What is an estate sale and how do they work?

An estate sale is often mistaken for an estate auction or garage sale, when in actuality they work quite differently. Although estate sales are gaining popularity, they have not yet reached the same level of recognition as other more common services, and thus leads to confusion by the general public. In this article, we will explain the basics: what an estate sale is, why people have them, and provide an overview of how they work.

What is an Estate Sale?

An estate sale involves selling all the household contents in an estate; these items are sold with the goal of selling a large number of items in a short amount of time and emptying the house by the end of the sale. There are many different companies offering estate sales as well as different styles of estate sales. Here are the overarching characteristics that make it different from other re-sell options such as garage sales or auctions: 

  • All of the items in the house are individually priced for sale and open to the public. Unlike an auction where items are bid on individually or in groups, estate sale items start with a set price which may be discounted or bargained on later in the sale. 
  • An estate sale typically happens in the owner’s home. Sometimes items may be moved to an off-site location or combined with another estate, depending on the size of the estate, the company’s process, or the family’s preferences. 
  • Estate sales typically last one to three days with set hours. How long the sale lasts will depend on the size of the estate. 
  • Most estate sales will offer discounts on items the longer the sale goes on. For instance, on the first day items will be full price as marked; the second day, they may be 25% off the marked price; the last day, they may be 50% off the marked price. This incentive will keep items selling and moving out the door as the sale progresses.
  • Most estate sales, due to the amount of items to be sold and potential value of the items, are managed by an outside professional company.
Customers shopping in a Brown Button hosted Mission Hills estate sale.

Why Have an Estate Sale?

Estate sales are a great way to get rid of a lot of items in a short amount of time. The most common reasons for estate sales are: 

  • A death in the family. When handling the estate of a loved one, liquidating their belongings allows the family to settle the estate as quickly as possible and get the real estate ready for sale. The estate sale takes the emotional weight of sorting through all the items off the family’s shoulders and provides a clear path for equitable distribution among family members.
  • Downsizing. This is quickly becoming a popular reason for having an estate sale. Many baby boomers choose to downsize their estate after their children move out. Moving from a 5,000 sqft house to a 2,000 sqft condo creates the problem of what to do with all those items you no longer need. An estates sale facilitates all those unneeded items being sold quickly while also getting the house empty, cleaned, and ready to be sold. 80% of the sale Brown Button hosts is due to downsizing.
Customers shopping in a Brown Button hosted Brookside Kansas City estate sale.

How Does the Estate Sale Work? 

When an estate sale is managed by a professionally run company, they will handle all aspects of the sale from beginning to end. This can be the most convenient option for families, because it allows them to get a percentage of the sale without taking time away from their jobs or their families. An estate sale company will manage: 

  • Organizing and displaying items for sale. Many companies will stage a home (through interior decoration and organization) to make items look more appealing to buyers. This can maximize the sale price, as well. 
  • Researching high ticket items to ensure everything in the home is being sold for maximum value. This can include antique pieces, original art, fine jewelry, designer fashion, coins, mid century pieces, and other valuables. 
  • Marketing the sale. An estate sale isn’t successful unless buyers know about it and are interested in attending. The company will market the sale through local and online methods to highlight the items being sold. 
  • Running the sale, including handling the transactions for items, discounts, item pick-up, and all the customer interaction. This can be an emotional event for families, so allowing a neutral third party to handle the sale can benefit all parties. 
  • Cleaning the house when the sale is over. Items that weren’t sold can be donated to charity and the house is then cleaned to prepare it for the next owners. 

Estate sale companies are in the business of selling a diverse group of items, from fine jewelry to antique furniture, from everyday items to coin collections and more. Each company has their own way of handling estate sales, too; because of that, it’s a good idea to talk to several different companies before you choose one to see which one meets your estate sale needs.      

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