Estate Sale Operators Sell Expertise, Labor

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

Harper charged the Carltons 30 percent for what was the second-biggest sale she had ever coordinated, but she'll take a bigger commission on very small sales or hurry-up sales that don't allow her the three weeks she generally needs.

A too-short timeframe, she said, means harder work for less money because she won't have time to market properly.

"I have done some in two weeks. I've done one in eight days, but it's difficult. I have to have time to advertise - and to know what it is I'll have for sale," Harper said.

Advertising is part of the operator's job, and professional operators routinely collect email addresses from estate sale shoppers and use online services like as well as traditional newspaper classified ads. Most also have websites where they whet shoppers' appetites by posting photos of the most interesting items that will be included in each sale.

Once the buyers are at the sale, the professional operators know techniques for getting them in the buying mood. They group like items together - Christmas decorations in one room, tools in the garage or shed. They will start the sale at full tag price, and then typically offer discounts of 20 or 25 percent on the second day and as much as 50 percent on the last day of the sale. Professional operators accept bids during the sale to help find the true market value of items that may have been priced ambitiously.

As the sale wears on, the operators consolidate the remaining items into fewer and fewer rooms and close off the rest of the house so that it never looks like all the good stuff is gone. The pros will also bring in consignment items from other clients.

"More is better," Harper said. "It's hard to sell from an empty cart."

Do It Yourself
Many advertised estate sales are amateur productions, but the professionals scoff at the idea that families come out ahead by doing it themselves rather than paying the commission.

"It takes a long time to know what things are worth," Cecchin said.

People who do their own sales invariably overprice some items and underprice others, she said, a double whammy on the bottom line. The overpriced items won't sell at all, and money walks out the door with the underpriced merchandise.

What's more, she said, "It makes the public uncomfortable to deal with the family. They like dealing with a third party. It's just better."

And then there's the cleanup. About 10 percent of the items are left after any sale, Cecchin said, and professional operators work with the families to make sure the leftovers are donated to charities or otherwise cleared out of the house.



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