Along with making resolutions, the start of a new year (and decade!) is a great time to acknowledge the truth that in life, change is the only constant. For families across the United States, the changes taking place this year may include a big move, or the task of helping a loved one move into an assisted living facility. While garage sales and thrift store donations are popular solutions to the challenges of moving or downsizing, in many cases, estate sales are another option worth considering.

Why have an estate sale?

Contrary to popular belief that estate sales are only for liquidating the property of a deceased person, there are many reasons why someone might consider planning their own estate sale. Other common reasons include moving to a retirement community or assisted living facility, downsizing, divorce, or moving overseas.

Whether the sale is for yourself or for a family estate, the prospect of hosting an estate sale can be intimidating. But if you hire a good, trustworthy company, they will make the liquidation process much easier for you, while also helping you earn much more money than you might through an ad hoc yard sale you plan yourself. You can also find relief in knowing that you or your loved one’s old household items are going to be put to use in new homes.

What are the risks of an estate sale gone wrong?

Estate sale planning can be stressful and is not without risk, due to the lack of regulation in the industry. There is not a standardized training and certification process for estate sale professionals, so you’ll find a huge spectrum of professionalism levels and services offered.

Some people feel uncomfortable with the idea of having so many strangers walking through their home, looking through their stuff. Another common concern is the possibility that an estate sale company may scam them, causing them to lose potential earnings. Financial elder abuse of this sort is disturbingly common, which is why it’s important to do thorough research and be vigilant about looking for red flags when choosing an estate sale or liquidation company.

What to look for in an estate sale company

Follow this list of tips to get a good idea of things to keep in mind and questions to ask when you are in the process of looking for the right company.

Reviews and reputation: Ask around to see if anyone in your circles knows of a company they would recommend. When conducting online searches or checking out recommendations, be sure to read Google or Yelp reviews. If you want to be even more sure, some experts recommend checking the Better Business Bureau or the American Society of Estate Liquidators.

Marketing: A company with strong marketing will help ensure the exposure and success of your sale. Make sure their website includes photos and listed services, as well as information about previous sales.

Check them out in person: Attending one of the company’s sales in your area can help you gauge their level of professionalism and see firsthand how they do their sales. It’s also a good idea to have in-person consultations with 2 to 3 companies you’ve researched for comparison and seeing how your intuition responds. And make sure you’re asking the right questions.

Level of service: Every liquidation company is a little different. Rather than simply comparing the price, consider also the extent of the services each one offers and factor that in when assessing overall comparative value. Remember, you often get what you pay for.

Ensure they have a contract and read it carefully: Make sure you fully understand the terms before you sign. You should feel comfortable asking as many questions as you need, and remember that if anything changes after you sign it, you have the right to ask for a new contract or stop doing business with them. And you should never feel pressured to make a hasty decision.

Always do a first pass: Make sure that you or a trusted friend or family member looks through the stuff before the liquidator does, since there are no ethical rules requiring these professionals to deal with sensitive information in a discreet way. Be sure to give any desired items to family members before signing a contract. After you sign, the items are no longer yours; they belong to the company, and you will get paid after the sale. However, be sure not to throw anything away before the estate sale company comes, since they may find value in items you don’t expect.

No extra items: Make sure the company does not ever bring additional items into their estate sales. Bringing their own items to your sale creates potential distraction, conflict of interest, and liability.

Credit cards: If they can accept credit cards, that’s a sign of a reputable company, and reducing the amount of cash present at the sale also reduces the risk of theft.

Cleanup: Ask about what happens to unsold items. While free cleanup (in which the company then brings leftover unsold items to their next sale) is a common practice, most professionals agree it’s better to choose a company that agrees to donate the leftover stuff to a charity the family has preselected.


After you’ve chosen your estate sale company and started the process, there won’t be much left to do (other than not attending your estate sale). Once you’ve gone through a thorough selection process, you should feel confident in the professionals you’ve chosen to handle your sale.