ValueYourMoney.org
The Popularity of Estate Sales
The Savvy Consumer

By Teresa McUsic

Estate sales are a growing industry, according to Julie Hall, who owns the American Society of Professional Liquidators and is the author of the Amazon best-seller Boomer Burden: Dealing with your Parent’s Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff.

“I think the trend is only beginning, as the Depression era leaves us and the boomers are left with the estate,” said Hall. “The Depression era general held onto everything and their children are turning to professionals to get it out.”

That’s what David Mays of Fort Worth had to do when his mother died in 2009.

“I was the executer and I had no idea what an estate sales process consisted of,” he said. “Some people call it assets—I called it junk. She never threw anything away. My parents were well traveled so she had some nice furniture and knickknacks, too. It was pretty overwhelming for me.”

On the advice of an aunt, Mays hired an estate liquidator, Millchell Inc., a Fort Worth company in the business for 36 years.

“It was a turnkey operation,” Mays said. “They asked us upfront to go through the house and remove any paintings or photographs we wanted. We left the rest as is.”

Millchell’s staff went through everything else in the house, clearing out closets, drawers, even boxes in the garage, Mays said. The estate liquidator then priced and tagged all items and displays them on tables with attractive lighting and tablecloths. Valuable items were placed in glass cases the company brings in, said Gary Miller, co-owner of Millchell.

“It’s important that it looks good,” said Miller. “The better it looks, the better it’s going to sell.”

The three-day sale attracted close to 1,000 potential buyers and netted the estate around $20,000, Mays said, after Millchell’s commission, which averages around 30 percent of sales. While this house had some nice teak Oriental furniture, Mays said the more everyday appliances and tools sold equally well.

“Our clientele are from everywhere in society, from fixed income up,” Miller said. “All of that little stuff ads up.”

There are two major reasons to consider a liquidator: time and money. Hall estimates the average three-bedroom house would take a three-person team of liquidators around a week for prep and sale. Miller said his company’s goal is to get between 50 percent and 70 percent of the retail price, far more than would be made in a typical garage sale.

Another advantage is exposure of the house, which Miller recommends be for sale as well.

“We encourage them to get it on the market and have the listing sheet and realtor’s card available,” he said. “We generally draw between 1,000 and 2,000 people in the house on a weekend—a realtor couldn’t do that in a year.”

Millchell said the estate sales business is booming and they have to turn down jobs.

A place to find local estate sales is www.EstateSales.net, a national website that breaks down the listings by state and city.

While business is growing, so are the number of estate liquidators, some of whom are not as professional or may even be fraudsters, warns Hall.

The typical cautionary practices also apply when hiring estate liquidators: Talk to at least three companies, check references thoroughly and check out their Better Business Bureau rankings.