If you’re downsizing for a move or cleaning out a loved one’s home after their passing, an estate sale may be the best way to pare down belongings. While you may think you have it under control because you know how to have a garage sale, an estate sale is usually far more involved.
Unfortunately, estate sales usually take place during stressful or upsetting times. Refer to our estate sale checklist as you work to help you make the process go as smoothly as possible with tips from Poof! Estate Services, Helaine Fendelman & Associates and Marni Jameson, author of AARP-endorsed book Downsizing the Family Home.
Exactly how do estate sales work? Decide what you want to sell, give everything a price and tally up your totals. It sounds simple enough, but the process can be tedious. Use the following steps to help you plan and get through the sale efficiently.
We’ve pulled together a list of commonly sold items followed by some things you definitely should not give to other people second-hand.
Just because something is outdated or not traditionally seen at a sale doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a buyer. Here’s a list of items you might not have thought to sell:
Pro-Tip: Aside from the things you shouldn’t sell, make sure to lock away anything that is not for sale. Buyers will think anything they can see is up for grabs.
Step 2: Organize Your Items
To increase the chance of selling belongings, make sure they’re organized and displayed neatly. Think of your home as a department store and create sections to sell different groups of items. For example, put kitchenware in the kitchen, use the living room to display furniture and hang clothes on garment racks in the bedroom.
Maximize display space by using furniture for sale to show off smaller items. If you’re using a surface that you don’t intend to sell, cover it with a sheet or clearly mark it with a tag that says, “Not For Sale.” You can also use boxes to hold items like books, records or non-breakable trinkets.
Step 3: Price Your Items
This is arguably the hardest part of planning an estate sale. It takes professionals years of experience to know how much a piece of art or an antique vase is worth, so it may be worth consulting an expert on the more valuable pieces. Sometimes, you may not even know you have something valuable right under your kitchen sink.
However, most items probably aren’t worth as much as you’d think. When it comes to putting a price tag on everyday items, make sure to mark them lower than the current retail value. Keep in mind: people attend estate sales to find a bargain. Even if you think you’ve marked a fair price, be ready to haggle. Regular estate sale-goers aren’t afraid to negotiate, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to accept the offer. You can always make a verbal agreement with a customer to sell the item at the agreed upon price if no one buys it at the original cost.
Remember the point of an estate sale is to sell everything. This means you’re putting a price tag on every last item in the home. Save yourself some time by bulk pricing. Instead of labeling every book, display them in a bookshelf and hang a sign that says, “All Books $2.” It’s also a good idea to keep some stickers or tags handy to mark large items as sold if they’re too big for people to carry around with them as they look.
A good way to make sure things sell is to reduce their price as the days of the sale go on. Try this pricing scale:
- Day 1: Full price
- Day 2: 25% off
- Day 3: 50% off
Pro-Tip: Don’t advertise sale reductions ahead of time as this may deter customers from coming on the first day. Simply alert customers as they’re shopping or hang signs on discount days.
Now that you know some good pricing tactics, here’s a look at the real question: how much should you sell this or that for?
How to Price Household Items for an Estate Sale
This is not an easy task, but try to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. What would you pay for this second-hand item? When all else fails, consider hiring a professional.
Use this estate sale pricing guide to get the most out of your sale.
Check the Item’s Condition.
You probably would expect a discount if a tea set was missing a saucer or if a table had a few noticeable scratches, so assume a customer would, too. Consider not selling something if it’s broken, if there are several missing pieces or it’s not functioning properly.
Know What’s Desirable.
The more in-demand something is, the higher you can price it. Is it a popular brand, signed by a well-known artist, a collectible or highly unique? Keep these questions in mind when deciding how much it’s worth.
Consider the Time of Year.
If you’re trying to sell camping gear in the winter, you probably won’t be able to sell it for as much as you would in the summer when it’s in demand.
Do Some Research.
If you’re not sure what something is worth, the best way to figure it out is to see what other people are selling it for. Even appraisers and estate liquidators do similar research. Try these tools to figure out appropriate pricing:
- Visit other estate sales if you have time.
- Explore EstateSales.org and EstateSales.net.
- Search Google by description to find similar items.
- Check online sites like Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace.
- See if vintage items are listed on Replacements.com or Antiques Roadshow’s appraisal archive.
Step 4: Publicize the Sale
Possibly the most important part of the planning process is drawing people to your sale. Otherwise, all of your hard work will have been for nothing. Advertise in your local newspaper, on your local news sites, via social media and through sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. You can also list your sale on estate sale websites like EstateSales.net and EstateSales.org.
On the days leading up to the sale and especially on the day of, place brightly-colored signs near the street to direct traffic to your property and attract passers-by. Make sure to include the dates, times and the address of your sale on your signs and in your ads. It’s also helpful to include pictures or highlight items you’ll be selling.
Step 5: Clean Up and Donate What’s Left
When your estate sale is finally over, divide whatever didn’t sell into donation and throw-away piles. You may not have much left in the toss category since you already decided what was in good enough condition to sell. If you have large items that you need to toss, rent a dumpster so you don’t have to take multiple trips to the landfill or wait for bulk pickup day.
Anything leftover can be donated to several organizations. Here are a few local charities that can be found nationwide:
Estate Sale Rules to Help Your Event Run Smoothly
Now that you’re prepared for your sale, think about the rules you want to enforce. Perhaps the most important rules are how many people will be allowed inside at once and how will you decide the order of people who enter. The general rule of thumb is to use a first come, first served policy. An alternative is using a number system, similar to a deli counter.
How the Number System Works
- Give out numbers a few hours ahead of the sale so people don’t have to wait in a long line when you open.
- Start calling numbers when the sale officially begins.
- Customers must be somewhere in line (not necessarily in order) when their number is called, otherwise, they’ll have to wait at the end of the line.
Pro-Tip: Decide whether or not you’re going to use devices like Square to accept credit cards, if you’ll accept checks and if you’ll use apps like Venmo or PayPal as payment. Also decide if you’ll have someone available to help customers load large items into their cars. Whatever estate sale rules you decide on, make sure to post them along with your ads.
When Is the Best Time to Have an Estate Sale?
This can be irrelevant for many sellers because, often times, estate sales are time sensitive, whether you’re moving or closing out a loved one’s home. There’s no real answer to this question, but if you have the luxury of choosing when to hold the sale, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If you’re going to utilize outdoor space, make sure to plan around weather conditions.
- Weekends and mornings are usually the most popular times for estate sale shoppers.
- There is more competition with other estate and garage sales in the spring and summer seasons.
- If the items lend to the character of the house, it may be beneficial to hold the estate sale while you’re trying to sell the home.
- Have the estate sale before listing the house if you’d rather have an empty home to sell.
Reach Out for Help
Planning for an estate sale can be a grueling process, and it can be especially difficult if you’re not entirely ready to part with some belongings. In this case, consider hiring an estate sale liquidator.
Hiring a professional is also a good, hassle-free option if you’re having a hard time figuring out how to organize the sale, how to price items, if you have a tight deadline or if you’re looking to maximize your sale profits. Whether you decide to plan the estate sale yourself or seek help from a professional, take some time to do a little research before forging ahead.