If you offer professional liquidation services, estate sale accounting is not only important for your business, but is also essential for your consignors or estate sale clients.
There are many liquidation accounting methods being used and various merchant services implemented at estate sales throughout the country.
Let’s discover them together and see what works best for your business. What we are covering here are some of the options available – there’s plenty more to discover on your own if you choose, but this will get you started in the right direction.
Estate Sale Accounting Accuracy
In the estate sale industry, accounting must be done with each estate sale held because a client is expecting a final pay out that measures the total items sold, a list of the items and what they sold for, along with the fees charged (commission) to complete the task.
If you’ve visited a few estate sales, you’ll quickly notice that there’s no particular industry standard to follow. Each company sets its own standards, and outline it in their estate sale contract agreement.
Payment methods also vary across estate sale companies. Some companies choose to only accept cash, while others accept both credit cards and cash, use a manual list of tracking items and what they sold for.
Sooner or later, if you’re in the estate sale business, you’ll have to accept credit and debit cards as a method of payment.
Customers are relying on their “plastic” more often and carrying less cash. Besides, if the goal is to sell more, estate sale shoppers are eager to purchase more and higher priced items if you accept credit cards. Not everyone runs around with a lot of cash in their pockets.
It’s a daunting task to say the least no matter what system or platform you use. Estate sales are generally held over a 3 or 4 day period. They involve a lot of foot traffic, lots of questions, distractions, and a huge variety of items, so it’s not easy to track it all and be able to produce a 100% accurate list for each item sold. There are however some tools that can help ease the process.
We asked a few companies in our private estate sale company network where professionals share knowledge, exchange ideas, and help each other grow about their payment acceptance methods.
We spoke to Robin Hall, who together with Linda Whisnant founded RetroCats Estate Sales, which provides professional estate sale services in Conway, AR and surrounding areas in Faulkner County.
Hall said “Our company accepts personal checks, we use PayPal Here for credit card transactions and of course, we always accept cash.”
How long before a client is paid for the estate sale held?
Hall replied, “We pay our clients within 5 days. I go to the bank to deposit the cash and checks on Monday after the sale. Usually by Wednesday, all the checks have cleared the bank.”
She continued, “Since the Paypal transactions are immediately available, there’s no need to wait too long, so I usually process the distribution checks on Thursday or Friday, whichever day is convenient for the client.”
Do you supply your client with a list of items sold and do you use a “POS” point of sale system to get a report?
“As far as an item tracking system goes, I manually write each item that’s sold and can provide that to the client if they want to see it. I also compile a very detailed spreadsheet that tracks the sales each day by transaction type, all the credit card transactions and overall summary of the sale with percentages of each sale day are compared to the overall sales. This has been extremely helpful for us to estimate sales projections. This is provided to each client with their distribution check.”
We took it a step further and polled professionals within the estate sale company group on Facebook founded by EstateSales.org. We wanted to know what a fair waiting period is before the estate sale commissions are calculated and a client is paid after the sale.
Although the answers varied, the majority of professional estate sale companies agreed that payments are made to the client within 7 days of sale end.
In general, clients do appreciate getting a detailed breakdown of items sold, however in an unregulated industry such as estate sales, there are no set standards to follow.
Each company provides their services, and distribute sale proceeds based on their policies and what they’ve outlined in their estate sale contract to the client.
Not all companies distribute funds within 5 to 7 business days – some funds could take up to 30 days or even longer depending on the liquidation services provided.
If online estate sale auctions or consignment is provided after the on-site estate sale is over, returns, chargebacks, and other issues do hold up the process including the funds.
Many clients choose to leave items that didn’t sell on consignment with the estate sale company, which takes longer to sell. They may receive a distribution check for the estate sale quickly, but wait longer to be paid for individually consigned items.
In summary, whatever the accounting & payment distribution policy is for your estate sale business, it’s important to stick to that policy, and make sure you’ve properly outlined the policy in the legally binding estate sale contract between you and the client.
Online estate sale services are a lot like consignment. If an estate sale company sells items online, they may need to wait a bit longer to distribute funds because they want to make sure the buyer receives the item without any complaints or returns before they distribute funds to the client.
Depending which online platform is used, calculating fees, commissions, and costs can be quite a tedious process.
EstateSales.org offers an online estate sale auction platform with features that allow estate sale companies to fill in estate sale commission fees and provide a final report that gives detailed accounting information quickly.
It’s efficient, detailed, and makes the process seamless by automatically calculating the distribution.
We asked Mike Judkins, the Founder and CEO of EstateSales.org, to give us more information about the online auction accounting tools.
Judkins said, “EstateSales.org provides out-of-the-box statement generation for sellers who would like to generate a report for their consignors at the end of a sale.”
“Sellers who are conducting online sales via EstateSales.org can attach consignors and commission rates to individual lots in their sale or as a blanket commission rate that applies to all items in their sale. When the sale is over, an itemized statement is automatically generated showing total sales, total commission fees and buyers premiums if applicable. Sellers can filter statements for individual consignors and save statements as PDFs so that they can send a report to their consignor electronically.”
The goal with estate sale accounting is to have accuracy, yet be efficient in gathering the data. Let’s discover some other tools of the trade that help the process.
Mobile Merchant Platforms
We’re talking electronic tools that go beyond a standard cash register and make your life and final liquidation accounting report much easier.
Since most estate sales are held on-site, mobile merchant software is essential. Each home is different and often times one must rely on a hotspot in order to have a good WIFI signal. What’s a hotspot?
A wireless hotspot is an access point that’s used in public locations, it provides internet access to mobile devices such as a laptop, smart phone or iPad even if you’re away from the office. “Your cell phone can have a wireless hotspot that gives your iPad internet access to run transactions when you need it or visa versa”.
