Estate sales typically happen when there is a death, divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosure, long-distance move, move to assisted living or a long-term care facility or a desire to change the entire style of the furnishings in a home. All the material possessions that belong to the person who owns the home are auctioned off or tagged for sale to interested buyers. Of course, this includes household items like furniture, appliances, art, clothing, dishes, drapery and linens, but it can extend to items like cars and boats, as well.
Estate sales can be organized by professional estate sale companies or agents, banks who have repossessed a home, family members of a deceased home owner or the individuals who want to get rid of the belongings in their homes. Those run by companies or agents often have items with higher price tags, since the agents usually get a 25-35 percent commission on all sales. This may seem steep, but in order to earn this commission, agents take an inventory of the possessions, organize them in the house, appraise and price them, advertise the estate sale in local communities and are responsible for cleaning up after the sale is done.
So, how do you get the inside scoop and find these great events? Here are some tried and true ways to make sure you are in the loop.
Some often use the word “estate sale” interchangeably with tag sale, garage sale, yard sale, rummage sale, swap meet and flea market. This is a great way to start looking for an estate sale: go to the Internet and type these words along with the city and state where you live into a search engine online. You will find search results that give you online classified ads, estate sale listings on social networking and swap meet sites (like Craigslist), electronic auctions (like eBay), and sites that have dedicated databases to track new estate sale listings in different cities all over the country (like www.gsalr.com).
Gsalr.com and similar sites allow you to type in your city and state or zip code and find estate sales in your neighborhood. After you enter your information, a map of your city populates with balloons that show the locations of sales. You can then click on the balloons or follow the side menu which is a numbered legend to the balloons on the map for more details.
It is important to do your homework before attending a sale. Go to the site promoting an estate sale and look for a list of sale items, pictures, descriptions and contact information. By asking enough questions or digging deep enough into the advertisement, you can discover whether you have truly found an estate sale or a typical weekend garage sale. The quality and range of items at an estate sale differ from those at a garage sale. Sometimes, though, estate sales are advertised as “garage sales” to attract more buyers who may be using that word in search engines. You just have to research the items for sale and gauge the difference.
The nation has not become so electronic that readers ignore the listings in good old-fashioned newspapers. Classified sections of newspapers list estate sales daily. Many are held on Friday, so it is best to monitor the Thursday edition of the paper to find out early about upcoming sales. As many bidders or buyers have learned the hard way, estate sales lure antique collectors, book sellers, interior designers and other serious sale scouts who come armed with plenty of research and know-how to secure the items they are most interested in. Waiting until the last day of the estate sale will ensure slim pickings for the average individual buyer.
Many newspapers that have moved to online editions to supplement the hard copies that arrive on the driveway each morning also offer alert subscriptions to different sections of the newspaper. Typing in your email address to be alerted about new classified listings is a good way to keep up. The new listings come directly to your inbox.
Estate sale companies and families who are conducting estate sales tend to use road signs placed within a five-mile radius to inform neighbors and passersby about estate sales. You notice them near intersections, at stop-signs or in shops and eateries in the neighborhood where the sale is going to take place.
It may seem morbid to actually scan the obituaries of a newspaper to see when elderly people or those who endure illnesses or the misfortune of an accident die and there might be an estate sale, but there are companies and individuals who monitor estates this way to secure charitable donations or to find out when rare art collections, books or furniture might be available for purchase. This is particularly true if there is a prominent family in a community and most of the people in the community know about special publicized personal possessions. If there are no heirs and the property is left after a death, it may be up for grabs. This is an option for the very serious collector and requires a supreme amount of tact, savvy and the right connections to make a reality.
WORD OF MOUTH
If you build relationships with the people who might be in a position to know about estate sales, then you place yourself in a position to be among the first to bid on unwanted possessions. For example, if you know that an estate sale company usually takes on high profile clients, then get on that company’s mailing list to find out about sales. You could also go in and introduce yourself, schedule a meeting with the company’s representatives and build a lasting exchange to foster the mutual exchange of information. They tell you about existing estate sales; you tell them about estates that could be coming open for sale.
You can do similar relationship building with hospitals, assisted living facilities, funeral homes, charitable organizations, consignment shops, banks and divorce attorneys. You have to begin to operate in the circles where the information is exchanged. The key is to let everyone know that you are in the business of scouting out estate sales and keep the lines of communication open. Be as helpful to them as you want them to be for you. Make sure that when an estate sale is the topic of conversation, these gatekeepers think only of you and are comfortable enough to pick up the phone and give you a call.