Estate Sale Operators Sell Expertise, Labor

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Sep. 26, 2011 12:00 am  

The first thing Anna Harper would like you to know if you are contemplating an estate sale is this: Your stuff isn't worth as much as you paid for it.

"I hate it when people ask me, 'How much do you think I'll make?' That's my most dreaded question," said Harper, who has operated Anna's Estate Sales in Little Rock for the past 15 years. "This is not a money-making project. This is a cleaning-out project. It's a rare bird that sells for more than you paid for it."

But estate sales are money-makers for Harper and more than a dozen other operators who regularly conduct sales in central Arkansas. They typically charge a commission of 30 to 35 percent on the proceeds of a sale, sometimes more. They do all the work leading up to the sale, including advertising, pricing and organizing the merchandise for display. Then they help the owners get rid of anything that doesn't sell and leave the house spick-and-span.

Estate sales are capital-light, labor-intensive businesses. The operators own a few signs, maybe a van or truck. Harper has some golf carts to ferry shoppers to sales where limited parking or steep terrain could serve as impediments to buyers.

The main things that estate sale operators have to offer are expertise on the current market value of just about any object that might be found in someone's home and an established marketing network to attract shoppers with ready cash.

The people who earn their livings off selling other people's belongings are the type of people who were always fascinated with all manner of tangible things.

Harper spent 15 years in retail before going into the estate sale business, which she calls "the world's second-oldest profession."

"I had always loved old stuff, so I'm not sure why I didn't go into [estate sales] in the first place," Harper said. "It's a lot easier to make a living selling old stuff than it is to make a living selling new stuff."

Kathy Cecchin of Conway, known professionally as The Estate Sale Queen, has run shops and booths selling antique and vintage items for almost 20 years. But when the Great Recession hit in 2008, she started supplementing her income by joining the booming estate sale industry.

"I've been a buyer and a seller and a collector my entire adult life," said John Gaiser, who had a long career in Little Rock's restaurant industry before he and his wife, Emily McCaskill Gaiser, hatched the idea for an estate sale company on their honeymoon two years ago. Their Pennsylvania Trading Co. has quickly become one of the most prolific operators of estate sales in the area, joining familiar names like Roy Dudley, Burchfield, Rook's and Estate Sales by June (Blankenship).

"I do have competitors, but there's plenty of business out there for all of us," Harper said. "I could work a lot more than I do."

While hard times might seem to be a reason why more people are looking for bargains at more estate sales, Harper doesn't think the recession and sluggish recovery are behind the growth in the industry.

"I don't think it's economy-driven. I think it's generational," she said.



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