Maybe you've heard the saying that the last outfit you'll ever wear
doesn't need pockets. The reason, of course, is that you can't take your possessions
with you. At the end of a person's life, all of their belongings have to go
somewhere. That's where estate sale agents come in.
Estate sale agents take entire households full of stuff that's no longer
needed or wanted and help turn it into cash. In many cases, one or both of
the homeowners has passed away. In other cases, the homeowner is moving into
a retirement home or a smaller apartment.
Whatever the reason, most people need help to get a good price for all
the stuff that accumulates over the years. As a result, more people are calling
on the services of an estate sales agent.
"As long as people die, then there'll be a demand," says Mike Wall. He's
an estate sale agent in Washington.
Forecasters tell us that a greater proportion of our society is becoming
elderly. As people get older and pass away, they transfer their property to
charity and family members.
The group of people known as the baby boom generation is going to have
a huge impact on the amount of property that will have to be transferred.
In the United States, the boomers will transfer at least $41 trillion by the
year 2052, according to the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy.
The executor of an estate is the person named in the will who is responsible
for taking care of all of the person's property. The executor, often a family
member, will contact an estate sale agent or an auction company to sell the
property, including the contents of the house.
Estate sale agents perform a variety of tasks. Their jobs could include
helping the client determine the value of the items. They could also determine
whether there's enough to justify organizing an estate sale. If there is,
then they will put price tags on the items (estate sales are often called
"tag sales" for this reason) and make the house presentable for the public.
Then it's a matter of getting the word out. Estate sale agents maintain
lists of hundreds or thousands of people who want to be informed of sales.
Websites also play a key role in promoting estate sales. Estate sale agents
will also advertise in newspapers and magazines.
After the sale, they help to dispose of unsold items or donate the rest
Like many estate sale agents, Wall is also an antique appraiser. Being
able to identify valuable antiques and put a proper price on them is an essential
skill for this career. You don't want a $300 vase to be sold for 50 cents
at a garage sale. But this happens all the time.
"We recently handled the sale of an estate where the mother was 101 years
old and the son had just given away a half-million dollars worth of items
without realizing their value," Wall says.
Discovering valuable items is one of the biggest thrills of the job, Wall
adds. And helping people get a fair price for their belongings provides job
satisfaction. "It's like treasure hunting," Wall says. "You never know what
you're going to find when you open a door or look between mattresses. We find
some amazing things.
"We get a real kick out of it when the owner or executor calls us in to
help make a decision and we see something on the mantle that looks like everything
else, but it's worth $5,000."
Wall gives the example of a star ruby with white sapphires. The family
member thought it was just cheap costume jewelry, but it was actually worth
There are no regional or national associations for this profession, and
no restrictions on who can say they are an estate sale agent. "There's no
law that requires a special certification or license," Wall says. "It's pretty
uncontrolled. Anybody can hang out a shingle and do estate sales.
"The problem with estate sales is that it takes a lot of experience and
you make a lot of mistakes. You need to have a good general knowledge of what
people own, ranging from cans of consumable items to million-dollar pieces
of jewelry. And you need to know how to market all those items."
The lack of structure in the profession means that you have to be proactive
to gain the necessary skills and to find clients.
"It's very important to have an appraisal background, simply because
it gives you a certain air of authority," says Geoff Adamson. He's a partner
in a California estate sale company.
"You need to be highly organized," Adamson adds. "You need to be detail-oriented
because you'll be doing a lot of research."
"You need organizational skills," agrees Sari Stenerson. She's an estate
sale agent. "It's putting on an event, so you have to whip it into shape pretty
quickly. It's a one-shot thing, so there's a bit of stress that way."
Some estate sale agents are also realtors. Darlene McClelland is one example.
She says that with so many people walking through the house during the estate
sale, there's a good chance someone might be interested in the house itself.
"There are times when we have 10,000 people in three days," she says. "Someone
always knows someone looking for a house."
McClelland says the average estate sale sees 2,000 or 3,000 potential customers
filing through a house. The typical estate sale lasts for three days, while
a smaller sale might last two days.
Adamson says there tend to be two types of people in the estate sale business.
One type is more part-time, often a husband and wife team who are retired
and handle the occasional estate sale. The other type is like himself, who
does it full-time and handles larger estates.
Estate sale agents generally work on commission. They'll give a free estimate
upfront as to what the estate sale could take in. The typical commission charged
by Stenerson is 25 to 40 percent of total sales, depending on the amount of
work involved. Similarly, Wall charges a commission of one-third of total
Wall says his company handles five or six estate sales per year. Each
sale takes about three weeks to prepare. In his experience, the contents of
the average home will bring in $7,000 to $12,000.
"A weekend will cost up to $1,500 in salaries, meaning we need $4,500 in
sales just to cover that [assuming a commission of one-third]."
Estate sale agents tend to fall into the profession after working in a
related profession, such as real estate agent or appraiser, antique dealer,
senior move manager or auctioneer.
For aspiring estate sale agents, Stenerson has some tips. "They should
start by working with packing services and professional organizers, because
they deal with people who are downsizing," she says. "Somehow, deal with seniors
and then you get your foot in the door."
Stenerson also says that taking an antique appraisal course could be helpful,
but such courses can be very expensive.
Perhaps that's why Stenerson started selling a startup kit for estate sale
agents on her website. "I sell tons of those, so there are definitely going
to be more businesses like this."
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