Estate Sales: Sell the house or the contents first?

First printed in the Buffalo News Homefinder in Summer 2011

Like so many real estate questions that people ask me, the answer to this one is: “It depends.” In this “multi-tasking” age that we all live in the other question that naturally comes up is “Can I Do Both at the Same Time?” The primary determining factor when there is a need to sell both the real estate and the contents is – How does the property show in its current condition and set up? If it is quite cluttered, the obvious answer is to sell the contents first and then the real estate. If it is set up fairly well in its current condition and the furnishings are somewhat neutral, you would do much better to sell the real estate first and then run the estate sale between the time you sign the contract to sell the house and the actually closing of the transaction. You will have, in most cases, a two month window to work with.

It is quite disruptive in most cases to run a full house estate sale while a property is on the market. There will be about a two week set up period for the estate liquidator and during this time there will be great disarray as the liquidator generally needs to sort everything into piles throughout the house prior to final staging for the sale. There will also be a one to two week period after the sale where final clean up will take place and again it will look somewhat chaotic throughout and not conducive at all to the sale of the real estate. The only time it can really make sense to do this if you have a large garage or outbuilding to work with and the items you are selling do not exceed that capacity. In this instance, it can actually help you to “cross market” the two sales. People drawn to the sale of the real estate may buy from the estate sale and if you get lucky, the real estate might sell as a result of the estate sale.

Selling a house and its contents on behalf of someone else is not unlike taking on a part time job for a period of time for the individual who has been entrusted with this task. Most executors and power of attorney are close to the person they are helping and the situation is often emotionally charged as well as highly detailed. It is best throughout the process to get professional assistance at every step of the way. In many ways this is an endurance test and it is critical to pace yourself and take breaks from it as you work your way through the process.

Reprinted with the permission of the Buffalo News Homefinder

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