We recently had the opportunity to interview several Estate Sale Industry professionals on the business of Estate Sales today, and whether the economic times have had an impact on the industry, as well as some of the challenges that professionals face when working with customers and clients. Here’s what they had to say…
1. Have Estate Sales become more or less popular since the recession (2008)?
Richard Meliska of Merrill Essex at Essex Antiques and Collectibles, Ltd. based in Illinois says, “I believe that estate sales have become less popular in the past several years, no because of the recession, but because of other more efficient and profitable ways to sell personal property.” Meliska goes on to say that he believes with the aging population looking to downsize, the market has become more congested with people who want top dollar for their possessions.
Lorrie Semler, an Estate Sale professional based out of Dallas, Texas believes estate sales have become more popular, from both the client’s side (those with estates to sell) and the customer side (those who make purchases at estate sales). “Often the executor of an estate lives some distance from the home and is looking for someone to handle the disposition of the estate in turnkey fashion. It is expensive and time consuming for out-of-town executors to deal with the estate long distance. Customers are watching their pennies, looking for bargains, and enjoying the thrill of the hunt when shopping at estate sales. This is an inexpensive, practical way of shopping. And the recycling aspect appeals to many.”
Owner of Plaid Eagle Antiques, Karen Lee McClung in West Virginia says, “Estate Sales have become more popular. I get lots of questions about estate sales and people want to know how they work and how soon it’s possible to set one up.”
Vicki Wilson, owner of Brick House Antiques says “For us, Estate Sales have become more popular but not necessarily because of the recession. I think a good part of it is because we are doing more in a very visible location. Generally after each sale I have a list of people who are thinking of cleaning out or down sizing to put on my next list. At one time, sales were limited to “estate” sales but we are now doing personal property sales and group sales with property belonging to more than one person.”
2. What are the shopper demographics attending your sales?
Bob & Susan Edwards of Hazelwood Estate Sales in New Jersey say their shopper audience has been antique dealers, private collectors retirees, people needing to furnish a home for a fraction of the cost of new, and curiosity seekers.
Vicki Wilson says, “We have people who love tag sales, including a regular following, antique lovers and dealers, regular people looking for household items and people looking for inexpensive household items like pots and pans, sheets, furniture. Etc.”
Karen Lee McClung said she gets many affluent people looking for quality items at a reasonable price, and lower income people looking for a bargain who might not be able to afford items at large stores.
Lorrie Semler in Dallas says that sale traffic demographics “depends on the location of the sale and the neighborhood. Shoppers tend to reflect the residents in the neighborhood. If it’s a retirement community, seniors; in mixed used residential areas, younger people; in suburbia, it’s families.”
Richard Meliska says that his company is attracting “a specialized shopper/buyer looking for specific items.” His company also ships to buyers across the US and around the world, which opens up his buyer-base.
3. Since the recession, have you found it easier or more difficult to work with new clients?
Richard Meliska’s company thoroughly explains their process and procedures, and says, “we find that it is easier to talk to new clients about selling their possessions, the immediately see the benefit of selling across multiple venues, specific collectors, and not limiting their sale event or location to one weekend.”
Karen Lee McClung says “Since the recession I have found it easier to work with new clients because the Estate Sale will make more money for them due to set prices, as opposed to an auction where they have to take the bid, which may be very high but most often much lower than the value.”
Vicki Wilson agrees with her colleagues and says, “The recession has not changed the manner in which we work with clients nor has it presented any difficulties that I can identify.” She also spends a lot of time explaining her pricing terms to clients so they understand how a sale works. “We also utilize a bid box which we check every evening when we close. If we have disagreed about a price on an item, I still urge the customer to leave a bid with whatever they feel the item is worth to them.” After presenting the bid to her client for consideration, roughly 80% of the time they decide to accept the bid, especially when multiple bids are in the same ballpark.
Lorrie Semler says she “hasn’t found any change as a result of the recession in working with new clients.”
“It’s a bit more challenging,” say the Edwards. “Clients are hanging on to the better pieces which hurts our bottom line. We also have to explain to them that the prices they see on TV are not realistic prices at an estate sale. However, clients who are primarily interested in liquidating the contents of a home are still easy to work with.”
4. How do you overcome the major challenges of agreeing on how to price the items to be liquidated?
“Either I, or the experts I bring in, do the pricing,” says Semler. “If a client insists on setting a price, I deal with this in my contract. The client can set the price, but if the item does not sell, commission will be taken. Sentimental value cannot be measured and what may have sentimental value to the family does not translate monetarily to those who do not know the previous owner.”
“Having a Masters in Social work helps me when working with clients,” says Wilson, it helps us to be sensitive to their feelings and desires when we work to price their possessions.
“To overcome the major challenges of agreeing on how to price the items I research the going price for an item and them we sit down and talk about how sentimental they are about the item. Sentiment has no value except to the seller. We have a long talk about this and develop a price for the item depending on the researched value and the owner’s value. Most often we place the value somewhere in the middle,” says McClung.
Richard Meliska says he uses online sources such as auctions, extensively. “clients know that if their items are subject to an open, broad and world-wide auction audience, “then the price that their items sells for will be fairly determined by the marketplace.” Additionally, Meliska is an appraiser for personal property and fine jewelry, and says “clients feel comfortable knowing we have experience in identifying and determining the price of items.” For auctions, he provides clients with due diligence which he believes “alleviates surprises and sets an accurate expectation level.”
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