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Antique Vases and Clocks Displayed on an Antique Chest.

Host a Successful Estate Sale Using This In-Depth Checklist

How to Plan an Estate Sale

If you’re downsizing for a move or cleaning out a loved one’s home after their passing, an estate sale may be the best way to pare down belongings. While you may think you have it under control because you know how to have a garage sale, an estate sale is usually far more involved.

First, what is an estate sale? It’s a way to liquidate the items in a home all at once and it usually includes the entire property, as opposed to a garage sale which can be contained to the front yard. It’s a project that’s commonly taken on during major life changes like divorce, bankruptcy or the death of a family member.

Unfortunately, estate sales usually take place during stressful or upsetting times. Refer to our estate sale checklist as you work to help you make the process go as smoothly as possible with tips from Poof! Estate Services, Helaine Fendelman & Associates and Marni Jameson, author of AARP-endorsed book Downsizing the Family Home.

5 Steps for Setting Up an Estate Sale Yourself

Exactly how do estate sales work? Decide what you want to sell, give everything a price and tally up your totals. It sounds simple enough, but the process can be tedious. Use the following steps to help you plan and get through the sale efficiently. 

Pick Up Where You Left Off

Identify Items to Sell | Organize Items | Price Items | Publicize the Sale | Clean Up & Donate

Shoppers Looking at Items at an Estate Sale

Step 1: Figure Out What Buyers Want

Whether you’re cleaning out a loved one’s home or going through your own property, make an inventory list detailing what you’re comfortable parting with. Then, note what’s worth selling in a separate column. 

Downsizing the Family Home Book and Workbook.

“As hard as it is to clean out your own stuff, it’s even harder to clean out the life of someone you love. But you simply cannot save everything. You have to be very practical and prepare yourself for the difficult process. The nice thing is you end up with a pile of cash and get to move forward. If you’re an older person who’s downsizing, look at your new space with a critical eye and only take what’s necessary, then use the money from your estate sale to pay for your long-term care.”

Marni Jameson, Author | Downsizing the Family Home

We’ve pulled together a list of commonly sold items followed by some things you definitely should not give to other people second-hand.

What to Sell

Like a garage sale, you can sell most things at an estate sale. Here are some other common items to sell:

Just because something is outdated or not traditionally seen at a sale doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a buyer. Here’s a list of items you might not have thought to sell:

  • Cars, trucks and campers: You can sell any vehicle if its title is clean. Check with your local authorities to see which documents you’ll need to sell it. Note: If a vehicle is sold on behalf of a deceased person, special rules and forms may apply.
  • Computers: Believe it or not, even if it’s a dinosaur, you might be able to find someone who wants your old desktop or other electronics. Just make sure the hard drive is wiped clean.
  • Firearms and weapons: Depending on the device and state laws, you may be able to sell weapons. Make sure to do some research before adding them to the sale.
  • License plates: Old license plates are great collectors’ items that can be worth a pretty penny. The older the pate, the more you can charge. Some go for as much as $500.

What Not to Sell

  • Liquor: You need a liquor license to sell or handle any form of consumable alcohol and could be fined if you do make a sale.
  • Used baby gear: While buying used baby clothes is a great way for families to save money, used baby gear may compromise the child’s safety. Infant care requirements for things like cribs and car seats change yearly and you don’t want to be liable if something breaks.

Pro-Tip: Aside from the things you shouldn’t sell, make sure to lock away anything that is not for sale. Buyers will think anything they can see is up for grabs. 

Wooden Shelf Organized With Antique Items.

Step 2: Organize Your Items

To increase the chance of selling belongings, make sure they’re organized and displayed neatly. Think of your home as a department store and create sections to sell different groups of items. For example, put kitchenware in the kitchen, use the living room to display furniture and hang clothes on garment racks in the bedroom.

Maximize display space by using furniture for sale to show off smaller items. If you’re using a surface that you don’t intend to sell, cover it with a sheet or clearly mark it with a tag that says, “Not For Sale.” You can also use boxes to hold items like books, records or non-breakable trinkets.

Poof Estate Services Logo

“We strategically stage the home so it is appealing to the customer’s eye by creating themes both with color and item types. We also utilize surfaces in the home like kitchen counters and furniture to further add to the ‘staged’ feel, rather than bringing in tables or shelves and simply lining items up.”

Allison Ruby, Founder | Poof! Estate Services 

Step 3: Price Your Items

This is arguably the hardest part of planning an estate sale. It takes professionals years of experience to know how much a piece of art or an antique vase is worth, so it may be worth consulting an expert on the more valuable pieces. Sometimes, you may not even know you have something valuable right under your kitchen sink.

Helaine Fendelman and Associates Logo

“Once I found a 19th century American painted tin box under the kitchen sink. It was holding the lady’s Brillo pads – and it was worth $800. People just don’t know. They grow up with their family treasures and they have no idea that this or that could be valuable.”

Helaine Fendelman, Professional Fine Arts Appraiser | Helaine Fendelman & Associates 

However, most items probably aren’t worth as much as you’d think. When it comes to putting a price tag on everyday items, make sure to mark them lower than the current retail value. Keep in mind: people attend estate sales to find a bargain. Even if you think you’ve marked a fair price, be ready to haggle. Regular estate sale-goers aren’t afraid to negotiate, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to accept the offer. You can always make a verbal agreement with a customer to sell the item at the agreed upon price if no one buys it at the original cost.