Hotspots are great because you can get online anywhere but they can also have some security concerns. Your internet or phone line provider can discuss all the hotspot options available. Many will offer unlimited data and this is essentially the most cost-effective plan choose if you plan on holding a lot of sales.
Popular Credit Card Transaction Systems in Estate Sales
There are hundreds of ways to accept credit cards, ideally, companies prefer a merchant that also offers a point of sale “POS” system. This will allow you to run the credit card transactions and output a list of items sold and what they sold for.
We went out to discover the options most often used and some new ones to consider.
As you can imagine, there are hundreds of choices, so we focused our search on mobile merchant systems.
These mobile apps runs on your smartphone and allow mobile merchants such as estate sale companies to accept card payments on-the-go. Sales tax by state can also be preset and accounted for.
Used on iPhone, Android, and iPad
No contract or monthly fee
Free magstripe reader
Flat 2.75% fee for swiped card processing
For iPhone, Android and iPad
No contract or monthly fee (unless you choose a paid plan)
Free magstripe reader
Swiped card rates: $19/Month at 1.99% or $0/month at 2.65% both options have $0.05 per swipe
For iPhone, Android, iPad, and Windows mobile devices
No contract or monthly fee
Free magstripe reader
2.75% per US card swipe
For iPhone, Android, and iPad
No contract or monthly fee (unless you choose a paid plan)
Free magstripe reader
Free Plan 2.40% +$0.25/swipe or 1.6% + $0.25/transaction & 19.95/month
The most common one used by estate sale companies we polled is Square. When we asked why, the answer was simply the ease of setup and use.
If you’re starting as an estate sale liquidator, deciding whether to go with a traditional merchant account or opt for a mobile POS like Square can be complicated.
The right choice will depend on the nature and size of your business. A small business starting out may find it easier to start with square, and the all-in-one solution it offers. A medium to large size business might find their pricing structure a bit of a turn off.
If you choose other merchant services, the majority of them can integrate with a stand alone POS system, payroll system, and other software, but Square is an all in-one-solution that offers all the bells and whistles needed for liquidation accounting.
Wells Fargo Bank offers a mobile merchant solution with POS called Clover. It has all the bells and whistles you need to accept payments and track items sold. The system is a cloud based system which is secure and allows you to monitor and manage your estate sale accounting from anywhere using any device.
Chase, Bank of America and many other banks offer solutions that may be a good fit for you. When comparing systems like Square, Paypal with other merchant services, reaching out to your current bank is a good idea and will help you get an even better comparison.
Anyone can get Square, and with a few basic pieces of information you’re up and running. The same applies to PayPal, however Square offers better seller protection than PayPal.
Getting a traditional merchant account is more involved which may be for your benefit in the long run. Merchant accounts will analyze your business for risks such as chargebacks, claims of fraud, and may not agree to an account as quickly.
Square and PayPal’s loose approach on accepting anyone also means their underwriting department can hold your funds for large transactions until they decide you’re not at risk. Merchant accounts have a more intensive vetting process and will minimize ever doing this to your funds.
To sum things up, if you’re just starting an estate sale company and need an account fast, a mobile merchant account with POS like Square may be the right choice for you, but if you have time, can do your research, and account stability is important for you, you’re in a better position with a merchant account that integrates with other accounting solutions.
Receipt or No Receipt with Credit Card Transactions?
Having a signed receipt will protect you from any chargebacks if a buyer decides to dispute the charges. You can work around this by having them sign a separate receipt at the sale, but that is not as efficient and can take time – something that’s difficult to manage in a fast paced estate sale environment. This brings us to equipment cost.
A receipt printer for Square can cost you between $200-$300, chip reader an additional $30, the costs can add up quickly.
A merchant account can give you a compliant terminal with a built-in printer for much less, and the terminals can be re-programmed if you decide to switch merchants. By contrast, a Square reader, stand and reader only work with Square.
The downside to merchant accounts is their “mobile convenience”. Some are great, some are ok, and many still don’t have any mobile support at all. Mobile capabilities are extremely important since most of the estate sales are on-site.
Estate Sale Accounting & Merchant Platforms Integration
There’s a lot more to accounting than simply charging people. Labor tracking, inventory management, payroll, and more. Let’s discover how a platform like Square holds up!
Square offers added value with a whole suite of services such as email marketing and appointment booking, but here are a few that apply to everyday estate sales and liquidation accounting.
POS – Square Register FREE
Analytics Dashboard FREE
Inventory Management FREE
Employee Time Keeping – $5/month per employee
Square services and products work only with Square; however, a traditional merchant account allows you to integrate with a wide range of POS systems, accounting software, inventory management and other software that may be much more powerful than the ones offered by Square.
Our final conclusion on merchant platforms after surveying many of the companies we have in our private estate sale professionals’ group, is that there is no one-size-fits-all platform.
Square seems to be the most popular because it can expand with you as you grow, and is easy to get started with.
Negotiate the Merchant Rate as You Grow
The rates are pretty standard with each merchant service, but it doesn’t mean the rate can’t be negotiated. As you start, your charges may not be high, but as your business grows, those fees can add up pretty quickly.
No matter which merchant service provider you choose, remember to contact them and try to negotiate the rate down. “The answer is always no until you try”. As your transactions grow, so will your negotiating power. Put it to good use and earn a little more for your client and yourself.
Many companies start with one solution when they first start, but after a few years migrate to another because it simply makes better financial sense based on their sales.
If you’re an existing estate sale company that found a great liquidation accounting solution, point of sale system, and other accounting tools that you find efficient, accurate, and easy to operate, we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment or reach out via our website and we’ll be happy to add it to this article and mention you.