Estate Sales: 7 things to know to sell everything in your house

Marilyn Kalfus of the Orange County Register interviewed Simone Kelly of Grasons and your editor Carol Madden of last week. This article about estate sales was published in the real estate section of the Orange County Register on August 21, 2016 and has appeared on several other websites including, Orange County Sun, and NVS24.


Items are displayed and tagged for a recent estate sale at a Ladera Ranch house. Simone Kelly, founder of Grasons Co. Estate Sale Services, talks with Joseph Molina, left, and Bobby Lewis. MINDY SCHAUER, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


When Rocky Scott moved his family to Orange County, the overstuffed, bulky furniture that looked so right at home in Tennessee suddenly looked so wrong.

It wasn’t just the rustic style, perfect for a 7,000-square-foot house in the mountains. In sunny Southern California, the Scotts had moved into a 5,000-square-foot rental, then bought a place about half that size.

“We didn’t want to go through the aggravation and the risk of running our own sort of yard sale,” said Scott, a 46-year-old information technology executive. “It was just too much stuff. We didn’t want to manage people running in and out of the house.”

They decided to hold an estate sale.

Buyer etiquette

• Do not tell an estate sales liquidator what something is worth. You are there to buy, and here are your choices: Buy it now at the price stated, ask if they are taking bids to be reviewed toward the end of the sale, or ask if they may discount the item as the sale progresses.

• Don’t say, “I’ll give you … .” You don’t do that in Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears, etc. You either pay the price or you don’t. You are not in an overseas marketplace where haggling is acceptable, and anyone that writes about estate sales and encourages this is not correct.

• If you are rude, a nuisance or just obnoxious, the estate liquidator may ask you to leave and may bar you from attending any of their sales.

• Stealing may result not only in expulsion but in a visit from police. If you try to change a price tag, you are putting your future buying at risk, and estate sales companies share information about people who are security risks.

Carol Madden,

More online

These websites advertise estate sales:

For some, the term may conjure up heirs of the uber-wealthy, with rooms full of velvet drapes and Louis XIV furniture. But the popularity of estate sales among regular folks has exploded, fueled by job mobility, demographics and, especially, the internet.

“The growth of the industry has quadrupled in the last five years,” said Carol Madden, editor and publisher of She estimates 15,000 estate sales companies do business in the U.S., many of them mom-and-pop endeavors.

Madden says downsizing baby boomers are a big reason for the trend. “They’re just average, middle-income people that are retiring that decided they don’t want to have to schlep their belongings to a smaller place,” she said.

Having sold her longtime estate sales liquidation business, Madden travels the country covering newsworthy estate sales, then posts what she finds. “I write about the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said.

So, what do Orange County homeowners considering an estate sale need to know? We asked Madden and Simone Kelly, owner and founder of Grasons Co. Estate Sale Services, a leading and expanding estate sales franchiser in Huntington Beach. We queried franchise buyers. And we checked with sellers like Rocky Scott.

Here’s what to know:

1. Don’t expect an “Antiques Roadshow”-type jackpot.

Estate sale companies would love for you to discover some hidden treasures; that would mean more money for them. But your grandfather’s prized collection of mantel clocks or landscapes on porcelain plates probably aren’t worth too much.

“It’s like real estate,” said Vincent Stirone, co-owner of a Grasons franchise, as he prepped a Ladera Ranch house for an estate sale last week. “We research everything, (including) comparable sales. Not what it would go for 10 years ago. Not what it would go for brand new. It’s what it’s selling for right now.”

2. Why not DIY?

It can be emotionally wrenching to be practical about your parents’ possessions, especially the ones that surrounded you as a child. And wondering what price to ask for each item quickly can become overwhelming, Madden said.

If you’re leery of letting strangers into your house to shop around, as Scott was, those instincts are correct. A reputable estate sales company provides security – in some cases, even off-duty police officers.

“To me, (doing it yourself) is comparable to trying to sell your own home,” Stirone said.

3. What’s the difference between an estate sale and a yard sale?

A professional estate sale typically is conducted over two to four days, and the people running it know what they’re doing. They know which days to discount items and by how much. They know which buyers are professional resellers, a staple on the estate sales circuit.

Even staging the sale involves a strategy. Too many items laid out in one place, and the buyers will look right past the furniture, which also must be seen and sold.

