Most of us accumulate a surprising amount of stuff over the years, whether it is valuable family heirlooms, our children?s memorabilia, or our every day possessions that seem to multiply without warning. Some of us may do a purge by donating or disposing of those items or selling them at a yard sale a little at a time.

But what about the situation that requires you to dispose of an entire house full of things in one fell swoop? Many of us face that scenario at some point in our lives, usually when a family member passes away or sometimes after a divorce, bankruptcy, or long-distance relocation. The task is often daunting, especially when dealing with a home?s personal property and the sentimental attachment to those items. Fortunately, professionals are available to help you organize an estate sale.

Estate sales are similar to auctions; they can be a good way to reduce or eliminate debt or make money off unwanted items. Estate sales, unlike garage sales, are also known as tag sales and are usually run by a professional company. The objective is to sell all the items remaining in the house. In most estate sales, the public is invited into the house and can browse through everything there. Shoppers may find bargains, antiques, and unusual items.


When you are the responsible person for an estate sale, you will probably want to ask yourself several questions. First, what would the deceased person want and what is the family?s agenda? How do I find common ground if there are conflicts? Regardless of the first questions, what are my top priorities as executor of this estate? ?How do I find a good company in my area and what type of sales method should I use?


A few things are crucial to keep in mind at this point in the process: Remove or set aside what appear to be the most valuable possessions and refrain from the natural urge to begin throwing things away. Your perception of what is junk may actually be of value to someone else. It?s also important to realize up front that if the personal property is completely ?cherry-picked? by family, it might be very difficult to find a liquidator who will be interested and able to dispose of the rest for you. If there is nothing to advertise, they will not take on the sale and the clean out. A good liquidator will recoil if in your first conversation you reel off a list of things that are ?maybe? not included. It is best to give family members a reasonable deadline to pick things up if they have laid claim to certain items. It is the best way to treat everyone fairly and still keep the process moving forward.


At this point, I think it?s also important to say that we need to be easy on ourselves as well as dealing with family with an extra measure of empathy. Whatever the circumstance leading to this ?mass sell-off?, there are a lot of feelings involved. If you are directing the process, you will need to balance getting the job done with maintaining positive relations with everyone involved.


In the next three articles, I will discuss Methods of Liquidation, How to Choose a Liquidator and address the question Do I Sell the House or the Contents First.

Michael Olear is a Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker Find him online at