Estate Sale Operators Sell Expertise, Labor

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

Baby boomers are retiring and looking to downsize at the same time their parents are dying off and leaving them with more stuff to deal with. Estate sales these days are as likely, maybe even more likely, to involve a move - to a smaller house or assisted-living apartment, to another part of the country, to a houseboat - than the death of the owner, but all involve clearing out a residence.

"In 2011," Emily Gaiser said, "I think there have only been one or two weekends when there was not an estate sale in central Arkansas. And that's just the professionals."

Harper is a one-woman show when it comes to setting up for the 10 or 12 sales she takes on every year. It generally takes her three weeks to get ready for a sale, which may start on Thursday or Friday and continue through Sunday. During the sale, she will generally pay six helpers, although a bigger sale may require more manpower. One of her biggest sales, at Bill and Pat Carlton's home on Overlook Drive in January, required a crew of 20 over a five-day period

Cecchin operates similarly, personally spending two or three weeks setting up for one sale a month then paying helpers to work during the sales. But the Gaisers' Pennsylvania Trading Co. will conduct more than 30 sales this year alone, and it pays three contractors who work essentially 40 hours a week to help John set up for the sales while Emily handles the bookkeeping and marketing.

100 Percent Trust
While professional estate sale operators almost always require clients to sign a contract so that expectations are clearly spelled out, the operators say the business relationship is really all about trust: Trust that the operator will get a reasonable price for each item and then account for all sales honestly.

"It's a trust business, 100 percent," Anna Harper said. "So you'd better go with someone you like and trust and feel comfortable with."

Because all estate sale operators take a straight commission on total sales, they have a clear incentive to get the best prices possible.

"It's a very transparent business relationship," John Gaiser said. "I'd rather sell this for $100 than $10."

That's because a $100 item is worth $35 to Pennsylvania Trading Co., while a $10 item is only worth $3.50. The Gaisers generally command a 35 percent commission on almost everything, although they may agree to a lower commission on big-ticket items like vehicles. They may also charge a higher commission if a sale involves moving a lot of furniture and boxes out of storage units.

Big-ticket items may be itemized, but there are no bar code scanners and no guarantees on which items will sell for the full asking price and which will have to be discounted. The operator, however, has a long-term interest in making sure that clients feel confident that they cleared as much money as possible on the sale.

"You live and die by your reputation," John Gaiser said. "We are based almost entirely on referrals."

Cecchin, The Estate Sale Queen, also works for 35 percent most of the time, although she might give a break on the commission for a very large sale or charge more for a very small one. The typical estate sale in Conway will net about $10,000, she said, although she has managed sales that brought in as much as $25,000.



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