Unless you and your relatives are avowed minimalists or possession-shunning Buddhist monks, there may come a time when you’ll have to get rid of a whole household of goods. It might be that your elderly aunt is downsizing; it could be you decide to ditch the house and yard and move to Paris. Or a death in the family might mean you have to both execute someone’s wishes and get rid of their stuff.
That’s where estate sales come in. Despite their fancy names, these aren’t grand events that happen only at the homes of royals or the richy-rich. Most take place at the house, cottage, or condo down the block.
At most events, over two or three days an estate-sale company (or, occasionally, a family member) presides over a jumbo tag sale or online auction with a goal of offloading the entire contents of the property. Furniture, art, dishes, clothing, and even unused rolls of toilet paper are all game. The idea? Usually it’s to liquidate belongings so that the family can settle the estate and get the property ready for resale. Sometimes it’s to get rid of stuff after the homeowners have downsized. Either way, the point is to quickly jettison a lot of stuff—and to make a bit of money.
Most estate-sale companies come in before the event to tag and price items, though a few operate on a “make-me-an-offer” basis. No matter the approach, almost all liquidators take a big cut of each item’s selling price. That cut typically ranges from 30 to 50 percent, depending on the company, with most hovering around 40 percent.
Though no certification exists for estate liquidators, the industry has two membership organizations, the American Society of Estate Liquidators and the National Estate Sales Association. Searching their databases and asking local eldercare or estate business for recommendations can lead you to trustworthy pros, plus we’ve got a list of questions to ask anyone you’re considering hiring.