Tips on Conducting an Estate Sale

Conducting an estate sale looks like an easy job, but most of the hard work is done before customers enter the room. If you are planning a do-it-yourself estate sale, you may want to reconsider-especially if the estate is a large one. You'll need to wear several hats, including counselor, accountant, stock person and attorney. So if you're determined to do it without a professional, line up some help.

If the person who's passed away is not a close family member, you must remember that others are dealing with death of a loved one. You're handling that loved one's possessions. Always keep that in mind.

Don't forget the legal aspects

Consult with an attorney about any inheritance issues the family may be dealing with. Be sure any property matters or other legal issues have been resolved or that the lawyer is reasonably certain those issues will not affect your sale.

You are likely to need assistants, even if the estate is somewhat small. You'll need a cashier, someone to help move heavy items, someone to help organize the items and perhaps someone to help watch the shoppers at your sale, especially if you have lots of small items spread out in several rooms. Make sure you nail down helpers well in advance of the sale.

Now it's time to search the estate. You're on a treasure hunt, and you don't want to miss the best items. These special objects may be hidden in the open, like rare, collectible glassware or a highly valued comic book. You may not be an expert in these kinds of treasures, so consult someone who is to help determine their value.

Now, give all the items a price. You may need to consult an appraiser or research the items yourself if you truly have no idea what prices are best for even the most mundane objects. If you're unfamiliar with selling, check local shops and auction websites to see whether anything you have is selling and at what price. You may decide to reconsider your first thoughts about pricing and what to sell, and consign items or send them to a donation bin.

You're almost ready for the sale date-but first you need to let others know about the sale. Advertise on Craigslist and in the local daily and weekly newspapers. Don't forget small neighborhood newsweeklies. Make sure your advertisement appeals to bargain hunters and treasure hunters. Examine similar ads for ideas on what works best and the usual times such sales are conducted in your area. Lure impulse buyers by placing signs on the roadsides. If you can, put fliers up in neighborhood stores.

Once you're sure you have everything you're going to sell, and the proper permission to sell it, begin to organize the actual sale. Set aside a few rooms in the home where the items will be displayed, then close and lock the rest of the house, putting up "do not enter" signs. Collect all items you might need: paper, tape, pens, receipt paper (sheets or rolls for the machine), plastic bins and clothes hangers. Plastic or paper shopping bags come in handy if someone is buying several items.

Gather the items together and set everything up with a clearly placed price tag.

Offer discounts toward the end of the sale

One frequently used estate-sale hook is the ascending discount. The early bird shoppers-the people waiting for you to unlock the door in the morning-will be there to try to get the best items you have to offer. Hook latecomers by offering discounts as the sale progresses. The discount gets bigger as the weekend goes by, up to 50 percent off on Sunday afternoon.

After the sale is over, it's time to regroup. Likely, you'll have some unsold items. Some of these you still may be able to sell via Craigslist, a local Internet "stuff exchange," eBay or other auctions. Donate most of the clothes to charity, and send the books and magazines to your library, a hospital or the recycling bin.

Donated items may have estate-tax repercussions, so consult with your attorney if you do give anything away.

Make an accounting of the transactions for your records. Pay your friends for their work (or get a small gift for those who volunteered). Then count your money.

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Estate taxes are varied and complex, but they typically affect only 2% of Americans with high estate values. If you think your estate is valuable enough to be subject to estate taxes, you may want to learn more about the rules and consult with an estate tax attorney to help you maximize your estate.

Estate sale companies can be extremely helpful if you find yourself in need of holding such a sale. Estate sales can be a fun hobby, a serious business, a home-based business or a part-time sideline for those looking to invest in low-cost estate sale lots for potential turnover.

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How do you conduct a successful estate sale? Although many factors contribute, you should focus on five aspects: organization, evaluating, pricing, timing and advertising.

An estate sale is more than a big garage sale because of the legal and emotional issues. Is holding an estate sale worth it? For a fast reality check, count the number of pieces of ordinary furniture and multiply by $10. Count the kitchenwares and multiply by $.50 or $1 per piece. Even at those low prices, the sale of an estate full of ordinary things can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Having had several deaths in the famiy I have had to empty three households in the past year and will l be emptying a fourth in the near future. The last one is just because I'll be selling the house I've lived in for the last 35 years.

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