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PROJECT

THE ART OF AN ESTATE SALE

An estate sale is the tsunami of spring-cleaning. It doesn’t necessarily have to follow a death, but it technically means you are selling the greater part of the contents of a home.

“Some people are downsizing from a family home to a high-rise or lightening their load before a major move,” says Jennifer Beegle, who works for her parents' business, Margie Beegle Estate Sales.

It may fall to you to manage a family member’s estate with a houseful of items you do not want.

DIY ESTATE SALE
Whatever the circumstances, an estate sale can turn a mountain of possessions into a bundle of cash, but proper pricing, staging and managing make a huge difference in how lucrative a sale is. If you are thinking of handling your own sale, here is a checklist of musts by local experts that may keep you from making costly mistakes.

1. Clean and organize all items. Individually assess the condition and value of each one. You may need the assistance of a professional, like a personal property appraiser. Ideally you should create an inventory of each piece to be sold.

2. Price the items. For higher-priced possessions, be prepared to show “why” they are priced the way they are. For example, if a painting has a history of being sold at auction for more than the amount asked, make sure you can back that up with auction results for potential buyers.

3. Determine the best timing. Saturday and Sunday are prime selling days.  

4. Stage items. Show them in the most positive light.

5. Advertise appropriately. Put photographs online for potential buyers.

6. The day of the sale. Arrange security, have sufficient helpers and be clear about what forms of payment you are willing to accept.

7. Be aware. You need to alert shoppers to potential hazards in the home to prevent any injury to invited guests.

PROFESSIONAL HELP
If this seems like more work than you want to do, you may hire a professional agent to manage the overall sale. 

“I believe it’s in the best interest of most people to hire a smart and honest professional to handle the sale,” Beegle says. “You may not be the best judge of what is valuable. A small piece of art in the attic or a strange mid-century chair in the garage may be the financial treasure of the sale.”

Most estate sale planners meet with you at no charge and make recommendations about the best way to proceed. If an agent agrees to manage your sale, he or she normally charges 35 percent of the profits or more, but in exchange the pros do 100 percent of the work and cover the costs of conducting the sale such as security, advertising, workers and other related costs.

As in any business, agents have different styles, and although many are ethical, some are not, says Curtis Ann Davis, who owns and manages Arbor Antiques Services, an estate sale business.

“There are many good agents in Houston, so who you hire is partly about personal preference, because not all personalities click,” she says.

And, there are agents who promise a good return only to vanish without paying. Davis has a few tips on how to select an agent who you can work with and trust.

1. Talk to friends. Find out from friends who have had previous experiences with estate liquidators or have attended an estate sale and ask for their advice.

2. Do your homework. Check the Internet for www.estatesales.net, www.estatesales.org or www.estatesales.com. Look at consumer sites like Yelp for customer input on estate sale managers and check out the Better Business Bureau for reports of sketchy companies. 

3. Interview several prospective agents. Ask questions like: How long have you been in business? Do you have local referrals? Do you have a customer base? Ask for a copy of their liability insurance and bond. You may also want to know how staff members are trained and if they are certified appraisers or use certified appraisers.  

Possibly the most important step in choosing the right agent for you is to attend estate sales and see how different agents manage their sales.

“The wrong agent can decimate an estate by having items that are priced too high or too low, which happens when the person has no idea of the real value of the items” Beegle says.

Attending sales can be done on any given weekend and doesn't take that long. Be sure to take a note pad and spend the morning as a “secret shopper.” Beegle recommends:

1. Notice whether employees have name tags and are easy to identify.
2. Is the house full, but not too full of shoppers?
3. Are people buying things? Look for sold tags and items on a sold table.
4. Talk to workers and ask them questions.
5. Take note of the setup: A beautiful presentation is key to getting top-dollar.  

“If you walk into a home and there are only a few shoppers, the setup is unattractive and you can’t find an employee to help you, this might not be a company that puts your interests first,” she says.

AUCTIONS
If you are thinking about an auction to dispose of property, you should have a minimum of 15 to 20 quality items, says Jon Vines of Gallery Auctions Inc. He manages a weekly Monday auction in Houston. 
 
“We jury our items. As a rule, you won’t find boxes of Tupperware or old linens at an auction,” Vines says. “An on-site estate sale aims to sell every item, even the half-used cleaning products, but auctions are a different venue.”

When callers approach Vines for assistance, he asks that they take photographs of the merchandise and email them to him. Long experience makes it possible for him to make a quick assessment and a recommendation to the seller.

If you are considering an auction, Vines recommends you attend several to get a better idea how they work and the value of items. Also, do research on the Internet to see how similar items are selling.

“Make sure you set a limit and stick to it,” he says.  

