6 minute read

How to Have an Estate Sale: Estate Sale Guide

Take the stress away from planning an estate sale for a recently deceased loved one with this in-depth planning guide for how to have an estate sale.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Are you feeling the pressure from planning an estate sale? Planning a public event to sell the belongings of a recently deceased loved one can be stressful on so many levels. First, you’re undergoing your own grieving process. Second, you’re likely feeling a certain way about saying goodbye to the material belongings of your loved one. Adding the pressures of planning, coordinating, and marketing an event? It could very well send someone over the edge. Here, we extend a loving hand to take some of your stress away. We bring to you an in-depth planning guide on how to have an estate sale. All you have to do is follow the simple steps!

Estate Sale Step-by-Step Planning Guide

An estate sale is a large sale of a person’s worldly possessions. It’s similar to a garage or yard sale, but features a much larger inventory of items. It also usually includes some high-ticket items and thus attracts more buyers, including collectors and bargain-hunters.

Anyone can hold an estate sale. For instance, maybe you decide to get rid of all of your material belongings and try living the van life.  Or, perhaps you’re moving to another continent and prefer to start completely over. Estate sales are a great solution to many scenarios similar to these. 

However, the most common scenario is that you’ve been put in charge of liquidating the property and belongings of someone who passed away. Regardless of what category you might fall under, here are 7 simple steps to holding a successful estate sale. 

Step 1: Take inventory and organize your items

Because estate sales often feature a large volume of sale items, it’s critical to stay organized. Go through each room of the home and methodically inventory your items. We recommend including items that you don’t plan to sell, as you’ll still want to keep a record of what you decided to donate or give away. Be sure to note down the condition of each item, as it will help you determine prices later. 

Step 2: Determine items to be sold

There will almost always be an excess of items, and it is often impractical to try and sell everything. You will start getting a sense of what you’d want to sell when you begin to inventory your items, but you won’t be sure until you complete the process and have a chance to evaluate just how much you have.

First, set aside any items that you are sure you want to sell. Try to stay objective and put yourself in the shoes of a buyer who isn’t emotionally attached to these belongings. Hot ticket items include jewelry, clothing, antiques, furniture, and household items such as silver, crystal, and china.

Then, go through the remaining belongings and divide them into further categories:

  • Sell

  • Keep

  • Store

  • Donate

  • Throw Away

It goes without saying that you should group items by each category and store them with clear labels. That way, you can be sure that your items go to the right place. You certainly don’t want your valuable collectors’ item to be accidentally sent to your local thrift store!

Step 3: Price items to be sold

You might find that pricing your items is the most challenging part of planning an estate sale. The main objective is to sell as many items as you can, while getting the most money for them as you can. While you don’t want to practically give items away, you also don’t want to price items so aggressively that you turn buyers away. Luckily, you have a little bit of leeway because you can reduce prices over the course of your sale if no one is biting. 

The best way to price items is to conduct plenty of research. It’s a subjective process that involves taking a guess of the public’s perceived value of an item, but you want to make as educated of a guess as possible. You can do this by perusing secondary marketplace websites such as eBay, Craigslist, or Poshmark. Try enlisting the help of friends and family for this step, as it can take up time.

Alternatively, splurge on the services of a professional appraiser if you feel that the estate has valuables, antiques, and collectibles that are worth looking into.

Step 4: Promote the sale

Reward yourself for all of your hard work by attracting a large crowd to your estate sale! Drawing in a large volume of buyers is important because it’ll increase your chances of selling everything in your inventory, and at your desired price points. The key is to also attract a diverse array of buyers, including neighborhood residents, professional buyers, and collectors. That’s why it’s worth it to cast as wide of a net as possible.

Advertise your estate sale in places such as:

  • Facebook, including Facebook Marketplace and relevant groups

  • Craigslist

  • Nextdoor

  • Estate sale listing websites

  • Local newspapers and magazines

  • Bulletin boards 

  • Other social media

Closer to the sale, put up brightly-colored signs in your local neighborhood to direct traffic and attract passers-by. 

In all of your marketing, make sure to include all pertinent details such as the dates, times, and address of the sale. You may even want to attract pictures and highlights of top-ticket items to draw customers in.