“There’s a delicate balance between staging as though the house is for sale, and staging so the items are for sale,” said Nick Wilder, Stirone’s partner.

There are subtle differences, too.

As Stirone and Wilder and their crew prepped the Ladera house, cheap items like household cleaners got round stickers; furniture and more expensive goods were given dainty price tags dangling from delicate strings, implying value.

As Wilder put it, “We bridge the gap between retail and a garage sale.”

4. The estate sales industry isn’t regulated.

It’s especially important for sellers to do their own due diligence in finding a company, Madden says.

“They (consumers) really need to look online. If you can, attend one of their sales. See how they set up, what kind of security they provide,” she said. Before you sign on the dotted line, “One of the things you need to talk to an estate sale company about is, ‘How do you conduct your research?’ It’s not just through eBay.

“The estate liquidator works to get the highest possible price,” Madden said. “They have a fiduciary relationship to the seller. And the higher price they sell it for, the more money they make.”

But, she warns, the commission should be the last consideration in hiring an estate sales liquidator. Someone trying to get a foothold in the business may be willing to work for less, but might not know as much.

Kelly, a former real estate broker who also owned a lending and escrow company, said she orders background checks on employees, as well as would-be franchisees. She also has asked the office of Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, to help create a law regulating the industry.

5. Hide the toilet paper.

Estate sales liquidators sell it all, even the cars. In a Garden Grove garage last year, a Grasons team discovered a World War II-era Willys – predecessor of the modern Jeep. This week, the company is getting ready for a sale at a 5,500-square-foot, six-bedroom Newport Beach home with a couple of Jaguars.

Grasons also has liquidated a 10-room Laguna Beach mansion with a big, circular bed; a Downey residence that included vintage bronze statues and Disney memorabilia; and a Huntington Beach home with a grand piano and three Rolls-Royces.

In Ladera Ranch, 42-year-old Barbara Leal hired the company to sell everything in the 1,584-square-foot house belonging to her mother, who moved in with another family member. Among the furnishings: a reclining sofa, a coffee table that looked like an antique trunk and a queen-size, four-poster bed.

It would be sold as is, made up with sheets, pillows and the bed cover, just like on any ordinary day.

In her mother’s garage, Leal surveyed all the stuff to sell: A menagerie of Santa Clauses and Christmas-themed dishes and mementos, unopened photo albums, a large punching bag with pink gloves, a mountain bike, and a Cabbage Patch doll that was supposed to represent a 1996 Olympic basketball player.

It all had to go, even a small fan whirring on a table as the temperature soared into the 80s.

“We sell everything,” Kelly said. “It’s like Macy’s. Nuts, bolts, screws. People will buy the toilet paper off the rings.”

6. What’s really hot?

In Orange County, midcentury modern and French provincial-style furniture are big sellers, Stirone said. Tools are in demand, too, and clothing flies off hangers – unless the seller was, say, a size 2.

“Clothes do really well,” said Stirone, standing in the closet of the Ladera home and looking over a leather jacket from Wilson’s that looked to be in good shape. He would tag it at $45.

When the sale starts, he predicted, “There will be a flock of people in this closet. They’ll try everything on, like in a store.”

Scott, the Tennessee man who called Grasons to sell his oversize furniture, was surprised at the way the sale turned out.

“We thought it would be like yard sale prices,” he said. Overall, he took in “probably double what we were expecting.”

In some cases, he added, “They were able to get five or six times what I thought (pieces) would really go for.”

7. If you don’t want to leave money on the table, don’t forget it under a floorboard.

Kelly said elderly people may hide their valuables from a caregiver or a troubled family member, then lose track of the gems. When it’s time to sell the estate, she said, “It’s our job to find every bit of assets for them.”

That means checking jacket pockets, curtain hems, cans, buckets and under carpets.

They’ll even use a metal detector.


Of course, even a successful estate sale can represent a difficult time. Such a sale means a chapter in a life has closed, and often, it’s the final chapter.

Barbara Leal’s mother, a nurse, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer this spring.

“While she feels good,” Leal said, “she wants to get all her affairs in order.”

The Ladera Ranch house is now in escrow. The estate sale made more sense to the family, Leal said, than storing the contents indefinitely. Her mother has moved into another daughter’s home in Corona, and brought along everything most meaningful to her, including family photos and a collection of antique shoes.

As for the rest, Barbara Leal said, “It’s done. It’s settled. It has a new home.”