Monthly Archives: April 2018

How Do Estate Sales Work? Tips for Turning Castoffs Into Major Cash


How do estate sales work? If you’re pondering this question, you are probably faced with a house full of stuff that was once owned by a recently deceased family member. And, as much as you’d love to keep all of grandma’s antiques or Uncle Joe’s fly-fishing pole collection, there just isn’t enough room for it, all—especially if you plan to sell the house these things are sitting in, too. What to do?

Enter the estate sale—which is similar to a garage sale but to the tenth degree, where you sell off most of the contents of a home in one fell swoop.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must own a fancy-schmancy estate to make it worthwhile.

The only requirement for holding an estate sale is “a significant amount of items of value,” says Marie Dietrich, an appraiser and marketing manager of Gary Germer & Associates, a personal property liquidation company in Portland, OR.

Here’s what that means, exactly, and how to get the most cash for your items with the least amount of heartache.

Should I hold an estate sale myself or hire pros?

That depends on what you’re selling—and where.

“Estate sales are often not allowed in high-rise buildings and certain gated communities,” notes Claudia McLaughlin, owner and principal at CMFTO, a Chicago-based company that specializes in estate sales.

Furthermore, “Most estate liquidators prefer homes with collections, art, and antiques to draw people in,” explains Dietrich. “It helps sell the regular household items like clothes and Tupperware.”

Look around the home and try to come up with a good-faith estimate for the value of its contents. Lean on resources like eBay to estimate what similar items are selling for; you can also contact an estate sale provider for a free consultation.

A general rule of thumb: “If you have less than $10,000 worth of personal property value, you should either host your own sale, donate [your items] or do a combination of both,” says Dietrich.

More than that, and it’s worth hiring a company to hold the sale for you. Just keep in mind that they’ll take anywhere from 25% to 50% commission of the total sale, but if you’re incredibly busy and/or have lots of stuff to sell, it could be worth saving yourself the trouble.

Another good reason to bring in the pros: They may know better what’s valuable and what’s not.

Most times, Dietrich says that you may not recognize something that could bring in the big bucks.

“We often find things that are very valuable that the clients may have thrown away,” she notes, recounting a time a client set aside some porcelain figures to go to Goodwill. Dietrich’s team identified them and sold them online … for over $40,000. “In fact, we ask that clients don’t do anything to prepare for the sale—for that very reason,” Dietrich says.

Only what if something valuable doesn’t sell at the estate sale—like a $20,000 painting? The company should remove it from the sale and sell it on consignment to maximize your profit.

How to find an estate sale company

For starters, if the company asks for any money upfront, you shouldn’t consider them reputable.

“There should be no fee for a consultation,” says Dietrich. “In addition, all charges, such as dumpster fees and hauling, should come from the proceeds of the sale. The estate sale company bears the upfront cost. A reputable estate sale company will essentially do everything for you.”

And by “everything,” she means that they’ll assess what in your home has value, as well as what may be more of a pain to sell than it’s worth. They’ll also recycle/dispose of said trash; set aside family items that should be saved; clean, display, price and photograph the items to be sold; market the sale; run the sale; donate what’s left over and leave your once-crowded house empty and clean. (They also hand you a check.)

Keep in mind, this amount of detail and organization can’t happen overnight. Plan for a lead time of at least 45 days, advises McLaughlin.

How to hold your own estate sale

Do you have lots of time and energy? Because you’ll need both, as well as the following:

  • Pricing acumen. “This is where most people lose money if they don’t recognize quality, scarcity, or rarity,” cautions Randeen Cummings, a certified appraiser and owner of Cummings & Associates Appraisals and Estate Sale Services in Eugene, OR. “Consult with a professional appraiser to come and consult, point out valuable items and suggest pricing.”
  • Marketing skills. For maximum profits, you need to advertise the heck out of your sale. Choose your date wisely, so you either capitalize on big events nearby (like a downtown antiques event) or avoid them if you worry they may steal potential customers. Save up for a big advertising budget. Ideally, you’ll place notices in the paper, print flyers to take around to local businesses, and put up signs to draw traffic. Don’t forget to also announce on free and paid-for ad boards.
  • Time. Plan on one, maybe two, full weekend days for your sale. (That doesn’t include the days before when you’re setting up or the days after when you’re cleaning up the leftovers.)
  • Family and friends. “You need enough people to help set up, serve as cashier, security, monitor and answer questions, and make decisions on offers,” Cummings says.
  • Emotions of steel. “Can you distance yourself emotionally from [your] items and seeing other people handling and purchasing them?” asks Cummings. You’ll need to. And even if you do hire the pros, “Most all estate sale companies ask that the clients not be on site during the sale,” adds Dietrich. “It often proves to be very emotional when they see their or their loved one’s belongings being sold. It’s what they want, but it’s hard to see it happen.”

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Real Estate Lockbox: Do Home Sellers Really Need One for Safety and Convenience?

