After the beneficiaries have divided up an estate’s key assets, chances are you’re still going to be dealing with a house full of stuff. We advise separating the remaining belongings into three categories: Donate, throw away and sell. When we settle an estate (click here for how to plan an estate settlement) we sell valuables at auction so that they command a good price. But for a do-it-yourselfer, here’s how to have an estate sale on property.
Estate sale: Advance work
- Select a date: You want to give yourself plenty of time to get everything organized. Plan on at least two days for the sale, and try to avoid major holiday weekends.
- Research prices: Don’t just throw a number on something. It could be worth a lot more—or less—than you think. If you aren’t sure of the value of an item, check eBay and Craigslist for similar pieces. For higher end items, such as antiques or jewelry, get a professional appraisal. Then clearly mark each item with a price tag that isn’t too easy to remove.
- Recruit a staff: If you’re holding the sale inside the house, you’ll need more than a cashier at the front door. You need someone you trust in every room monitoring the looky-loos, answering questions and watching out for sticky fingers. It’s also a good idea to have an assistant cashier to help tally up purchases and cover when the primary cashier is on break. You don’t want too many people managing the cash box.
- Advertise: Start with the local paper, and be sure you reserve space in both their print and online versions. Craigslist, EstateSales.Net and EstateSales.org will let non-professionals post their sales for free. (Don’t include your phone number in any of the ads!) You’ll also need curb signs to direct traffic to your house from major thoroughfares. Ask local stores if you can put fliers in their windows or on a community bulletin board.
- Plan for afterwards: What will happen to the items that don’t sell? Arrange for a charity or trash pickup or delivery.
Estate sale: The day before
- Stage the house: Common items should be grouped together and placed in the room in which they would be used. For example, all the kitchen utensils should stay in the kitchen.
- Set up tables: Smaller items should be neatly displayed on tables throughout the house, but it’s also important to have a table at checkout that’s big enough for people to stack up their items while paying.
- Clear a path: Crowded rooms and hallways can create chaos when people are just milling around. Map out a flow that allows people to move through every room, and set up signs along the way to keep things moving in the right direction.
- Go to the bank: You’ll need plenty of cash, especially smaller bills, to make change.
Estate sale: Sale day
- Manage the crowd: If the sales starts at 9:00, you can be sure people will start arriving by 7:00 (seasoned buyers may show up the day before). Don't let anyone in early, and limit the number of people going through the house at any one time.
- Control the exits: There should be one door for going in and out. Block off other exits.
- Use a receipt book: If you’re the estate trustee you’ll need to account for every sale, and keeping records can head off potential disputes with buyers.
- Take a deep breath: Planned correctly, an estate sale should draw 100 to 200 people, or more. You need to be mentally prepared to deal with the crowd, and you need to be emotionally prepared to see strangers pawing through the merchandise. Buyers don’t have a personal connection to your family. So while some of their actions or questions may seem rude, remember, it’s just business.
Estate sale: Closing up shop
- Disposal: Schedule purchase pickups and removal of all leftover items.
- Clean up: Take down any posted signage in the house and neighborhood.
- Take a break: Put your feet up and count your cash!