What you need to know about estate sales

We accumulate a lot of things over a lifetime, and at some point – often because of the death of a loved one, or because a senior is downsizing and moving – we need to get rid of some or all of them. An estate sale is one way to dispose of possessions that you no longer want or need. There are many companies that help families to sell furniture, jewelry, and other belongings.

An estate sale company will take care of the entire process in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds – usually from 25 to 50 percent. The company will handle sorting the goods, staging the house, setting prices, promoting the sale, and hiring workers. There may be a separate fee for cleaning up. Goods that aren’t sold are usually donated to charity.

To get ready for an estate sale, the first step is to ensure that you have the legal right to sell the property. There can’t be any unresolved estate issues, and estate sale companies may request legal documentation showing that you have the right to dispose of the goods.

There is no regulatory body that oversees the roughly 14,000 estate sale companies in the U.S., so before you hire one of them, you should do some research. You can search the website of the American Society of Estate Liquidators, a trade association that requires its members to meet certain education requirements and abide by an ethics code. You can also check with your local Better Business Bureau, ask for references, or attend a sale run by the company.

Estate sale companies should provide you with a written contract, and should carry insurance in case there are any accidents while buyers are at the sale. Among the questions you’ll probably want to ask are how the company handles security, what happens to goods that aren’t sold, and what type of clean-up is included.

Many companies don’t want families to be present while the sale is going on, because family members can become emotional during the process.

Make sure you remove anything you want to keep for yourself before the sale starts. And don’t throw away too much in advance – remember, one person’s idea of trash might be another person’s treasure.