How Estate Sales Work

Planning an Estate Sale

Some items can be worth a surprising amount of money, such as this vintage toy plane and antique trunk. Don't get rid of anything until an expert looks through the home.
Some items can be worth a surprising amount of money, such as this vintage toy plane and antique trunk. Don't get rid of anything until an expert looks through the home.
David Evans/National Geographic/Getty Images

The first step in planning an estate sale is deciding whether or not to hire a company to manage the sale for you. Most people choose to do this, because organizing one on your own is an incredible amount of work. Major tasks include

  • making an inventory of all the items in the house
  • figuring out whether they should all go in the sale
  • finding out what fair prices would be for all the items
  • setting everything up so it looks professional
  • publicizing the sale
  • making sure everything runs smoothly and fairly
  • making sure no one steals anything

If you decide to hire a company, how do you find a good one? The Internet and the phone book are both good ways to find professional estate sale managers in your area, and most companies have a website where you can read all about them. Estate sale companies might also call themselves appraisal companies, which mean they're experts in knowing the value of items.

Before choosing a company, call around, comparing rates and services. Ask lots of questions, such as what they estimate you'll make from the sale, and what their policy is on any items left over at the end. If you have any valuable or rare items to sell, make sure the company has people with the right expertise to get you a fair price. Don't trust a company that doesn't answer all your questions directly, and instead refers you to the contract or their brochures.

To determine whether a company is reputable and professional, look for a few signs:

  • Any estate sale company should be licensed, which means they have legal authorization to provide their services.
  • Good companies are usually bonded as well. This is a form of insurance where a third party guarantees that the company will honor contracts and agreements. If the contract is broken, the third party (the bonding company) will pay you compensation.
  • A reputable estate sale company will also provide references upon request and feedback from previous clients about the quality of the company's service.
  • No company should charge you for the initial interview and inspection of the house.

When weighing the pros and cons of certain companies, don't automatically dismiss ones that charge a higher percentage than others. Choosing a company with a low percentage fee doesn't necessarily mean you will make more money. A company with better advertising and presentation is often much more successful at selling your items, though they probably charge a higher percentage.

When you've found a company you're happy with, make sure you get a contract that covers all the details you've discussed and that you understand everything in it before you sign. After this, you can relax and the company will manage all aspects of the sale.

For more information on estate sales, see the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Ellis-Christensen, Tricia. "What is an Estate Sale?" Wisegeek. 2003-2008. (5/7/08).
  • The Estate Sale Network. (5/7/08).;;;;;
  • Heirloom Estate Sales. 2008. (5/7/08).
  • RedOrbit news. "Woman Finds $3,000 in Garage-Sale Chair." 5/30/05. (5/8/08).