Collection of furniture for sale in front of home.

What Is An Estate Sale?

4-Minute Read
Published on January 10, 2024
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If you’re planning to sell a house, you’ll need to decide what to do with the possessions you don’t want to keep or leave behind for the new owners. One option may be to hold an estate sale.

An estate sale can be an involved process. You should know how it works and whether to do it yourself or hire an estate sale company.

What Does Estate Sale Mean?

An estate sale, sometimes referred to as a tag sale, is typically used to liquidate a household's belongings after a significant life event, such as a family member’s death or a divorce or when downsizing.

It’s the controlled sale of a variety of items, including furniture, household goods, electronics, art, jewelry and collectibles.

Why Have An Estate Sale?

An estate sale may be necessary for several reasons, including settling a deceased family member’s estate, selling shared possessions after a divorce or clearing possessions out of a home after a financial hardship, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure or a short sale.

What Is An Estate Sale Vs. A Garage Sale?

A traditional garage or yard sale is often held when a household wants to get rid of unwanted items but plans to keep most of their possessions and stay in their home. An estate sale is usually an extensive, organized event that offers buyers access to a broader range of items.

How Do Estate Sales Work?

Organizing an estate sale involves careful planning, organization and attention to detail. We’ll take you through the steps you can take to help make your estate sale a success.

Assess And Inventory

The first step when organizing an estate sale is to assess the size of the estate and create an inventory of items you plan to sell. For high-value items, you may want to include a detailed description and photographs that detail the item’s history and origin.

Set Your Pricing

Once you’ve created your inventory list, set a price for each item. To set a price, you may need to research to determine an item’s fair market value based on its age and condition. It may be worthwhile to appraise higher-value items. You should also decide early on whether you’re willing to negotiate on the listed prices and what you’d accept as the lowest purchase offer.

Decide On Forms Of Payment

Consider allowing buyers to pay with a credit or debit card. Allowing for other payment methods besides cash can make buying easier for buyers and protect you from fraud.

Set A Date And Advertise

You must set a date for your estate sale. Consider dates when people are likely to be available. Avoid holding your sale during a holiday or bad weather. These factors may discourage buyers from attending.

Once you’ve established the date, you’ll need to advertise the sale. You can use online platforms, local newspapers, community bulletin boards and social media. The ads should prominently feature the sale’s date, time and location and show off high-end items that may attract buyers.

Hold Your Estate Sale

The items for sale should be on display and clearly priced. Depending on the size of the sale and the types of items you have on sale, you may need to:

  • Get a permit to hold the sale
  • Recruit or hire staff to work with potential buyers
  • Arrange for security to protect your property

Decide What To Do With Unsold Estate Sale Items

If you have unsold estate sale items, you can keep them or put them in storage to sell later on or donate them to local charities or organizations that can resell them or put them to use. Make sure to get an itemized receipt for any items you donate. Depending on the total value of your donations, you may get a tax write-off at the end of the year.

Should You Work With An Estate Sale Company?

Estate sales are often managed by professionals or companies that specialize in organizing and managing estate sales. An estate sale company can typically handle item appraisals and advertising and overseeing the sale.

How Much Do Estate Sale Companies Charge?

The total cost of using an estate sale company can vary based on several factors, including the location of the sale, the size and scope of the sale, the value of the items for sale and the services provided by the company.

Estate sale companies typically don’t charge an upfront fee. Depending on the complexity of the sale and the area where the sale is happening, they usually charge a percentage of the total sales, ranging from 25% to 45% or more.

Is An Estate Sale Company Worth The Cost?

While the cost of hiring an estate sale company may seem high, a reputable company can help ensure a successful sale, attract potential buyers and manage all the logistics of the sale, saving you time and potentially providing a better return on the estate’s value.

How Do You Choose An Estate Sale Company?

Before working with any estate sale company, do your research. The company should be licensed to work in your state.

Ask friends and family or a trusted real estate professional for recommendations. You should check whether the company is listed on the Better Business Bureau and ask for client references.

The Bottom Line

If you need to clear out the contents of a home or your home, an estate sale can be an effective way to do it. Carefully plan your sale or work with a licensed estate sale professional to help you navigate the process.

If you need to generate cash to downsize and live in a more affordable home, an estate sale may be the solution. You can use the funds from the estate sale to cover a down payment and purchase a new home.

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Victoria Araj

Victoria Araj is a Section Editor for Rocket Mortgage and held roles in mortgage banking, public relations and more in her 15+ years with the company. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in political science from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.