I have said that the execution of my plan feels like dying, and vetting an estate sale company certainly magnifies that feeling. On President’s Day in February, I interviewed four estate sale companies in my home to determine who would liquidate my personal property.
Ill-Equipped: The first company consisted of two women who were recommended by an acquaintance. They arrived with their tween children in tow. I understand it was a school holiday, but it was distracting to say the least to conduct a meeting as the children roamed my home, terrorizing the cat and chasing the dog. One woman could have watched the children while the other took the meeting. Heck, the kids were old enough to stay in the car during the brief house tour. It was apparent that neither of them had experience with mid-century modern furniture or collectibles, even though the acquaintance who recommended them was a mid-century modern enthusiast. Disappointing.
Turn ‘N Burn: Next came a well-known and well-respected estate sale company, recommended by a friend who attends estate sales, and the owner of an estate sale company outside of Seattle. This established company handles over 100 sales per year – at least two every weekend. I was impressed with the owner’s professionalism and enthusiasm. Let’s call her “Jackie.” However, a few things concerned me. First, Jackie told me rather nonchalantly that buyers would camp out in cars in front of the house the night before the sale. I personally do not attend a lot of estate sales, and I was taken aback and disconcerted. How creepy!
Next, Jackie insisted that I sign a contract the same day, in February, even though the sale would not occur until June. Once the contract was signed, I would no longer be able to sell, donate, or give away any of my personal belongings, as her company then had a vested interest in the assets. Her company charges 35 percent commission.
Jackie advertises on a well-known estate sale company website, and on her own site. She has an extensive client list; however, I was concerned that most of her positive online reviews were written by dealers. I understand that an estate sale company must develop relationships with dealers, who frequent such sales to buy low and sell high, but my hope was to find that elusive end-use consumer who is willing to pay a bit more.
Jackie was quite clear that her sales are two days only – full price on day one, and half price on day two. Her company gives the owner a printout of each sold item, and the purchase price. I must admit I liked that feature.
Next came the issue of how to dispose of unsold items after the sale. I was told I had to decide immediately. I replied that it was a bit difficult to decide without knowing what would remain. In the contract I would either deal with unsold items myself, or Jackie and her crew would handle them.
At this juncture I should point out that some of Jackie’s staff own antique stores or stalls. If valuable items remained and the contract provided that Jackie and her staff dealt with the leftovers, that could prove to be quite the fringe benefit for them. On the other hand, if all that remained was junk and boxes, I would be thrilled to have Jackie and her crew dispose of those items. Deciding before-the-fact was impossible.
It was my impression that at Jackie’s sales people have shuffled off this mortal coil, and surviving relatives want to purge everything and are thrilled with a little jingle in their pockets.
Snooty Patootie: Let’s call the next fellow “Jeeves,” who floated his way through my home, nose pointing north. Jeeves oversees an auction house that will not conduct an estate sale unless it is expected to gross at least $20,000. After his self-guided tour (“I will show myself around, thanks“) he stated, “Do you really think there is over $20,000 in this house?” I replied, blood beginning to boil, pointing to the Gladding McBean Atomic Starburst Dinnerware, “There is over $20,000 in that fucking china cabinet.” Jeeves had his head so far up the asses of Louis XV and Queen Anne that he knew nothing about collectible vintage and mid-century modern.
Appraiser and Curated Collection Enthusiast: Chris Foss was like a breath of fresh air. Chris is primarily an appraiser, but he also conducts approximately 30 estate sales per year. His commission is a bit higher than other estate sale companies, but I believe he will be worth it. First, Chris conducts three-day sales: first day full price, second day 25 percent off, third day 50 percent off. Second, Chris agreed to meet me at my home on Monday after the sale to determine what to do with unsold items.
Chris did not pressure me to sign a contract right away, stating that we could wait until it was time for he and his crew to start work. He also hires off-duty police officers at his sales for additional security, and he allows only 20 people in the home at a time.
Chris proposed a few other options which made his services feel more in tune with the times. He conducts targeted advertising on Facebook. He creates YouTube videos with photos of the property, set to music. He places a sign-in sheet on the door of the home the day before the sale, to minimize overnight campers; buyers enter the home on the day of the sale based on the order of the sign-up sheet. At a sale in January, approximately 20 percent of Chris’s customers were dealers.
The estate sale will be the first weekend of June – Friday, June 5 through Sunday, June 7. Stop by! Lord knows I won’t be there, but Chris and his staff will be.