4 minute read

What is an Estate Sale?

Estate sales are a popular way to distribute a family member's possessions after their death. Here's what you need to know about estate sales.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Have you ever happened upon a posted sign in your neighborhood saying “estate sale” with an address on it? Perhaps you were intrigued, and decided to follow the brick road since you were out on a walk anyway. Or, you’re someone who loves rummaging through garage and yard sales to find some treasures. Either way, if you’ve attended an estate sale, you’ll know that they’re unique. They’re different because you get to actually walk through the person’s home and get a sense of what their life looked like. You also have the opportunity to buy items from nearly any room of a house. 

If none of this is ringing any bells, then you’re probably wondering, “What is an Estate Sale?” Don’t worry, because we’ll be answering this exact question. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about estate sales and why they’re a popular way to distribute assets.

What Does “Estate Sale” Mean?

For those wondering about the estate sale meaning, here is a simple definition: an estate sale, also known as a tag sale, is a popular way of disposing of your belongings in a quick and efficient way.

Items are sold directly out of the home that they belonged to. Members of the public are invited to come to the home and view the items that are for sale in person. They can buy items they’d like to purchase and take them home. In this sense, estate sales are not very different from garage sales or yard sales. However, estate sales often offer up items from the entirety of the home, rather than just a section of it. 

Does “Estate Sale” Mean Someone Died?

Estate sales are often associated with a loved one who passed away. The deceased person’s heirs are left with the important task of liquidating the contents of the estate. This is especially common when the heirs don’t have any use for the home of the decedent or their belongings. Turning material belongings into money for distribution amongst family members is often a practical solution. 

However, estate sales are not always associated with someone who died. An individual might choose to host an estate sale for their own estate. Perhaps they decided to change their lives completely by selling all of their material belongings. However, a more common and practical scenario is when a family is moving away in a hurry and do not want to take a majority of their belongings with them.

Why Have an Estate Sale?

Typically, when you want to get rid of all of your personal belongings, it would take a lot of time. You might take some articles of clothing to a consignment store, try to consign some collectibles and antiques with your local antique dealer, and perhaps list some jewelry on eBay. Before you know it, you feel overwhelmed and question whether you should have just donated the whole lot to charity.

The problem with this is that much of our belongings have value. This could be of sentimental or financial value. This means that giving everything away or even throwing things away is not the answer. Here, an estate sale could solve your pain point.

By having an estate sale, you’ll increase your odds of selling all of your belongings. In fact, most estate sales succeed at selling between 75 and 95 percent of items. Further, it takes away the trouble of having to oversee the process of selling individual items, or collections of items, through consignment or on various websites. By inviting the public to your home, you have the opportunity to sell all sorts of items in one place, at one time. 

Are Estate Sales Usually Cheaper?

Estate sales are typically more expensive than a garage sale or yard sale. This is because the objectives and intentions are different. With a garage or yard sale, the homeowner is typically trying to sell off old, outdated items that they no longer have a use for. Their objective isn’t usually to make a large sum of money. Rather, they want to get rid of their used items and have them go to a good home.

With an estate sale, the objective is to liquidate an individual’s estate. This means that the items for sale aren’t necessarily old, outdated, or unwanted. Some items can be quite viable and desirable! With this in mind, items that you’d find at an estate sale are typically more expensive relative to a garage sale. However, they are certainly cheaper than retail, and you can often find some bargains!

How Do Estate Sales Work?

Families that wish to put on an estate sale typically save themselves a world of work and burden by contracting with a professional estate sale organizer. This professional goes through all of the items to be sold, then organizes and appraises them. Initial prices are determined by the current fair market value. They then help advertise and market the estate sale to the public.

At the event of the sale, shoppers are permitted to enter the property to view and examine the items for sale. Unlike a garage sale, they’re allowed to walk throughout the home. They look at the price tags to know how much the item is being sold for. They then pay for their desired items and take them home.

Prices may be reduced over the course of the estate sale, which typically spans over two to three days. When the estate sale has concluded, the estate sale organizer takes their commission. Any unsold items must be disposed of, which they can take care of for an additional fee. Otherwise, unsold items can be sold or consigned through other avenues, donated, or thrown away.

Be sure to check out our in-depth guide on how estate sales work

Are Estate Sales a Good Idea?

Whether or not an estate sale is a good match for you depends on your unique circumstances. If you or your deceased loved one did not have many belongings, then it might make sense to retain control and sell items off one-by-one. You might even give items away to other family members, extended relatives, or friends.

If the estate in question is rather large, and there are valuable items included, then it may make sense to host an estate sale. Working with a professional can ease the burden if you are going through the grieving process. An estate sale is a great way to sell a large volume of items quickly and efficiently. 

Know that there is another option to consider: holding an estate auction. Instead of inviting members of the public to come to the home, shoppers will visit an auction house instead. There, they can bid on items that are up for auction. The item is awarded to the highest bidder. Estate auctions create the opportunity for bidding wars, and thus driving up the final price on some items. Read more about estate auctions here if you’d like to learn more about this alternative.

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

What is an estate sale? We hope that you now feel much more versed on this subject. You may not have realized until today why some individuals choose to host estate sales. Now it may make much more sense. It’s a popular way to sell off the entirety of a deceased loved one’s in the matter of a few days. Further, working with a professional can provide much relief for a family during the grieving process. 

Another important point to think about is whether or not you could picture your family holding an estate sale for your belongings one day. Most individuals cringe at the idea of their sentimental belongings getting sold off to strangers. Unfortunately, this becomes necessary when heirs are forced to liquidate assets - especially when there is no Trust or Will and the estate is forced to go through probate.

You have the option of taking action today to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. By setting up a Will and a Trust, you have the power to get your assets in order and make sure they’re distributed in the way you wish. You are empowered to avoid the outcome of having your belongings sold or auctioned off by default. Click here to learn more about how to start establishing a foolproof Estate Plan. None of us can predict the future, but at least we can have some certainty over some outcomes. 

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