DIFFERENT ANIMALS
Keep in mind that garage sales, estate sales and auctions are all different animals. A garage sale is usually a Saturday morning affair when a person sells items that he or she doesn’t want anymore. An estate sale is a two- or three-day event with many more items, most often a lifetime of possessions that sell for about 50 percent of their retail value.

While bargaining is part of the fun at garage sales, it is not generally allowed at estate sales, although all estate sale companies have discount policies and most are on their respective websites. Always ask a worker if you don't see a sign up notifying shoppers of a certain discount being applied when you are attending the sale.

Estate sale managers want to maximize profit for the seller and value for the buyer, Beegle says.
“It’s important to get the right company because an estate sale is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event and there are no do-overs.”

SHOPPING TIPS FOR “BURIED TREASURE”

By Lindsay Canright

We’ve all been there: You’re at a friend’s house and notice a new, uber-fabulous light fixture or slipper chair or console table. When you ask where on earth they found it, your friend says with an envy-inducing nod of the head: “I got it last weekend at an estate sale.”

Attention all deal hunters: If you choose to sleep in on Saturday mornings, you’re also sleeping on the one-of-a-kind goodies available at Houston-area estate sales. It’s time to wake up and smell the bargains. With a fistful of cash, comfy walking shoes and these expert tips, fabulous deals on fantastic to funky finds are only a car ride away.

MAKE A PLAN
There are a bevy of helpful online resources to check out, like Craigslist (www.craigslist.com) and Estatesales.net (www.estatesales.net/TX/Houston) and www.estatesales.org/estate-sales/tx/houston. Local estate sale management companies also send out newsletters to their followers. Some listings post images of the merchandise as a preview.

If you fall in love with a piece you see online, remember you might not be the only one. It would be smart to make this sale your first stop of the day. If you’re planning to attend more than one sale, it’s helpful to plot out a route. If you’re not gunning for one item or one sale in particular, organize your list by neighborhood and distance from your home, noting the starting times of each sale.

WHAT TO BRING, WHAT NOT TO BRING
Knowing what to bring and what to leave behind can save you time and hassle and allows you to focus on the hunt. Leave behind large bags, which may not be permitted, and find a sitter for small children.

“It's best not to bring children to an estate sale; many sales don't allow them. If children are allowed, teach them that their hands belong behind their backs and keep them with you at all times,” says Curtis Ann Davis, an estate sale specialist.

Do bring your plan of attack, whether handwritten or electronic; a small wallet or bag with cash and cards; a tape measurer and measurements if you’re shopping for a specific piece; and a small flashlight just in case, for example, you want to check the condition of an amazing potting table in the far corner of the storage shed.  

ARRIVE EARLY, BUT NOT TOO EARLY
You wouldn’t show up to Williams-Sonoma hours before the time the store opened. Estate sales list hours for a reason and showing up long before the listed start is a definite etiquette no-no.  

“There is usually a line. So, yes, if you want to be first in the door, consider arriving a little early,” Davis says. “But we do not allow early birds in the door until the sale opens.”

If you find a dreamy trinket that you just can’t live without, Jennifer Beegle of Margie Beegle Estate Sales advises that you pick it up and hold onto it.

“When you see something you like, pick it up. If you're sure you must have it, take it to the sold table, so you won't have to carry it around,” she says.

If it’s a larger item like a piece of furniture, don’t wait to find the person in charge to stake your claim. On the first day of multiday sales, you will probably end up paying top dollar.
Davis reminds eager buyers to remember their manners.

“Be courteous to other shoppers and don’t be grabby. There is something for everyone,” she says.

TIME A BARGAIN
In the world of estate sales, the early bird gets the best stuff and the latecomer gets the bargain. While it may be appropriate in certain situations, for the most part, Beegle advises against haggling. If there is a deal to be made, it’s in the dwindling hours of a sale when there are price reductions on items that haven’t sold.

DON’T JUDGE A CHAIR BY THE FABRIC
Outdated fabric can mean scoring a homerun deal. Instead of letting a crazy print distract you, look at the lines of the piece and check for a maker’s mark. An ugly chair might be one trip to High Fashion Fabrics away from utter greatness.

STORAGE SPACES = BURIED TREASURES
Buyers may be making a beeline for the living room and bedrooms, but if they’re open, make sure to check the garage, the attic and other storage areas. Some of the best finds lay hidden in far-reaching corners, so put your flashlight to good use.

RESOURCES

Arbor Antiques Services Inc.
1503 TX 237
Round Top
www.arborantiques.com

Margie Beegle Estate Sales
713-478-3293
www.margiebeeglesales.com

Gallery Auctions Inc.
13310 Luthe Road
281-931-0100
www.galleryauctions.com

Lyn Huck Estate & Appraisal Services
5233 Bellaire Blvd.
713-416-3916
www.lynhuck.com

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