Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Getting Rid Of Our Stuff - The Estate Sale

As is usually the case, by the time I get to write about an event it has come and gone and so it is for our estate sale.  But let me take you back to the beginning of the process...

When I came back to Colorado to help wrap things up, one of the big items on the list was to sell all our stuff. Having lived in our home for about 18 years, we certainly managed to collect a lot of stuff (I guess George Carlin was right).  Looking around our house, and after dealing with my father-in-law's estate, we thought it might be a good idea to hire an estate sale company to come help us get rid of everything.  Yes, indeed, there is an entire industry devoted to getting rid of your stuff...wouldn't George be proud.

While looking for estate sale companies, we quickly found the site and decided it might be a good idea to check out how some of the businesses run the sales.  So, one Saturday we found a few sales from the companies we were interested in and went to check them out.  Some were better than others, but the basic idea is that an estate sale is kind of like a garage sale, only on a larger scale and more organized.  They also seem to generate a lot more traffic than the usual garage sale.

We came up with a short list of the companies that we liked that seemed to be doing a professional and organized job and started giving them calls.  A few of them were not interested since we wanted to remain in the house during and after the sale (having to stay in a hotel for a week or two as the house was set up was not an option).  A couple others came over to the house to give us their pitch and look around at what we had for sale.  The estimates on how much they thought we could get out of our roughly 2000 square foot (186 square meter) home was between $7000 and $8000 U.S. This is where we found out that the companies would take 40% of the proceeds as payment.  Doing the math here...the fee for the sale would be around $3000.

Since I'm no longer employed, we thought it would be nice to keep that $3K ourselves to put toward the boat improvements.  I also found out that and other estate sale advertisement companies allow private individuals to advertise sales on their sites and to their subscriber mailing list.  We pondered the potential loss we might have being less experienced in pricing for the sale.  In the end we decided it is unlikely we would be off by more than $1000 so we would do the sale ourselves.

We started digging through our stuff, throwing away the trash and cleaning up the stuff we wanted to sell.  We moved around furniture and started to set up our house and all our stuff for display.  We learned some tricks from the estate sales we attended like how to use a board and a couple small waste baskets to make a second shelf for your displays on folding tables. And we learned what the standard prices are for many smaller priced items like clothing, bedding, CD's and DVD's, flatware, stemware, and kitchen utensils.

We spent several weeks slowly going through stuff and separating it into:
  • Stuff headed to the boat (the smallest group)
  • Stuff headed to storage
  • Stuff to sell
  • Stuff to donate
  • Recycling
  • Garbage
You don't realize how much stuff you have acquired in almost 20 years until you try to go through and sell it all.  It didn't take too long until we realized we were going to need more tables.  This is where we also found out that renting banquet tables at the local rental places ran $10 a day per table.  That can get pretty expensive when you consider the amount of time needed to rent the tables (in addition to the 3 day sale, the set up and tear down time makes it a pretty long rental).  This is where having friends comes in handy.  I pleaded for help from a few friends and one had tables we could borrow for the sale.  Thanks Tom!

We planned on a little over a week to get everything set up and really turn our home into a showroom for all our stuff.  We set up the ad on including a preliminary list of items, a few pictures, and our terms and conditions of the sale (Cash only, no moving labor provided, everything sold as-is/where-is, etc.).  Half way through the week, we realized we were not going to be anywhere near ready and ended up pushing the sale off by a week.

Not how our master bedroom usually looked

We continued to set up tables in our house, clean and collect like items together (it is recommended that you put similar items together and in the rooms they are used in as that makes for a more organized sale).  Kitchen appliances and cookware in the kitchen, dishes and decorations in the dining room, entertainment related stuff in the family room, etc.

Living Room or Showroom?

We bought some white corrugated plastic signs from the local quick sign shop and a really fat permanent marker and made signs for the sale.  To keep the signs easy to follow, they simply said "Estate Sale" in big letters and a big arrow indicating direction and in smaller print the hours of the sale (10am to 4pm for us).  When we used to go to garage sales, we found an arrow was far more useful than writing the address on the sign (who memorizes where every street in their part of town is) or a list of contents at the sale (usually too small to read as you are driving by).

After getting a lot of the stuff set up, we started going around and pricing items.  For cheaper stuff we generally took our best guess on prices.  For more expensive things or items we simply had no clue on, we checked retail prices as well as the sold prices of items on Ebay or similar sites.  The general rule of thumb we were using for pricing was to price items that were practically new at 1/3 of retail and reduce down to 1/10 of retail for more used items and a little below the bottom line Ebay price for items of a more collectible nature.

We had a few surprises on prices.  For instance, my wife had a Beatles White Album vinyl record and I had a hunch it might be worth a bit more than the $2/record standard price.  I checked and they can go from thousands of dollars down to a few dollars or so.  The pressing and condition of the one we had put it's price at $20~40.  I had purchased an electric bass guitar my senior year of high school and, as it turns out, the guitar is apparently pretty rare.  Ovation made the Celebrity BC-2 guitar and apparently it was a flop so the best information I can find says they only produced them for a single year.  I was having a hard time finding information on it and most of that was in forum threads that usually started by asking questions related to their existence or legitimacy.  I found one thread that indicated someone found a beat up one in a pawn shop, bought it for $100, and then sold it to a collector for $750. And the one I have is in near mint condition.

The day before the sale we were busy pricing items and still digging out more for sale.  We worked through the night to try and get everything ready.  Finally around 4am the morning of the sale my wife and I decided we should try to get at least a couple hours of sleep before the sale started.  So we pushed all the stuff that wasn't even close to being ready to sell into the closets and bathrooms, blocked them off and went to bed.

Were we ready for the  Were there things out that were still bet.  But we were out of time and needed to push forward.  In one of my next posts, I'll cover how the first day of the sale was definitely interesting.

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