Bill Oxford/iStock

A real estate lockbox is a convenient gadget: This small combination box containing the home’s key allows buyer’s agents and their clients to access the home when the seller isn’t there.

“When an agent requests a showing and it is confirmed by the sellers, they are provided with a combination to the lockbox,” explains Megan Rucidlo, an agent with Re/Max Main Line in West Chester, PA. “At the time of the showing, the agent will enter the combination, which will then open the box. The agent can then retrieve the key to begin the showing.”

After the showing is over, the agent returns the key to the box, typically hung on the front door, and locks it back up. This leaves the home secure, but also accessible to other agents with the code.

How much does a real estate lockbox cost?

Although there are many costs that sellers have to consider—from home improvements to staging costs—the price of a lockbox isn’t one of them. That’s because real estate agencies have their own lockboxes, says Marcia Mack, a real estate broker with Baird & Warner in Glenview, IL.

The agency will install the lockbox, and then take it back when the house is sold or when your contract expires.

Advantages of a real estate lockbox

A lockbox can be a huge time-saver for the folks doing the legwork in selling your home (aka your listing agent, the buyer’s agent, or even the home inspector)— which, in turn, can help move your house off the market faster.

“[With a lockbox], a buyer’s broker doesn’t have to run by the listing office to pick up keys or hope that the listing agent can meet them with the keys,” Mack explains. “It makes it easier and more convenient to show.”

The lockbox also makes it easier for sellers to vacate the premises when a buyer’s agent wants to drop in with a prospective buyer.

“When the sellers are present for each showing, it creates an awkward experience for the buyers,” Rucidlo says. “Buyers feel they cannot openly express their thoughts and have a more difficult time picturing themselves living there.”

Drawbacks of a lockbox

Although real estate pros give real estate lockboxes an enthusiastic thumbs-up, there are a couple of minor flaws sellers should be aware of. Older lockboxes that have been exposed to the elements can become rusty, making it difficult for agents to access the keys, Mack says. Don’t be afraid to tell your listing agent that you have concerns if you note rust. If you’re selling a condo, it’s also important that your lockbox is well labeled, Mack says, as more than one unit may be for sale within the building.

“Sometimes there are a dozen lockboxes on a gate for a condo building, and you have to figure out which one belongs to the unit you are showing, if they aren’t labeled with the listing broker’s information,” says Mack.

Kinds of lockboxes

Although all lockboxes are opened with a code, agencies use different types that agencies use.

Basic lockboxes: Most real estate lockboxes have either a spin-dial combo lock or a push-button lock. Some have letters, others have numbers.

Electronic lockboxes: These Bluetooth-enabled lockboxes are connected to an app, which agents must use to access a personal code to open the box. That provides enhanced safety, because the codes are unique and trackable, Mack says.

“If I am a listing agent, I can check with [the company that makes the lockbox] to see who opened the box and at what time,” she says. “You do not get that with a regular combo box.”

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6 Downsizing Mistakes Even Smart People Make



This past year, my mother downsized from our six-bedroom family home into a two-bedroom condo in a senior development. Although she was nervous to cast aside her old life, now that the deed is done, she feels elated and free—and wishes she’d done it years earlier.

Now, my mom no longer worries about keeping her lawn mowed and driveway clear of snow, because maintenance staff does it for her. Rather than rattling around a huge house that took hours to clean, she has a manageable space she can easily tidy up herself. And, not incidentally, she has more money for whatever comes down the road.

Nonetheless, downsizing can still fill people with dread; experts say this is largely because they’ve heard horror stories from people who went about it all wrong. Here are the top six mistakes people make when downsizing, plus some ways to make the process easier and less intimidating.

1. Waiting too long to downsize

Are your kids gone? Is the mortgage paid off? Are you in reasonably good health? Think of it this way: It’s better to move now—while you have the strength and energy—than later, when it will be harder.

“The biggest mistake we make on downsizing is that we wait too long,” says Jacquie Denny, co-founder and chief development officer of estate sale marketplace, Everything But the House.

Typically people wait until an illness, or even when one spouse dies. That means we’re downsizing while we’re grieving or struggling through poor health, which are far from ideal circumstances.

Instead, Denny says, “we should actually plan ahead to downsize so that it is a lifestyle choice”—e.g., exchanging onerous yardwork for fun activities such as golf games or long hikes. Don’t mistake this, however, for rushing the process; Denny suggests giving yourself a full six months to prepare for your move.

2. Giving your kids too long a leash

Odds are, your kids can help you downsize by grabbing some furniture you won’t have room for, or a few mementos that are meaningful to them.

“Have your children over and ask them which pieces, if any, they would like to incorporate in their home,” says Denny.

The one caveat: Give them a time limit. None of this “I may want that dresser, but give me a couple of months to figure out where I’d put it.” This is a time for tough love. State a date by which they need to remove anything they want to keep.

3. Tackling your whole home all at once

Downsizing your whole home at once will likely be overwhelming—so instead, focus on thinning out yard tools and kitchens first, since “people are usually going to a leaner lifestyle in these areas,” says Denny.

