How Do I Plan an Estate Sale?

by Drew Barton

An estate sale is a type of property liquidation that involves selling all the contents of a home within a few days (typically between one to three days). People also hold them when they want to get rid of a large number of belongings, such as for a downsizing or a long-distance move.

Hosting an estate sale takes considerable planning because the logistics can be complicated, especially if you don’t know how estate sales work. Many things need to happen before the sale and certain processes need to be followed to ensure its success.

Let's walk through what goes into planning an estate sale and some of the challenges you may encounter along the way. If you are thinking about organizing your own one, this guide will give you a better understanding of how it all works to help you decide if you can handle it on your own.

Checklist for hosting an estate sale

An estate sale is not something you can just throw together last minute. You will need to spend a fair amount of time doing prep work and there may also be specific civic procedures to follow.

There are some of the things you will need to do if you want to host a successful estate sale:

Create an estate sale inventory

The first step in planning any estate sale is sorting through and cataloging everything you plan to sell. This is essential for keeping track of what is on sale, how much those things are selling for, and for recon after the sale.

Your inventory should include a description, price, and photograph for each item.

Fix and clean items for sale

Selling is the whole point of an estate sale so you will need to get things looking good if you want to tempt people to buy them.

Broken goods are not easy to sell at estate sales, so any broken items that are still valuable should get fixed if you want to include them in the sale and increase their chances of getting sold.

Appraise and price items for sale

Deciding how much to sell things for is not as simple as just knocking 10 or 20 percent off the original price. People who come to estate sales are looking for bargains, so you will need to ensure the price is based on today's market value.

Value, market price, and demand are the three main things to consider when determining the price.

Take great pictures of the items

Whether for your inventory or marketing, photographs are essential for a successful estate sale.

Showing people what they can expect to find at the sale is what will draw them to it. Having pictures of the items that are going to be on sale also increases the chances of people buying them.

Advertise the estate sale

People don’t just show up without getting the word out. You will need to market your estate sale properly if you want to get a decent crowd – and the right crowd.

Posting flyers up in your local supermarket and on social media may work to capture a local crowd, but you will need to reach a more expansive and diverse group of buyers if you want a higher chance of selling all your stuff for top dollar.

Check with your HOA

If you are in an area with a Homeowners Association (HOA) you will need to check if estate sales are permitted. Some residential developments, like gated communities and country clubs, may have rules about estate sales.

Have a plan for parking

HOAs may also have rules and regulations for parking. You will need to figure out a way to enforce parking rules if there are any.

If the estate is in an area where there is limited or no parking space, coming up with a plan to accommodate the vehicles of buyers is crucial. If they don’t have anywhere to park, chances are they will leave and you will lose out on potential buyers.

Check with your municipality about permits

Along with HOAs, there may also be rules that govern your municipality. You will need to find out if you are required to have any sort of permit to host an estate sale.

This may have a fee attached to the permit application and the permit will need to be displayed throughout the sale.

Hire security if you have high-value items

Bargain hunters and collectors are known for being a passionate bunch, so theft is known to happen.

People are more likely to avoid trouble if there is a security presence, so hiring security can ensure your items are being safeguarded until they find their way into the hands of a buyer, not shoplifter.

Mark off-limits areas

Estate sales involve opening a home up to strangers, but the last place you may want them rummaging around in is a bathroom, bedroom or study. You will need to decide which areas are out of bounds and ensure people know it is not part of the sale.

Set ground rules

Estate sales often attract large crowds of people, which is what makes them work but also what makes them complicated. Laying down ground rules, such as no large bags or backpacks help prevent people from stealing.

Have ingress and egress doors

Having separate entry and exit doors will ensure a smooth flow of people through the house and make it easier to monitor who enters and leaves. These are essential if the property is large and you want to deter people from walking out with stolen goods through any available exit.

Remember to collect sales tax

Different states have different rules for sales tax on estate sale items. It is required in Georgia, so you will need to collect sales tax on items that are sold and ensure it is paid to the county. Keep in mind that buyers with the intent to resell the item may have a current state sales tax number that will allow them to purchase the item without tax.

Have a clean-up plan

After all the goods are gone and people have left you will probably be faced with a house that needs a serious clean. Chances are you will have no desire to clean up after the sale, so having a plan to deal with the mess will save you having to worry about that too.

Have a plan for the leftovers

What is your plan for the things that don’t sell? If you are moving or need to empty a house completely to ready it for a sale you will need to figure out what to do with unsold items.

If you don’t want to throw these things away, there are estate cleanout services that collect leftover goods and transport them to charity organizations or recycling centers.

5 reasons to hire out the estate sale planning

Now that you know what is required to organize a successful estate sale, let's talk about the reasons why you might consider hiring a professional to handle everything for you.

1. It takes a lot of work

From pricing to clean up, organizing an estate sale requires a lot of work and time. If you don’t have the time or resources to ensure things are done properly, it can become overwhelming very quickly.

Of course, the bigger the property, the more work there is. Don’t underestimate how much time cataloging and cleaning all the contents of a home can take. Not to mention the importance of marketing and dealing with customers during a sale. An estate sale company will have an entire team dedicated to planning every detail of your estate sale.

2. You might take things personally

Hurt egos are a common occurrence when owners are present at sales, which is why estate sale companies don’t allow owners to be present while the sale is going on.

If you don’t host the sale there is no chance of you getting offended when people say unflattering things about your beloved belongings or want to negotiate on the price of a particularly sentimental item.

3. You may not know how much your stuff is worth

One of the most complicated parts of an estate sale is deciding what to put on the price tags. Charge too much and you lose out on sales; charge too little and you lose out on money.

All the work that went into planning the sale will be for nothing if you don’t sell most of your stuff or turn a profit because things weren’t priced correctly. An estate sale company will have experienced appraisers on their team to evaluate each item and set appropriate prices.

4. It can be emotionally taxing

Estate sales can be extremely difficult to deal with if it is happening because of a death or divorce. Going through the belongings of a loved one who has passed can be painful and haggling with a stranger over the value of an item can be emotionally taxing if you’re grieving a lost love. An estate sale professional can make the entire process turnkey, so you can focus on taking care of yourself and your family during the process.

5. Dealing with clean-up and getting rid of leftovers is a headache

If you are moving for a new job or you are otherwise on a tight schedule to clear out the contents of a property, having to deal with unsold items at the end of a sale can be extremely stressful. An estate sale company can help you with all the post-sale clean-up.

You don't have to go it alone.

Need help organizing an estate sale in Metro Atlanta? Get in touch with our estate sale specialist today.

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