6 Questions to Ask an Estate Sales Manager or Auctioneer

Questions to Ask an Estate Sales Manager or Auctioneer
Marla Brill

By Marla Brill | Jan 16th, 2019

A parent has died or needs to move to a nursing home. You’re downsizing and moving to a new place that’s thousands of miles away and several rooms too small to hold all your old stuff. Or, you’re getting a divorce and need to liquidate possessions.

For whatever reason, you’re stuck with a mountain of clothing, furniture, collectibles, and other items that may have once had significant sentimental or financial value. Now it’s just clutter looking for a new home, or the junk pile.

The “De-Cumulation” Generation

Your dilemma is not an unusual one. Between downsizing, a parent’s death or transition to a nursing home, or late-life divorce baby boomers could be called the “de-cumulation” generation that is charged with getting rid of things. While hiring an estate manager or auctioneer can help address the problem, there are a few things you need to know before handing over the responsibility to someone else.

According to home services website Angie’s List, this category of service provider receives a higher proportion of complaints and low ratings than other types of contractors. While initial interactions may go well, the web site reports, things can head south after the sale because of poor accounting, unexpected fees, non-payment for sales, and higher than expected discounts on merchandise.

Professional and industry standards are also pretty squishy. Estate liquidators require little or no training or licensing, while regulations for auctioneers vary from state to state or don’t exist at all. Unscrupulous dealers may pressure potential clients to make fast decisions at what is probably one of the most difficult times of their lives.

Nonetheless, lots of people have used estate liquidators or auctioneers and are highly satisfied with the results. But to make things go smoothly you need to go in with eyes wide open and get answers to important questions:

1. What can I expect to get from the sale?

After seeing breathtakingly high appraisals on television, many people think their unwanted stuff will fetch enough to pay for a college education or cushy retirement. But despite family lore, that collection of glass figurines probably isn’t as valuable as you think. Antiques and collectibles also go through fads, so the market for things that were “hot” ten years ago may have softened substantially. On the other hand, hidden gems do pop up from time to time, so if you suspect something may be of value compare similar items online, or get an independent appraisal.

2. Do you handle auctions, estate sales, or both?

Estate liquidators set prices for various items and often conduct a sale from the home where the possessions are located, while bidders determine the selling price of items put up for auction either online or at a physical location determined by the auctioneer. Some companies are set up to handle both estate sales and auctions, depending on the customer’s needs. Some sellers prefer this all-in-one solution since an estate often includes some valuable items that would probably fetch a better price at auction, as well as more mundane ones that are better suited for an estate sale.

3. What is this going to cost?

Estate liquidators typically charge 30% to 40% of the gross sale proceeds, although costs vary regionally and can be influenced by the size and complexity of the estate as well as the experience level of the firm handling the liquidation. Fees for items sold at auction vary, but typically range from 10 percent to 25 percent for the seller.

Some estate liquidators will offer a flat fee–perhaps $2,000 to $3,000 –for the contents of an entire house. This can be a viable option, but only if you’re under a time crunch and have inventoried the house thoroughly to make sure there is nothing of value.

4. What kind of experience do you have?

Like any profession, experience varies from complete novice to grizzled veteran. Estate attorneys, accountants, and others who may be actively involved in settling estates are a good source of referrals to experienced professionals. Websites such as Angie’s List and Home Advisor that carry verified reviews from users are also helpful.

5. Are you insured?

A browser slips on a rug and breaks a tooth, or an heirloom accidentally falls to the floor and is shattered to pieces. These and other potential mishaps make it critical to see the estate liquidator’s written evidence of insurance coverage. Also investigate if there is a homeowner’s policy in force where the sale is taking place, especially if it’s possible that the homeowner didn’t keep up with bills too well or hasn’t lived there for a while.

6. Perhaps a bigger question is…

Why do we keep so much stuff? When my family moved across the country back in 2006 we filled a huge dumpster with records, toys, paperback books, and countless other effluvia that we couldn’t take with us. I realized then that we bought way, way too much and held on to it way, way too long. Ever since then I don’t buy things I don’t need and am slowly giving away, donating, or throwing out things that aren’t worth passing to the next generation. For myself, and others, the process of de-cumulation is liberating both for themselves and the people who inherit the responsibility of handling what they leave behind.

When it comes to jewelry, Worthy can help with the process of de-cumulation by providing a convenient online auction marketplace that handles the entire transaction from start to finish. Getting an idea of what something will sell for is as easy as viewing actual published sales prices of similar pieces on the website. From grading and shipping to getting the final check, Worthy’s transparent and secure process is designed to ensure that owners get the best price possible with the least amount of hassle.

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Marla Brill

Marla Brill

Marla Brill has been a personal finance journalist for over 30 years,  writing about money topics for Reuters, The Boston Globe, Financial Advisor Magazine, MarketWatch, PBS’s NextAvenue, and other publications.


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