How Does an Estate Sale Work?

What Is An Estate Sale

Here’s a simple estate sale definition: An estate sale, or a tag sale, is designed to dispose of your own or a loved one’s possessions in an orderly fashion. It’s much more than a yard sale, as everything is marked with a price tag and is up for grabs. So, what does “estate sale” mean? Quite literally, it means the sale of someone’s entire estate.

Is Everything For Sale?

Typically, yes. Sometimes, the family may keep a few favorite pieces. If a realtor has put the house on the market, the new owners may want certain items, and they’ll list those things in the contract.

Otherwise, everything has a price tag with a marked price. This is why it’s sometimes called a tag sale.

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How to Hold an Estate Sale by Yourself

No matter your reason for holding an estate sale, the key to its success is to stay organized. Preparations can take anywhere from three weeks to two or three months depending on the situation. By inviting others to help out, you can lighten your load and make the process less stressful. It also helps to keep track of when you need to do certain things to prepare and what you can have others do. To stay organized and ensure you don’t miss anything in the weeks preceding the sale, review the checklist below.

1. Create and Sort Your Inventory

Before determining the date and time of your sale, decide on your inventory. Make a list of items in every room and categorize them appropriately. These categories can be “sell,” “keep,” “gift” or any other grouping necessary for your situation.

Make a plan for the items you won’t be selling. How soon can you get them out of the house? Will you need to mark them as “not for sale” during the sale? Whatever you decide, have a plan in place so you know what will happen to each item. From here you’ll have a better idea of how much time you’ll need to prepare and when would be a realistic date to hold the sale.

2. Prepare Your Estate Sale Inventory

Not everything you own will be able to sell for a high price, but giving your lesser value items a touch-up could boost their value. Even items you sell for $2 or $3 can make an impact. A group of 50 or so small items only worth a few dollars can still earn you close to $100 or more. Items that are worth $15 or $20 each can bring in a more substantial amount of money, especially if they are prepared beforehand and displayed well.

Dusting items off, adding polish or making reasonable repairs are a few ways to prepare these items to sell. Items such as fine china or personal valuables that are cracked, broken or missing pieces may not be worth fixing. Inspect your items with a critical eye before putting in effort or money for repairs. Only the pieces of inventory that will earn you more money than the cost of fixing them are worth your attention.

3. Price Your Items

One tough question you may ask yourself is how to price items for an estate sale. There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. The most important one is to do your research.

Pricing too high can prevent items from selling while pricing too low will mean you lose out on the amount you could have received. Look online at Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or eBay to see what similar items are selling for. For valuables, consider hiring a professional appraiser to get the correct price.

Before the day of the sale, ensure all the items you plan to sell are marked with their designated price. You’ll also want to make sure the items that aren’t for sale are marked as such. Doing this will eliminate questions on what is and isn’t for sale — freeing your time to help buyers in the purchasing process. If you’re unsure what to use for marking prices, you can download our printable price tags below.

4. Display Your Items for Sale

4. Display Your Items for Sale

The way you display the items you’re selling can make a difference in whether or not they sell. Items like dressers, chairs, or desks left in the garage may be overlooked. Instead, consider giving them a proper dusting and stage them as you would find in a home so potential buyers can better visualize its value for their own home. Display bedroom furniture in a bedroom, kitchen dishes in the kitchen and any electronics in the living room or other appropriate place such as the den or TV room.

You may also consider grouping similar items together for potential buyers to see all at once. This allows you to group these items at the same price to eliminate the need for excess price tags or having to remember their price if adding the tag was overlooked. This could be DVDs, plates, fabric, or any other items you view to be around the same value.

5. Set Yourself Up for Purchases

Before the day of the sale, be sure you’re prepared for potential buyers to make purchases. Consider the layout of your items. Will potential buyers be more crowded in certain areas than others? If so, create a better layout where people can comfortably walk around and browse without feeling cramped.

You will also want to make sure a cash table is set up or ensure people will know where they can make purchases. If there will be multiple people helping with the sale that can assist with transactions, have them all wear the same color shirt or vest so they are easy to identify. Be sure to go to the bank before the sale to have change ready as well.

Another thing to prepare for is how you will handle checks, credit cards, Venmo or CashApp payments. Many people rely on these forms of payment, so it’s important to have a plan. If you don’t have a Venmo or CashApp account, consider setting one up or asking someone you trust if you can use their account. You may also want to consider purchasing a mobile credit card reader if it makes sense to do so.

