping. If different family members are keeping different items, using multicolored sticky notes can be very effective. Additionally, if there is anything that is of particular value that you think should be marked with a higher price, note that fact on the item. Remember that estate sale items are purposely priced low to sell and that is what the planner and the customers will expect.
If you are preparing for the estate sale process on your own, the first step is to designate a room or area in the home that is easy to seal off. This is where you will store all of the items that are not for sale. Empty out all of the items in the room that are for sale and disperse them throughout the home. Then, take everything that is Not For Sale and transfer it to this room. For large furniture that you would not like to move twice, you can put signs that say the item is not for sale; however, it is much more effective to move these items out of sight.
If someone is going to stay in the house from the time the planning begins until the estate sale is over, plan for this! Still divide the items into what is for sale and what is for keep. If an item will be kept, but is not needed in the immediate future, move it to the designated Not For Sale room. If these items will be needed until the morning of the sale, allot time for yourself in the morning to move all of these items to the designated room.
Once you have separated the items that are for sale from the items that are not for sale, the real fun begins. While people will search through every nook and cranny to find items for sale, they are more likely to purchase items that look like they have recently been used. Dust everything!!! Make it look like each room is being lived in right that second, like someone just stepped out to answer the phone. Make the beds, arrange office supplies properly on the desk and set out kitchen items as they would be when being used.
Group like items together. It is obvious that all kitchen items should be in the kitchen and all bathroom items should be in the bathroom, but it doesn’t stop there. Clothing should be separate not only between male and female, but also between formal and lounge wear. Table clothes should be separated from towels and separated from bedding. When people can find EXACTLY what they are looking for without having to search through the items they aren’t looking for, they are more likely to buy! The main idea is to have all like items together so that when someone asks for a specific item, you aren’t sending them throughout the entire home to find it.
You also need to plan who will be there to help you on the day of the sale. First, you need someone to run the checkout table at all times. They will be stationed with the money and need to feel comfortable negotiating and slashing prices when items are grouped together. They also need to have complete knowledge of what is for sale and where certain items can be found, as they will likely be the point person for questions from customers. You also need people stationed throughout the home. How many people are needed for this depends on how many items are for sale and how spread out they are. For example, if there are a couple of bedrooms upstairs with few items in each, one person upstairs is probably sufficient. If there are many bedrooms packed to the brim, you are more likely to need a couple of people upstairs. If the house is divided into sections, use these sections to your advantage by stationing a person in each one.
Typically, estate sales are hectic in the beginning and slow down throughout the day. Because of this, it is likely that some people will not need to be there the entire time. This is important to note because you will likely be asking family and friends to help out and stand in. Be sure to spend 5-10 minutes with the person in each station explaining the items in the area, the prices and negotiating. It is often helpful if the “staff” stationed in the section has the ability to lower prices when a customer is haggling. This can increase sales when the customer would walk away otherwise. It is also helpful to have a strong person or two, willing to move furniture for people. They will likely get tipped and without them people might not be able to purchase the furniture.
Lastly, you will need cash to make change on the day of the sale. It is best to get at least $100 in cash in different denominations, as well as a roll of quarters. Be sure to have at least 20 $1 bills. If you are selling items for less than a quarter, have dimes and nickels on hand as well. Do not deal in pennies! This wastes time and can cause confusion when lines get long.
This is something that can be tricky. If it is an everyday item that is in decent condition, the price should be relatively low. Typically less than half of what the purchase price was when the item was new. If there are sets of items, such as glasses, price them as a set. If 2 of 4 tea cups are sold, it is unlikely anyone will buy the other two. Don’t break sets up, if someone ends up not wanting to pay for all of a set, you can throw the rest in for free, but that will come during the negotiations.
For high ticket items, antiques and jewelry, it can help to have the items appraised. You can sometimes pay your local antique shop owner to come to your house and price items. This can help give you an idea of how valuable the items for sale really are.
Keep in mind that throughout the day (or the weekend for multiple-day estate sales) the prices will continue to drop, so you don’t want to start at rock bottom, price conservatively. More on price changes in the next section of this article.
