Saturday, March 27, 2010

Estate sale, or NOT

Early this spring, as I was walking along damp grass from freshly melted snow I saw a box of moldy books, nearby a plastic laundry tub of McDonald’s and Burger King toys. As my eyes broadened to a wider view I beheld baby car seats, Avon products, a rusty toaster, a Mr coffee without the decanter! I was aghast!

I wanted to attend an estate sale, but looking around; this doesn’t look like one, am I really at an estate sale?  Checking the address against the classified ad, I was convinced I was at the wrong house. Nope, this is the address. I’ve been Had! Have you had this happen to you? Have you ever arrived to a sale conducted by a business or family and felt like you had been duped into coming as a result of false advertising?

Let us take a look at the anatomy of an estate sale, what is it and what does it look like? Webster’s dictionary defines “Estate” many different ways. Definitions can include a large piece of property with a house, i.e. the Hermitage as Andrew Jackson’s estate. The Webster’s definition that our interests are associated with is; "the assets and liabilities left by a person at death." puts it this way, “the property of a deceased person, a bankrupt, etc., viewed as an aggregate.” So now, one would think that estate sales would contain most of the ordinary items people possess at death but can’t take with them. Sandy Dodd of Allegheny South Estate sales recently told me she has never seen a hearse towing a U-haul. Most times personal items like photographs, cards and letters, cash and securities are retained by the family and not included in the sale. Rare and/or unusual antiques & collectibles, historical documents and similar items are liquidated through other means prior to the sale. Raise your hand if you ever found a Tiffany lamp at an estate sale. I didn’t think so! Remember the family may have removed these items even prior to an agreement with the liquidator, and even when that is not the case, the liquidator still has an obligation to their client. The estate sale industry has changed quite a bit from the 30's through the 50's. In those days people lined up or made an appointment to attend the sale of a wealthy industrialist or businessman who passed away. The items could include exquisite jewelry, expensive antiques and art.

Decorative items that exuded wealth and personal effects that only the rich could afford. Those attending these sales were usually, and for the most part, legitimate antique dealers, art collectors and museum curators, many were there by invitation only. The items of ordinary people at death were happily bequeathed to the surviving, who in many cases patiently waited years to inherent them, or as people would say “Hand them Down”.  Back then, the items left behind by those less affluent would have hardly been called an “estate”.

 Today most professional liquidators handle moving sales, downsizing sales, and the “entire contents of home” for any number of reasons, including but not limited to, tax liability, moving into an assisted living or nursing home facility. Even “going out of business” liquidation sales are not unheard of. Most of the knowing folks in today’s “estate sale community” understand and accept this. You will even see the words, household liquidations, estate transition and before you move, in some of the very company titles or ads of today’s liquidators.

Ok then, we understand this, so what is NOT an estate sale? A person who has accumulated “estate items” and is selling them in his or her home or yard is not conducting an estate sale. Simply put, they are selling estate items in their home or yard! No matter how adamant they are about it, it is not an estate sale. It is not even a liquidation, unless you consider they are liquidating their own items, which of course is what every person conducting a yard, porch or garage sale is doing.

None of this is to say that you can’t find something good at one of these sales, to the contrary, we have found some great things at garage sales. Treasure is where you find it! However, one should have the correct information to consciously choose what sales he or she wishes to attend. At, the listings are those of legitimate estate and household liquidators who are members of our network. They all stand on their own good reputations and their sales are generally entire household contents or they will state the nature of the liquidation otherwise. When attending an estate sale in Pittsburgh, you can be confident in making your choice from our list of member only ads. You probably won’t find a Tiffany lamp or a Picasso, (remember the liquidator’s obligations to the client?) but you will find lots of great items.
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