Remember the point of an estate sale is to sell everything. This means you’re putting a price tag on every last item in the home. Save yourself some time by bulk pricing. Instead of labeling every book, display them in a bookshelf and hang a sign that says, “All Books $2.” It’s also a good idea to keep some stickers or tags handy to mark large items as sold if they’re too big for people to carry around with them as they look.

A good way to make sure things sell is to reduce their price as the days of the sale go on. Try this pricing scale:

  • Day 1: Full price
  • Day 2: 25% off
  • Day 3: 50% off

Pro-Tip: Don’t advertise sale reductions ahead of time as this may deter customers from coming on the first day. Simply alert customers as they’re shopping or hang signs on discount days. 

Now that you know some good pricing tactics, here’s a look at the real question: how much should you sell this or that for?

Antique Silver Utensils Surrounded By Antique Silver Boxes.

How to Price Household Items for an Estate Sale

This is not an easy task, but try to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. What would you pay for this second-hand item? When all else fails, consider hiring a professional. 

Use this estate sale pricing guide to get the most out of your sale.

Check the Item’s Condition.

You probably would expect a discount if a tea set was missing a saucer or if a table had a few noticeable scratches, so assume a customer would, too. Consider not selling something if it’s broken, if there are several missing pieces or it’s not functioning properly.

Know What’s Desirable.

The more in-demand something is, the higher you can price it. Is it a popular brand, signed by a well-known artist, a collectible or highly unique? Keep these questions in mind when deciding how much it’s worth.

Consider the Time of Year. 

If you’re trying to sell camping gear in the winter, you probably won’t be able to sell it for as much as you would in the summer when it’s in demand.

Do Some Research.

If you’re not sure what something is worth, the best way to figure it out is to see what other people are selling it for. Even appraisers and estate liquidators do similar research. Try these tools to figure out appropriate pricing:

  • Visit other estate sales if you have time.
  • Explore EstateSales.org and EstateSales.net.
  • Search Google by description to find similar items.
  • Check online sites like Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace.
  • See if vintage items are listed on Replacements.com or Antiques Roadshow's appraisal archive.
Poof Estate Services Logo

“We have a very extensive list of appraisers that we work with. Because of this, it almost always makes sense to at least talk to a professional.”

Allison Ruby, Founder | Poof! Estate Services 

Step 4: Publicize the Sale

Possibly the most important part of the planning process is drawing people to your sale. Otherwise, all of your hard work will have been for nothing. Advertise in your local newspaper, on your local news sites, via social media and through sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. You can also list your sale on estate sale websites like EstateSales.net and EstateSales.org.

On the days leading up to the sale and especially on the day of, place brightly-colored signs near the street to direct traffic to your property and attract passers-by. Make sure to include the dates, times and the address of your sale on your signs and in your ads. It’s also helpful to include pictures or highlight items you’ll be selling.

Wooden Chests and Mirrors Gathered in Small Space.

Step 5: Clean Up and Donate What’s Left

When your estate sale is finally over, divide whatever didn’t sell into donation and throw-away piles. You may not have much left in the toss category since you already decided what was in good enough condition to sell. If you have large items that you need to toss, rent a roll off dumpster so you don’t have to take multiple trips to the landfill or wait for bulk pickup day.

Anything leftover can be donated to several organizations. Here are a few local charities that can be found nationwide:

Estate Sale Rules to Help Your Event Run Smoothly

Now that you’re prepared for your sale, think about the rules you want to enforce. Perhaps the most important rules are how many people will be allowed inside at once and how will you decide the order of people who enter. The general rule of thumb is to use a first come, first served policy. An alternative is using a number system, similar to a deli counter.

How the Number System Works

  • Give out numbers a few hours ahead of the sale so people don’t have to wait in a long line when you open.
  • Start calling numbers when the sale officially begins.
  • Customers must be somewhere in line (not necessarily in order) when their number is called, otherwise, they’ll have to wait at the end of the line.

Pro-Tip: Decide whether or not you’re going to use devices like Square to accept credit cards, if you’ll accept checks and if you’ll use apps like Venmo or PayPal as payment. Also decide if you’ll have someone available to help customers load large items into their cars. Whatever estate sale rules you decide on, make sure to post them along with your ads. 

When Is the Best Time to Have an Estate Sale?

This can be irrelevant for many sellers because, often times, estate sales are time sensitive, whether you’re moving or closing out a loved one’s home. There’s no real answer to this question, but if you have the luxury of choosing when to hold the sale, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • If you’re going to utilize outdoor space, make sure to plan around weather conditions.
  • Weekends and mornings are usually the most popular times for estate sale shoppers.
  • There is more competition with other estate and garage sales in the spring and summer seasons.
  • If the items lend to the character of the house, it may be beneficial to hold the estate sale while you’re trying to sell the home.
  • Have the estate sale before listing the house if you’d rather have an empty home to sell.

Antique Jewelry and Brooches.

Reach Out for Help

Planning for an estate sale can be a grueling process, and it can be especially difficult if you’re not entirely ready to part with some belongings. In this case, consider hiring an estate sale liquidator. 

Helaine Fendelman and Associates Logo

“If it’s your family’s estate, don’t run your own sale. It’s often too painful and there are times when you just have to let things go."

Helaine Fendelman, Professional Fine Arts Appraiser | Helaine Fendelman & Associates 

Hiring a professional is also a good, hassle-free option if you’re having a hard time figuring out how to organize the sale, how to price items, if you have a tight deadline or if you’re looking to maximize your sale profits. Whether you decide to plan the estate sale yourself or seek help from a professional, take some time to do a little research before forging ahead.

Have you hosted an estate sale? Share your story or any advice in the comments.