Five Steps to Take When the Liquidation Company Says No
It’s a common occurrence: an executor calls an estate sale company to provide an estimate for liquidating an estate’s personal property and the liquidation company says “no thanks.”
Why does this happen, and what can an executor do when it does?
It happens because liquidating an estate’s personal property can be a monumental job, and there has to be enough high-dollar goods available to make that job worthwhile for a liquidation company. Once an estate’s heirs have claimed their “due” and stripped an estate of its most valuable assets all that’s left for an estate sale company is “the dregs.” There’s often not enough money in run-of-the-mill household goods to be a profitable undertaking for a liquidation company.
There’s often not enough money in run-of-the-mill household goods to be a profitable undertaking for a liquidation company. If this happens, there are other steps you can take.
Even when the heirs aren’t interested in an estate’s personal property, some estates just aren’t worth the trouble. Other estates may seem like a lost cause, but how is an executor to know for sure? What if an executor has everything hauled off to Goodwill, only to find out from nephew Bill that there were about a dozen out-of-print first editions on the bookshelf, and that the framed 45 RPM record by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers wasn’t an old high school buddy’s band, but rather an early iteration of The Beatles?
Since executors can be held personally liable for mistakes made in handling an estate’s assets, it’s necessary to move forward cautiously. Here are five low-cost steps that an executor can take to quickly identify where the value lies in an estate’s personal property:
1. Locate the titles for “the big stuff”—vehicles, equipment, boats, RV’s, equipment and so on. For most titled personal property there are Blue Books and online reference tools for establishing value.
2. Identify collections and potentially valuable items (art, books, records, comics, ephemera, etc.) by calling in both auctioneers and estate sale operators. Have at least three liquidators assess the estate and quote you a price on executing a sale:
• An estate sale (tag sale) company;
• An auction company that will execute an on-site auction;
• An auction house that will propose to take your best items on consignment.
Sometimes, when an estate executor calls an estate sale company to provide an estimate for liquidating an estate’s personal property and the liquidation company says “no thanks.” What your Plan B?
Be sure to call only well-established companies at this point; they are the ones that will tell you quickly if your estate is worth their time. Along the way, you can determine what among of the estate’s property is valuable, because the consignment auctioneer will want to take those items to his auction house. Don’t give them up yet: if you intend to hold a sale, doing so is counter-productive. If you’re not going to hold a sale, you may be able to get more money on Craigslist or eBay.
3. Check values for the best of the non-titled personal property online. In order to do this, you’ll need to know what all the items are actually called so if there is an item that you’re not familiar with be sure to ask the auctioneer what it is when (s)he inspects your estate.
The range of values found online will be similar to the prices that can be achieved by estate liquidators (though they will tell you differently). To discover a range of value for an item, look it up in WorthPoint Worthopedia™ and eBay. Type your item into the search bar, but leave the search set to “all categories,” as not all eBay sellers assign categories correctly. If no results are found, use a different search term, since antique items sometimes have different names in different parts of the country.
The prices that are returned on WorthPoint are actual “selling prices, but your first eBay searches are “asking” prices. To find what items actually sold for, go to the left sidebar and click the box that says “Completed Listings.” When the new page opens, the selling prices of all sold items will show in green and unsold items will show in black. Knowing which prices didn’t result in a sale is just as instructive as knowing which prices did result in a sale.
If an established estate sale or auction companies passes on your estate, sometimes a start-up is willing to “take on” a low-value estate in order to build their reputation. If the “big guys” say no, don’t be reluctant to hire a “little guy.”
A drawback of using eBay’s search to establish value is the amount of time that the completed listings remain available for viewing: 90 days for sold items and 30 days for unsold items. Some items found in an estate won’t show up in an eBay search because none has sold within the time period. Or, if one did sell within the time period, it may not have attracted many bidders, been mis-categorized, or poorly presented, all of which will affect the selling price. Consequently, one can’t rely too heavily on the results returned by eBay alone.
When I do an appraisal, I always check multiple sources. My go-to source for appraising is WorthPoint, because using this site saves me a lot of time. WorthPoint has licensing arrangements with many of the sites I used to subscribe to and had to check individually when researching values. WorthPoint preserved eBay’s “sold for” prices going back to 2006, and when the sold information rolls out of eBay’s 90-day window, it moved to WorthPoint. WorthPoint also has “sold for” prices for items that have been sold through several American auction houses, such as Cowen’s, Heritage Auctions and Rago Arts, so it gives me a better perspective on what the value of an item might be.
4. Interview start-up estate sale and/or auction companies. Sometimes a start-up is willing to “take on” a low-value estate in order to build their reputation. If the “big guys” say no, don’t be reluctant to hire a “little guy.”
5. If a start-up company isn’t willing to liquidate your estate either, then the estate’s high-value property isn’t worth all the work involved in selling the low-value property. If liquidating isn’t worth their time and effort, it isn’t worth yours either. If that’s the case, then set the valuable items aside and get quotes from a clean-out company to empty the house (some will do this for free, as they are flea-market sellers). Consign the high-value property to an auction house or sell it yourself on eBay or similar site.
So, when the estate liquidation company says “no,” don’t despair; there are alternatives to spending all your spare time for the next six months selling off an estate’s personal property.
Wayne Jordan is a Virginia-licensed auctioneer, Certified Personal Property Appraiser and Accredited Business Broker. He has held the professional designations of Certified Estate Specialist; Accredited Auctioneer of Real Estate; Certified Auction Specialist, Residential Real Estate and Accredited Business Broker. He also has held state licenses in Real Estate and Insurance. Wayne is a regular columnist for Antique Trader Magazine, a WorthPoint Worthologist (appraiser) and the author of two books. For more info, visit Wayne Jordan Auctions or Resale Retailing with Wayne Jordan.
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