Last but not least, consider contacting local Realtors if the home will be up for sale. This will give them a chance to preview the property. They may even bring potential buyers to the estate sale in case they’d want to include any desired items in the contract.

Step 5: Set up the selling area to maximize sales

It might be tempting to put out all items where you found them, but presentation and flow are important factors that make or break your estate sale. 

Display items in a way that is obvious and flattering. For instance, it might serve you to put down a beautiful tablecloth on a dining table and lay out table settings. Giving customers an idea of how items might look in their own home might inspire them to pull out their pocketbooks. It’s also a wise idea to keep especially valuable items within eyereach. Also, be careful to mark items that are not for sale to avoid any confusion. 

Step 6: Hold the sale

Most of the effort of an estate sale lies in the prep work, and reaching the actual day of the sale can feel rewarding. 

Make sure to get ready early, in case you attract a large crowd. Be sure to have a safe place to store cash, and set up a checkout station in a place where you can keep an eye on shoppers entering and exiting your property. Double-check that you have extra supplies on hand, such as back-up machines or tools to run credit cards, pens, and price tags. 

Also decide on your policy on whether or not you plan to entertain any price haggling. It may be wise to set a strict policy, and ask customers to return the next day or day after if they’re interested in seeing if their desired item is still available, at which time the price is reduced. Negotiating price points can be time consuming, so be careful on which precedence you decide to set. 

During the sale, be sure to conduct rounds throughout the property to make sure that any unbought items continue to be displayed nicely, as rummaging can create some disarray. Price tags may also go missing, so be sure to bring along your inventory and extra price tags when conducting checks. 

Step 7: Donate leftover items

You can cross your fingers that the number of leftover items is minimal. Regardless, it’s necessary to have a plan for what to do with any of the items that didn’t sell. 

Go through your leftover items and decide what you want to do with them. It can be wasteful and harmful to the environment to throw things away, so a great option is to donate them to those in need.

Other Common Questions About How to Have an Estate Sale

Now that you understand the 7 steps of holding an estate sale, we want to address any remaining questions you may have. Here are the answers to some of the internet’s most common questions about how to have an estate sale. 

When Is the Best Time to Have an Estate Sale?

This question is only relevant if you have the luxury of time, as most estate sales have to happen quickly. If you’re one of the lucky few who get to schedule your estate sale ahead of time, here are some tips to consider:

  • Hold your estate sale over a weekend, when shoppers are most likely able to attend and spend peruse your estate sale in a leisurely manner. A holiday weekend may not be best as many of your target shoppers may be away on travel.

  • Consider weather conditions if you plan to utilize any outdoor space.

  • Keep an eye out for competing events in the neighborhood.

  • If you plan on selling the home, time your estate sale with the listing in case buyers want to buy any items that go with the home.

Is It Better to Have an Estate Sale or Auction?

You may be wondering if it might be better to have an estate auction over an estate sale. The answer is, it depends. Estate sales certainly have advantages over auctions, and vice versa. For instance, you get to hold an estate sale over the span of a few days and you won’t have to transport your items for sale. However, an auction can be appealing because your items will be sold within one timeframe by a professional auctioneer, and you also create an opportunity for some bidding wars over valuable items. Read our Estate Auction vs Estate Sale guide to find out more. 

Create Your Estate Plan Today to Ensure Your Assets Are Property Distributed 

Now that you have more information on how to have an estate sale, we hope you can proceed with more confidence. We also hope that you feel motivated to get your own assets in order. You likely realized just how much effort and planning it takes to hold an estate sale, and it increases with every item that is unaccounted for. Want to know a surefire way of making sure your precious belongings aren’t sold or auctioned off by default? Create your Estate Plan. By planning for and protecting your items for distribution, you can make sure they are passed on to your heirs in the way you wish. 

Trust & Will is here to help you achieve your estate planning objectives. We provide online Will and Trust creation services that make it easy for you to plan for the distribution of your belongings, plus many other important aspects of protecting yourself and your loved ones. Get started on your Estate Plan today!

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Reach out to us today or chat with a live member support representative!


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