Plan the staff for the estate sale. I use the term “staff” lightly. If you have hired an outside estate sale service, they will likely provide their own staff. If not, you need the proper amount of people to allow the sale to run smoothly.
There are many ways to advertise an upcoming estate sale, but the most important thing is to just make sure you do it! When writing your advertisement, be sure to include a list of the most plentiful items you have. If you have someone’s entire wardrobe for sale, advertise that! It doesn’t hurt to include the size of the clothing to attract potential buyers. Be sure to mention the variety of items that you have available to attract the most potential customers.
Many people advertise in the local newspaper or online version of the newspaper. This can be effective, but you need to plan it out because doing so often requires advance notice, sometimes more than a week out.
There are many online forums for advertising sales. Craigslist is one that has generated a lot of interest in sales I have held, but simply searching the web for garage/estate sales will lead you to many sites that post this information for your city.
Don’t forget to take pictures! By helping the potential buyers visually see what is available for sale, you increase their chances of coming by to take a look, especially if your items are in good condition.
You also want to create and place signs on the day of the event, similar to garage sales signs. Find busy intersections close to the house to maximize the exposure of your signs, but also to increase the likelihood that people driving by will know where the house is located. Putting up physical signs in other neighborhoods is not likely to be as effective as placing signs on the corner of the street. The goal of signs is to grab the attention of people that weren’t planning on stopping by, but will now just because they saw the sign.
The Day Has Arrived!
The day has finally arrived! You’ve prepared and you are ready to go! Now, be prepared for how early your morning will really start. Regardless of the time you say the estate sale starts, people will be there hours beforehand, hoping you’ll let them in early. Don’t! The amount of complaints you will receive from customers that arrive on time will far outweigh the benefit of letting anyone in early. People want to get the first look at everything, they want any advantage they can get.
Eat breakfast! Better yet, provide breakfast for the entire group working the estate sale and use that time to debrief and communicate what will happen once the doors open. Have everyone arrive 30-45 minutes before the sale starts to get prepared. The beginning of an estate sale is the craziest (and creepiest). As mentioned above, people often arrive very early for these events. Unfortunately, they don’t often just wait in the car. Most of the time, peeking through the windows will occur, I have even had someone hide out (literally ducking behind a planter) in the backyard so that she could be one of the first inside. If you’d like to avoid this, hand out numbers to those that arrive early and tell them to be back in line 10 minutes before it starts. This allows people to leave and come back instead of getting creative. Once the doors are opened, you can see people’s true colors. There will almost definitely be running, sometimes shoving; make sure you and the “staff” are stationed before the doors are opened and that you are out of the pathways.
As the estate sale progresses, answer questions, haggle prices and sell, sell, sell! If the items remain after the sale, you will likely be responsible for moving them out, so if someone tries to talk you down a little bit, let them! It helps to have price rules throughout the day. For example, for the first 2-3 hours prices stay the same with a little haggling. For the next 2-3 hours, be willing to drastically haggle prices to get the items moving. Many people employ a technique of half-price after a certain time. By having specific rules, you can easily let people know when they walk in that the prices are now half price! If you desperately want to get rid of everything in order to not move anything afterward, offer a time when items are free. For example, after 4pm, take anything! If you are having a two-day estate sale, you can reserve the second day for the drastic price cuts and “free” time. Decide your rules and the times they will be enforced before the day of. You want to be consistent with this so that if someone in the beginning cannot afford something, you can let them know that the price will be lowered at a certain time. This not only helps sell items, but can also avoid complaints later on.
Decide if you have a firm cut off time. People will arrive after the sale is over and they like to linger. Your cut off time will depend on how desperately you want the items out and how tired you are at the end of the day! If you do want everyone out at a certain time, make sure you don’t let anyone in after the allotted time and effectively communicate with all customers at the end that the sale is over and it is time to leave.
It’s Over. Now What?
If the house is being sold, it is time to get everything out! Sometimes, after an item doesn’t sell, you might change your mind and want to keep it. If so, pack it up to take it with you. For the items that you don’t want, it is time to donate! Items can be donated to friends, charitable organizations or (if worthless) the trash!