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What is an estate sale?

Estate sales are usually set up to efficiently get rid of a large amount of personal belongings at once.

Typically, the owner of the “estate” has died, and their heirs want to dispose of the contents as quickly as possible.

Sales prices are mostly set in advance after the items have been appraised by a professional estate sales agent, or their proxy.

As the sale continues, the prices drop.

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Hot ticket items

Pricing at an estate sale is itself an art form.

Southern California-based estate sale service True Legacy Homes points out that pricing at estate auctions is usually based on “fair market value”, a middle ground between antique store and garage sale.

They recommend that estate sales agents price at 10%-30% lower than the maximum price a site like eBay would get for the same item.

But there are certain items that will bring close to market value. If they don’t, they’re more valuable in the eyes of buyers.

Art is highly sought-after at estate sales. Specifically, oil paintings by popular artists that may have been hiding in someone's basement for years.

Designer and collectible clothing items can also pay off. TikTok user vanzillascott made a video about how her mom found 11 pairs of designer sunglasses (Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Moschino, Gucci, Dior and Chanel) for $100.

Additionally, certain types of Corningware and Fire-King glassware, vintage tools and furniture can be some of the most undervalued (priced low, but worth a lot more) finds at estate sales.

Items that usually aren’t worth your hard-earned coins are toys (in order to be worth anything, collectible toys need to be in pristine condition, in unopened boxes), and kitchen supplies.

Does the house always win?

Behind the production, there is a professional estate sales agent who does all the legwork, organizing the sale and tracking the inventory.

According to the 2021 Estate Sales Industry Survey, the average age of an estate sale agent is 59 years old, and over two thirds of estate sales companies are headed by women.

The average commission rate of an estate sale agent is 37%, once they’ve assessed that your belongings could make a minimum projected gross revenue of $8,468 per sale.

On average, estate sale companies host 32 sales per year — each of which takes about 17 days from signing a contract to organize fully.

The average gross revenue per estate sale is $19,584.

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Hidden money

Contrary to the idea that estate sales deal mainly with “leftovers” and secondhand goods, they’re actually a profit-making machine.

IBISWorld reports that the estate sale industry has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 1.8% to $16.8B through the end of 2023.

Additionally, the amount of U.S. estate sale companies in operation has been estimated to have grown by 650% since 2006, and for every month in 2022, estate sales brought in around $100 million.

Modernizing the treasure hunt

Unlike many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic was a boon for the online estate sale industry.

Not only did its annual profits keep increasing, but it found a whole new audience of vintage lovers with plenty of time on their hands — and disposable income to burn.

While online estate sales do provide some crucial advantages (like bidding on that 1960s teapot from the comfort of your couch), industry insiders doubt that in-person sales will go fully extinct.

There is too much indefinable magic about wandering around an unfamiliar house, finding that perfect item for your own home, and feeling like you struck gold.

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Bronwyn Petry Email Specialist

Bronwyn is currently part of the email content team for Moneywise. Before starting here, they freelanced for several years, focusing on B2B content and technical copy. Pre-pandemic, you could find them planning their next trip, but lately, if they're not at work, you can find them hanging out with their cat and dog.

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