Everything Must Go!

By Terri L. Jones | October 24th, 2018

What to expect if an estate sale is in your future


Maybe you’re downsizing to move into a retirement community, or perhaps a parent has passed away and you have to clear out the house. In either case, selling most or all of a household can be a daunting task that’s made even harder by the emotions attached to it. Instead of standing paralyzed in the middle of the attic, take a deep breath and let us walk you through the process – whether you choose to do it yourself or hire a professional.


You can unload individual items through a variety of channels, from Craigslist to consignment stores; however, two common ways to sell a whole household – from the stamp collection to the lawn mower – are an estate sale and an online auction.

An estate sale, which generally lasts one to four days, happens in the home; an online auction, which can extend from four to 10 days, takes place on the internet (with preview days sometimes held at the house).

These two liquidation processes also diverge in how items are priced, with estate sales starting at fair market value and working down – through increasing discounts and negotiation – and online auctions starting at a minimum bid and working up. When using an outside company to manage either, you’ll typically pay a commission for items sold, with some businesses charging fees on top of the commission.



After removing personal items and those things that you and your family want to keep, the first step is to pull out every item to assess its condition and salability, and to fix and clean when necessary and worthwhile.

“We do a thorough job, like anyone who is getting ready to move,” says the owner of Panache Estate and Moving Sales, Barbara Tomlinson. When Tomlinson and her team are finished, every cabinet, closet and drawer in the place is empty. Not only does this put everything for sale in plain view for shoppers, but no one wants to buy a dresser with a pair of old socks still inside.

Another advantage of having a professional involved: “We’re not going to put a bunch of stuff in a sale that’s not going to sell,” explains Matt Paxton, founder of Legacy Navigator, an estate cleanout and settlement services business which partners with Cannon’s Online Auctions. For example, encyclopedia sets probably won’t sell, but those bottles of cleaning supplies likely will.

Tomlinson adds that millennials, who typically aren’t interested in “stuff,” may be mining your sale for practical things like skillets and shovels and retro items (hang on to those record albums!).


“If we’re a little emotionally attached to it, we tend to think something is worth more than it really is,” says Paxton, who is the former host of the A&E show Hoarders.

The reverse can also be true. Paxton recalls how some Matchbox cars, which the owners thought might fetch around $20, actually went for $1,200 because Cannon’s marketed them to the right collector.

The key is to do your homework and learn what items are going for on sites like eBay and Craigslist. And be sure to put a price tag on everything, so you’re not winging it at the checkout desk.

Typically, estate sale prices stay firm on the first day and then drop 25 percent on the second and 50 percent on the third. But always be willing to negotiate.

To establish values, Tomlinson draws on her 30-plus years of estate sale experience, plus does a lot of research before each sale. But she’s quick to point out: “I don’t know everything, so I consult a professional appraiser if there’s something I don’t know about.”


It’s not enough to just put your sale in the classifieds these days. You’ll need to also advertise on sites such as Craigslist, Facebook, estatesales.net and estatesales.org and include plenty of photos. And for home-based sales, don’t forget to post signs on nearby roads with the date, time and address.

“Online auctions get more eyeballs [on your items for sale],” according to Paxton. “[Online auctioneers] also often market to national and local specialty groups, fan pages, etc.”

Plus, the professionals will alert specific buyers about items in which they may be interested to drive more traffic to sales and drive up bidding in auctions.


A veteran estate sale shopper reported that he could always tell the professional estate sales from the private ones by the merchandising.

Some basic merchandising tips include displaying items on tables and racks, but not overloading them; keeping merchandise in the room where it is used (i.e., a blender shouldn’t be in the living room); and arranging the sale around the perimeter or the center of rooms for easier traffic flow.

Online auctions rely on photos to grab customers’ attention, then offer customers the opportunity to see items in person on the preview day.


Face it! Not everything is going to sell. Before the sale even begins, plan where the unsold items will go (keep, recycle, donate, toss) and schedule pickups to happen as soon as you close the sale.

“I give people a choice,” explains Tomlinson, whose team leaves everything broom clean at the end of the estate sale. “‘Do you want to keep these things?’ ‘Do you want me to call a charity of your choice?’ ‘Do you want me to call a dealer and see if they’ll come in and buy everything?’”

Cannon’s Online Auctions also takes care of customers’ unsold items.

Liquidating a household can be an onerous process. But after all the blood, sweat and tears, imagine the freedom … and the extra cash in your pocket!


Thanks to the size of the boomer generation, there’s a tsunami of stuff for sale these days. And with that demand comes a flood of businesses to help. If you hire a professional, find out how long they’ve been in business and if they have a business license, request references, make sure they have insurance if working on your property (if anyone get hurts, you could be liable) and get all the details, such as pricing, upfront and in writing.

Terri L. Jones is a freelance marketing writer and owner of WordPlay (WordPlayCreative.com). When she got married four years ago, she spent a whole lot of time clearing out and selling off much of the her and her husband’s households to start fresh in a new home. Now she realizes she should have hired a professional!

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