Estate Sales: How do I choose the right person?

First printed in the Buffalo News Homefinder in Summer 2011

In my first two articles we looked at estates sales in general as well as methods of liquidation. Since many people opt for the “tag sale” option, I thought it would be best to discuss the best way to choose a professional to perform this task for you. Keep in mind these people will be handling your family heirlooms and valuables. The best place to start like many other things is to ask family and friends which companies they used. Check for licenses and references. Ask if the liquidator is bonded and insured on your property. Screen with a phone interview as a first step and check if your time frames correspond.

Follow up with an in-person interview where the sale will be held so you can assess if they are well-groomed, courteous and professional. They can take a look at what you want to sell and determine their interest level. I always look for people that are respectful, direct and enthusiastic.

I believe it is important to ask what type of accounting procedure is used and it’s best to request a copy of a past estate sale inventory sheet. Many professionals are now using online systems that are very user friendly. Ask about advertising and what methods will be used to promote the sale. You will want to see a balanced combination of both online and print media advertising. Some other somewhat common sense questions are to ask about membership in the Better Business Bureau and what percentage or amount of commission will be charged. I would also suggest asking about staffing on the day of the sale and if there is a clean out after the sale is over. It’s likely that you will want a “broom clean” property that will be “real estate ready”. It’s also important to know up front what is the duration of the sale, how long will it take to receive your proceeds check and what type of post-sale accounting will be done on your behalf. This is particularly important if you are acting as executor or power of attorney for another.

When weighing the pros and cons of certain companies, don’t automatically dismiss ones that charge a higher percentage than others because picking a company with a low percentage fee doesn’t necessarily mean you will profit more. A company with better advertising and marketing is often more successful at selling your items, even though they will likely charge a higher percentage. Once you’ve made our decision, make sure you get a contract that covers all the details you’ve discussed and that you understand every aspect of it before signing the document.

In the last article of this series I will address the question Do I sell the house or the contents first?

Reprinted with the permission of the Buffalo News Homefinder

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