houseWe accumulate a lot of stuff over a lifetime and at some point – perhaps due to death, divorce, debt, or downsizing – we need to get rid of it. An estate sale is one way to dispose of possessions that you no longer want or need.  

There are many companies that help families sell furniture, jewelry, and other belongings that they no longer want. While a yard or house-possession sale requires a lot of work by the sellers, an estate sale company does all the work in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds — typically from 25 to 50 percent. The company usually handles sorting goods, staging the house, setting prices, promoting the sale, and hiring workers. There may be a separate fee for cleaning up. Goods that aren’t sold are usually donated to charity.

To get ready for an estate sale, the first step is to ensure that you have the legal right to sell the property. There can’t be any unresolved estate issues. Companies may request legal documentation showing that you have the right to dispose of the property.

There is no regulatory body that oversees the estimated 14,000 estate sale companies, so before hiring one of them you should do some research. You can search the website of The American Society of Estate Liquidators, a trade association that requires its members to meet certain education requirements and abide by an ethics code. Be sure to check your local Better Business Bureau and Yelp for complaints about companies you are considering. You can also ask for references or attend a sale run by the company. In addition, make sure your liquidator carries insurance in case there are any accidents while buyers are at the estate sale. Finally, you should make sure the company offers a written contract.

Questions to ask any prospective liquidating company include how it handles security, what happens to goods that aren’t sold, and what type of clean-up is included. Many companies do not want families to be present while the sale is going on because family members can get emotional. Families need to make sure they remove from the house anything they want to keep before they call in the liquidators. But companies warn customers not to throw too much away before hiring an estate liquidator because one person’s idea of trash might be another person’s treasure.

For more information about estate sales, click here and here.