Does Your Estate Sale Company Measure Up?

There are plenty of reasons to feel nervous about hiring someone to literally rummage through your things and decide what’s sellable and what’s trash. And I hate to say it, but the estate sale industry is wildly unregulated in America. In one afternoon of “estate sale hopping,” you can leave one nice sale with some decent signs (or at the bare minimum an easy-to-understand shopping policy clearly posted at the entry) and end up at another one suffering from long-estranged black mold black holes and managed by inattentive people who don’t even notice you until you’re ready to pay.

Some companies are in it for the fast cash (and have the lawsuits to prove it); others are experienced but lack adequate staffing or general customer service; some have that but no website or connection to 2018’s best practices; and then there are a select few who really have their game together.

So when it comes to getting your stuff sold, choosing the right company could mean the difference between your stuff being overpriced and only sold to walk-in customers or marketing to a loyal customer-base ready to shop your items at favorable prices.

1. How did you find them?
Beware.. If you share your phone number in a bid to have companies call you about their services, expect a flood of unnecessary calls coming in. Industry regulations are non-existent, and so, too, is proper communication etiquette, apparently. Last time I submitted my phone number to I had companies calling me for several weeks. Many calling me starting 6:30 AM the following morning (c’mon, some common sense please), and some calling me an uncomfortably few too many times leaving very unscripted, confusing voicemails about how they’re available immediately, which leads to…

2. If they have immediate availability, they may not be the right fit for you.
Not every company out there is a bad deal. Some are great and just happen to be available next weekend, and some are new but may really know a thing or two about getting your stuff out of your house for an awesome rate. However, a sign of a consistently successful company is one that is booked at least a month or two out. If they’re in high demand, maintain a seasoned and experienced staff, and know what they’re doing, they’re not running their business on the fly – they’re doing their jobs and keeping busy. If they’re booked, it’s a good sign other people trust them, too.  Although, I must add, the time of the year could be a factor of availability. The market adjusts based on the real estate market and can be somewhat seasonal.

3. Can you find them online in more than one place?
Opt for Google Searches – the ones at the top are likely paying for your clicks which means they understand (super) basic principles of marketing. If they’re present on one “en masse” listing website but fail to have sufficient reviews elsewhere or a website, social media page, or professional email listed somewhere, they’re probably not the top dogs. Even worse, they could be scammers. Do your research and validate they’re going to follow-through with getting you the money you’re hiring them to bring in.

4. Is their website informative?
Or rather: Do they have a website which doesn’t look like it’s still clinging onto life from the early 2000’s? Having a flashy website isn’t a prerequisite to providing fantastic services, but it is a sign of whether or not they handle proper advertisements to their potential customers. If they can handle a professional, modern website, they can likely handle taking good photos of their sales and managing their online marketing channels. Some questions to further consider about their online presence:

  • Do they list their sales in multiple places?
  • Do they link you to client reviews?
  • Do they explain their shopping policy?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Do they handle just estate sales, or do they provide additional services?

These are all important questions their website should be able to answer without having to ask them in person while they’re running a sale. A professional web presence will highlight the companies in it for the long-haul and the ones moonlighting for the extra cash.

5. Where do they advertise?
An industry standard is to advertise en mass on some central, list-style estate sale website (EstateSales.Net, EstateSales.Com). Some companies don’t even have a website and just opt to list photos en mass. If you have a lot of stuff or are expecting professional service and communication, you may want to avoid those hidden nuggets.

A good company should be able to share at least a few ways they regularly reach their customers; emails, newspaper, radio ads, commercials, a listing website. It’s a bit of a norm (unfortunately) that company owners are ridiculously secretive of their processes – ‘tis normal. But remember: without you they wouldn’t have a company to run – so make sure you’re confident with them before hiring them. Ask questions, get answers. But a friendly reminder – the questions reasonably have to stop at some point so they can do their job.

6. What are their sales like?
Take an afternoon and visit a plethora of sales by different companies, whether they’re on your shortlist or not. Ask yourself a few basic questions.

  • Did they greet you?
  • Are their items organized and neatly displayed?
  • Do they have sufficient staff for the size of house it is (theft is a thing, for every retail-ish company)?
  • Do they price reasonably?
  • Do they have great customer service?
  • Are the items and home clean?
  • Does the home smell good?  
  • How is the company representing the family?

When you leave a sale satisfied with the people working it and not just the items being sold, imagine how their regular customers feel. Once a sale is taken, a company can’t change the items they’re selling, but they can change the way they sell it.

7. Do they service your estate size?
Not every estate sale company runs the same. From rogue franchises to one-a-weekend top notch operations, understand (and accept) that some companies may or may not be able to handle your estate size. Why? If you have a lot of items to sell, a company with just a few part-time staffers won’t be able to do your sale justice. If you have too many items for a smaller company to handle, they won’t be able to turn your sale around quickly enough.

However, companies of every size will consider how much time and resources they’ll have to put into cleaning your home before organizing the sale. If you have too much junk (like trash, unsellable items) in the way of the stuff they know they can sell, they may flat out tell you no or offer a higher commission for their added workload.

8. Are they operating in the digital realm?
A comprehensive website servicing both customers and clients isn’t cheap. Incorporating digital advertising is both time-consuming and a very impressive (yet quickly adopted industry standard) method by which to interact with customers. If a company is asking you to sign up for their email list, chances are they’re using it and it works. If they’re accepting credit cards, it’s probably because they know 60% of retail transactions are paid for in credit. Businesses that want to grow or remain successful aren’t denying digital and marketing trends.

Whoever you hire, you need to put your trust in them. Research your top picks and shop their sales, make sure they’re communicating with their customers and don’t forget to read the fine print. Whatever you do, please remember: once you hire them, let them do their job. If the new hire at your company kept bothering you about how you do your job when in reality he has no idea the experience you’ve accrued and the logic behind your decision making, how would you feel?

If you believe your company to be professional (and if you don’t, why would you hire them?), then treat them like professionals. Don’t shop your sale, and don’t ask for them to make exceptions for you. Between cleaning dirty homes and coordinating proper (and legal) disposal of crazy things found in houses to researching proper prices and marketing to customers, to filing permits every week and managing adequate staff, there’s more to their job than meets the eye. Take a breath, relax, and trust in the company you hire. Leave them a review if you liked them. If you didn’t make a suggestion of how they could be better.

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