6. Take Security Measures

6. Take Security Measures

In any type of yard, garage or estate sale, it can be easy for potential buyers to walk off with items they haven’t paid for. While you never want to expect this from others, it doesn’t hurt to take added security precautions. You can do this by rounding up a few people to help around the entrances and exits. You can also have people walking around, but be cautious of making shoppers feel uncomfortable.

You will also want to make sure the doors remain locked and closed before the sale begins. This will keep people out of the house and protect your items from being stolen or damaged.

7. Check Local Restrictions

Some cities or homeowners associations will require you to have a permit or have filled out an application before hosting your sale. They may also have specific restrictions or guidelines on what you can and can’t do, so be sure to check your city website and HOA site if you do live in one. Before hosting your estate sale, you will also want to be aware of social distancing measures that should be taken — either in light of certain regulations or as a precaution.

Some cities or HOAs will restrict you from putting up signs or handing out fliers. If they don’t, be sure to post signs of where to park. If there are restrictions on where potential buyers can park, be sure you follow these guidelines and make a plan accordingly.

8. Advertise

Without advertising, you’re likely to have few people show up the day of your sale. Advertising is a way to let people know when and where your sale will take place and what types of items will be available.

Here are a few cost-effective ways to advertise for your sale:

List your estate sale on Craigslist or social media sites. Take photos of more valuable items and put them online with your posting to attract more potential buyers. Put up signs around the neighborhood with directions on how to get there. Word of mouth (talk to the neighbors). Pass out fliers.

Estate Sale Vs Estate Auction

People often confuse the terms “estate sale” and “estate auction.” Both events are designed to liquidate nearly the entirety of someone’s personal property, and both are open to the public. However, Wikipedia states that, at an estate auction, each item is auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder. On the other hand, an estate sale is not an item-by-item sale event.

During an estate auction, an auction company and a highly-skilled auctioneer manage the event. The auctioneer is a member of their state and national auctioneers’ associations, and they follow a strict code of ethics. The auctioneer calls each item one by one, and the item goes to the highest bidder.

With an estate sale, there is no auctioneer. Shoppers are allowed to peruse the home’s assets at their leisure. The prices are set, and shoppers do not have to place competitive bids on items.

How Does an Estate Sale Work?

Putting an event together can feel overwhelming, so it’s helpful to break them down into chunks to tackle. An estate sale can be broken down into three stages: before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale. Focusing on one stage at a time can help you stay focused and organized. We explain what typically happens in each of the three stages below.

Before the Sale

Before you hold the estate sale, decide whether you will host the sale yourself, or work with a professional estate sale organizer. If you choose the latter, the first step would be to review possible candidates and select the professional organizer you’d like to work with.

Then, it’s time to decide what you will be selling during the estate sale. It’s best to take a thorough inventory of each and every item that you’d like to sell, and then further group them into categories. Next, appraise each item based on the market value. Your organizer can help you with this, or you may have to conduct your own research by visiting websites such as Craigslist or eBay. 

How will shoppers know that you’re hosting an estate sale? This is where marketing and advertising come in. Your sale organizer will typically take care of this in-house. If you’re working solo, you can focus on local marketing. Placing an ad in your local newspaper, publishing a post on sites like Craigslist or Facebook, and putting up signs in the neighborhood are just a few ideas.

Last but not least, prepare for the event itself. Clean up the home and display the sale items in an attractive way. Your estate organizer can help you place price tags on each item.

During the Sale

Before you open the doors to buyers, conduct a final walkthrough to make sure everything is in place. 

Buyers are typically allowed on a first-come, first-served basis, especially if there is a line. If you are expecting a large crowd, consider using a number system so that shoppers are allowed into the home in the order in which they arrived. 

Once entering the property, shoppers are usually permitted to roam about on their own. This allows them to peruse items for sale throughout the home and examine anything they might be interested in buying. Finally, they can pay for any items they want to purchase using cash, check, credit, or debit.

Working with a professional can be helpful because they can help manage crowds and resolve any issues with pricing. Many professionals won’t allow family members to be present at the actual estate sale because it can be hard to watch strangers rifling through your loved one’s belongings. If you would like to be present and participatory throughout the process, you can conduct the sale yourself or work with a professional that allows family member access.

After the Sale

Once the sale has concluded, it’s time to wrap things up! First, review the final report on revenues made from the estate sale. Hopefully, this is a moment where you can feel pleasantly surprised at how much you’ve made.

Then, decide how to dispose of any unsold items in a responsible way. You may be able to consign items with a vintage or antique shop. Otherwise, you could list items for sale online on second hand retail sites such as eBay or Craigslist. Last but not least, consider donating items to charity.

Once you have followed these steps, your estate sale has concluded!

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