It makes sense that doing an estate cleanout yourself could save you, and the estate, money. But make sure you calculate the full expense of emptying the house yourself during this stressful time, including the hidden costs. You’ll want to add these expenses to the cost of selling a house. Every single item has to go somewhere, and there’s really no such thing as “free” labor.

You must also move quickly. Out-of-pocket carrying costs, such as mortgages, taxes, repairs, maintenance and landscaping, add up. These costs keep growing every month that the house remains unsold.


Here are 5 hidden costs to factor into your estate clean out process DIY cost analysis.

1. Shipping

If items need to be moved, shipped or delivered to a beneficiary, they will have to be carefully packed in sturdy boxes with bubble wrap, blankets and/or packing paper. Whether they are going across town or across the country, shipping costs can be significant.

We’ve spent hundreds of dollars for clients moving or shipping items that had a monetary value far less than what it costs to move them. Of course, everyone who is receiving something will likely have an emotional attachment to it, even if it doesn’t have great monetary value. Just make sure someone plans to pay those costs.

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2. Storage

If you’re considering renting a storage unit, our advice is: Don’t! Depending on where you live, a 10 X 20 storage unit can cost $100 to $300 a month, and we’ve cleaned out client storage units that the clients hadn’t even opened in 20 years. Are those boxes in storage worth $72,000? Unwanted items can be sold, donated or repurposed.

3. Donations

Donations are not always free. In our experience, while it may feel good to donate items coming out of an estate, it often requires a lot of work to actually make that donation happen. Old cars, firearms and other specialty items can require significant paperwork and hassle to actually complete the donation.

If you want to donate to a charity near and dear to your family or the loved one for whom you are working, it might be more cost effective to sell the items via an estate sale or auction and donate the proceeds.

4. Volunteers

Even if you plan to do most of the work yourself with the help of volunteers, you need to consider the cost of your time. Our calculations show that cleaning out a 3,000-square-foot house takes more than 200 man hours–that’s a whole lot of evenings and weekends.

Carefully consider what your time and the time of any family members that will help is really worth, and be sure to factor in the emotional wear and tear as well. Will you have to take time away from work or other family commitments?

Be realistic about how many hours per week that you and your volunteers can actually commit to this project. That will give you a rough estimate of how long it will take, and how many months’ worth of carrying costs you’ll spend on the house before it’s ready for sale. Hiring professionals to do 3 to 5 days’ worth of work to expedite the process can save anywhere from 4 to 12 months’ worth of carrying costs.

5. Insurance

Don’t forget that risk is a real cost. While you might be fortunate enough not to have something bad happen, an unoccupied house represents a serious risk, as does having people working in your home or family’s estate. Be sure to take the necessary precautions and work closely with an attorney and as appropriate your insurance representative to make sure you are covered with the right insurance and liability waivers.

There are a number of great estate sale companies that can take on a lot of the work of an estate cleanout for you. The companies will typically take between 40% and 50% of the proceeds in return for providing most, if not all, of the labor required to make the sale process happen.

Of course, selling items individually on eBay or Craigslist might yield more money on an item-by-item basis, but that process will also consume a significant amount of time if done in a way that will actually yield the best results.

Just remember that “do it yourself” isn’t the same thing as “free.” Make sure that you are calculating the true costs of your house cleanout.