If you’re moving to a home where outdoor spaces are maintained by the condo association, you can just get rid of all your yard gear. (OK, maybe keep a spade and gardening gloves if you have houseplants.)

Downsizing the kitchen will take more work. Start with what you want to keep and set that aside. Make sure it’s really going to fit in a smaller space, that it’s all worth the bother of moving, and that you’ll actually use the stuff regularly in your new home.

4. Tossing all your possessions in the trash

Feeling guilty about hauling everything to a dumpster? There are other options.

My mom, for instance, didn’t want to deal with the hassle of a yard sale, so she put out the word to friends and neighbors that she had a house full of furniture for the taking. She also scheduled a pickup from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, which accepts donated furniture and more, with the proceeds of any sales going toward building houses for those in need.

5. Assuming your furniture will fit in your new digs

So how much furniture should you keep? First, measure each room in your new home. Then measure the pieces you’d like to take with you and make sure they’ll actually fit. You may want to try a virtual room online tool to figure out how you’ll configure your furniture in your new home. Planner 5d, Roomstyler 3D Planner, and HomeByMe are all free.

6. Focusing on how you’re losing all your ‘stuff’

So many memories to leave behind. How do you do it? Take photos of what’s hardest to leave. I like what Suzanne Stavert, author of The Empty Nesters blog, says: “It is so refreshing to realize ‘what we really need’ is our family and friends. The ‘stuff’ is so secondary.”

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Selling Your Home? Relax! 5 Things to Not Bother Fixing First



Selling your home? Then you’ve likely had that rude awakening where a real estate agent tours your home and breaks some tough news: Your house needs work before it goes on the market.

For starters, you’ll have to fix the boiler. And paint. And replace those outdated cabinets … the list might go on and on.

Given that all these tweaks cost money, you might wonder: Do I have to do everything? 

Many of these fixes are indeed necessary, says Kathleen Kuhn, president of HouseMaster, a national chain of home inspection offices.

“Any defect or condition that affects the intended function or operation of a major house system should be fixed,” she says. This would include taking care of leaks, built-in appliances not functioning properly, insect infestations, plus any imminent safety or environmental hazards.

But beyond that, it’s up to you: Sure, the nicer your home looks, the more money you’ll likely be able to fetch when selling it. But not all improvements you make offer the same return on investment. Here are some fixes that some experts say you can pass on without too many repercussions.

1. Fixing cosmetic damage

Cosmetic damage includes things such as scuffed floors or peeling paint: They don’t interfere with the function of your home, although they do make it look run-down. The good news is, a keen home buyer knows to look beyond that, says Craig Webb, editor of Remodeling Magazine.

“Sophisticated home buyers and home flippers know that cosmetic damage can be easily fixed,” says Webb. What will give them pause is the hard stuff.

“They are going to want to know that the electrical and plumbing systems are up to grade and that the utility bills are decent,” says Webb. If the home’s structural issues are sound and the “bones” are good, then you can let the surface stuff slide.

2. Updating kitchens and bathrooms

So your kitchen is woefully outdated, your bathroom avocado green (yuck). That may be OK. Really.

The reason: Many buyers these days look forward to remodeling these “fun” areas—plus, trying to second-guess what they want and have it there waiting for them is just plain unrealistic, given all the home decor styles there are to choose from today.

“Maybe you favor a French provincial kitchen and he or she likes Scandinavian modern,” says Webb. “People have very different ideas about what a perfect kitchen is or what a perfect bathroom is. It’s a big risk, and unless you know your exact buyer, it’s better not to guess. The next person will impose their own dreams on the house anyway.”

3. Doing partial fixes

If you do decide your kitchen and bathroom are so bad they’re worth redoing, don’t go halfway. Unless you can redo a whole kitchen, don’t bother with partial fixes. Older cabinets with brand-new granite countertops only highlight the old.

4. Repainting in trendy colors

We don’t care if the color du jour is violet—selecting “trendy” paint colors is yet another bad move.

The reason: Color trends come and go so fast, what might look great today will look dated tomorrow or, even if they’re totally hip, might not appeal to large swaths of buyers anyway.

Bright colors are really trendy right now, but they don’t appeal to a wide audience,” says Samantha Hancock, a real estate agent with Re/Max Advantage Plus, based in Chanhassen, MN. So if you must paint, “keep things neutral,” advises Hancock. “Odds are the buyer is going to paint the house how they like it anyway.”

5. Renovating beyond your neighborhood’s norm

There is a saying that Webb likes to use: “Too much house for the neighborhood.” In other words, if all the houses on your block are beautifully furnished and landscaped, then it likely is worth it to spend the extra cash on your own. But if your house is the only house on the block with a well-kept rose garden and indoor dog shower, you may not get the return you hope for.

“No matter how much you try to have the jewel house to live in, you aren’t going to get the return on the investment if the rest of the neighborhood doesn’t match,” Webb says. So check out your neighbors’ homes and plan accordingly.

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