By Dena Fischer
When my parents died within four months of each other I was left reeling by the loss, and I also knew there would be a lot to handle. Before they passed, I knew that I would inherit the house we had moved into when I was 15 years old; a lovely ranch with a full basement, next door to a horse farm. In the “country,” but just minutes from grocery stores, banks, post office and restaurants.
It was also full of stuff accumulated over a lifetime and needed a drastic update.
This type of project can take a toll on anyone, especially if you are in the midst of grief. While there is the option to do it yourself or with the help of others in your life, there is also the option of calling in the professionals. Whether you are facing a remodel to update a home, downsizing after the loss of a spouse, or selling a loved one’s home you won’t be keeping, you have to consider the time investment and stress (both physical and emotional) of the endeavor. When I weighed these factors over the other things on my plate (job, family, etc) I decided calling in the professionals would be the best choice.
Who to Call
Companies that operate estate sales aren’t one size fits all so it may take a few calls and walk throughs to find the one that is right for your situation. Some focus on antiques, others focus on furniture, or jewelry, or glassware. The person you meet with to assess what you want to sell should have a good idea of what their repeat buyers are looking for. If your items fall into one or two categories of their market focus, that company may be a good fit for your sale. Do some online research of local company websites to narrow your list and get some helpful tips.
When to Call
Plan to have at least a month, two is better, from start to finish for an estate sale of a house full of items. The company will need time to get your sale on their schedule and will also need time to handle all the preparation for the sale. The company I used sorted, organized, staged and did research to find the best price for collectibles, jewelry and antiques. My sale was held in the house, but some companies will take everything offsite for the sale.
How to Prepare
Go through the house and pull out the items you want to keep. This process can be more difficult when there are other family members involved so be prepared to handle some conflict resolution if you are the primary person making decisions.
I can’t stress enough the need to be pragmatic through the sorting process. You can’t keep everything so keep what really matters to you and let the rest go. It helped me to think what I was letting go would be bought by someone who would get as much pleasure from it as my mom and dad did.
Talk with the sale company about what they will include in the sale. I was surprised when they said don’t get rid of anything. They put everything from paperclips to trash cans to paper products, clothes, shoes, and personal care items in the sale. If it wasn’t actual trash or an item that was broken it was included in the sale.
Follow Good Advice
Companies are different and so are the people you deal with during the process. The owner of the company I used was a combination of grief counselor and no-nonsense advice giver. She had lots of experience doing these sales and I was grateful for her advice, kindness and comfort. I was strongly encouraged not to come in the house once they started preparing for the sale. At first this seemed unreasonable, but it really kept the emotional trauma of letting go and second guessing my decisions to a minimum.
Set Realistic Expectations
When you have a sale, you need to understand the value an item has to you and the value it has to someone else can be very different. It’s difficult to take your emotions out of the process and be realistic in your expectations. The company that does your sale will set prices that are reasonable based on the market and with the goal to sell it.
Overpricing doesn’t benefit anyone; you want to move this stuff out, not be left trying to figure out what to do with it. Also, the company handling the sale has put a lot of hours and effort into this, so their percent of the sale proceeds needs to be worth the time they have invested. Some companies have a minimum of what the sale needs to bring in for them to handle it. They have a good idea of what your stuff will bring before they ever agree to conduct the sale.
My sale was advertised online and on the sale company’s website. Signs were put up out front and I talked to the neighbors and the local police department ahead of time to let them know there would be additional traffic and asked the owners of the stable next door if we could use their lot for parking. Everyone was glad to have been given a heads up.
The sale was held over three days and by all accounts was successful. Everything was either sold or picked up by a company that comes to clean out the ‘left-overs’ from a sale. Additionally, the house was left “broom clean” after the sale was over. I received a check, less the sale company’s share of the proceeds, about three weeks after the sale was completed. This gives them time to tally up everything, deposit money received during the sale and allows a reasonable time for returns or refunds if an item like a clock or appliance doesn’t work.
All in all, hiring a company for a professional estate sale was the best choice for me and a good experience overall. Just be sure to do your research and know what to expect throughout the process.
Searcy Financial has resources to help you move through the process of preparing for these life events that will happen to all of us. We are always happy to send you information, make referrals in our network of professionals or just listen when you need an ally to be by your side.
The emotional toll of a loss can be heavy. If you or someone you know if faced with this process, we encourage you to seek support. You can also read more in my blog post, “The Loss of Your Parents: It’s Not About the Phone Number.”
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Published for the blog on September 27, 2021 by Searcy Financial Services, your Overland Park, Kansas Fee-Only Financial Planner and Investment Manager.