The Ultimate Estate Sale Pricing Guide

Experienced estate sale professionals and auctioneers across the country have estate sale pricing perfected. Unfortunately, there’s no single guide to pricing an estate sale, but getting the liquidation value and pricing right has a big impact on the success of an estate sale, company reputation, and the bottom line.

The Art of Estate Sale Pricing

When pricing items for an estate, it’s important to understand “fair current market value”. The items at an estate sale should never be priced equal to retail, current online sales prices, or even what they can be purchased for at an antique shop.

If there are items at an estate sale that are rare or highly desirable in the current market, you may be able to price the item at a higher than normal asking price.

Most estate sales are held over a few days. The goal is to sell the majority of the contents in the home, make a decent profit for the client and for your company. There’s no benefit in having a lot of items left at the end of the sale, therefore it’s important to dedicate ample time towards research and pricing.

The “trick” is to fetch a fair liquidation value (not under or over price)
No matter what the items are, there are common things to consider and ask yourself during the research and pricing process:

Is the item in great condition?

When researching and pricing an item, you must take its condition into consideration. A china set that is complete sells for much more than a set that’s not complete. Another question to ask yourself is whether or not to include the item in your sale at all if it’s not in a good condition.
If an item is broken, has missing components or not functional, that’s a consideration that must be addressed when you’re staging the estate sale.

Individually priced set of blue and white porcelain. Photo courtesy of Christine Finn and Optimum Estate Sale Services

Is the item highly desirable or rare?

Oil paintings by particular artists are highly desirable, popular brands of clothing, jewelry, and collectibles are also highly desirable. When evaluating the desirability of an item, don’t base the decision on brand or name only. A unique wood carving that’s unsigned but has a lot of details in the carving may be just as desirable if not more than a signed one.

As you’re pricing, place yourself in the shopper’s position. Many estate sale shoppers are impulse buyers. If a buyer is in a good mood, lots of competitor shoppers are at the sale, the item looks good, you’re friendly and fun, it can be quite desirable.

If you can’t find anything like it, and in the history of you holding estate sales you’ve never come across an item like it, it might just be rare and desirable, so price it accordingly.

Stacie Boerger with Best Sales By Boerger serving the Northwest Arkansas area and a proud member of EstateSales.org since 2010 said “A local professional, experienced in “regional value” is key. Pricing an estate sale to sell is very important an art form. Experience matters! Finding a balance between fair market value for the time frame you have while honoring the client commitment and understanding your customer base will lead to a successful estate sale for all that are involved.

She continued by saying that “it’s important to do the homework when you come across an unfamiliar item, and to always keep your finger on the pulse in the local market. Value on everything changes, staying current is essential”.

Liquidation Pricing Efficiencies

Every home is different, and so are the contents inside, how does a company complete the task efficiently without sacrificing on value?
The majority of estate sale companies will begin by staging an estate sale first, some companies will price the common everyday items as they’re staging for efficiency purposes. Common items such as coffee mugs, dishes, plastic bowls, baskets, buckets, etc… and leave the items that need research until all staging is complete.

Another efficient estate sale pricing method used by companies is “team pricing”. If the manpower allows it, some companies will team up during the staging process, one person will stage, while the other employee shadows their steps and prices right behind them.

Staging properly plays a big part in getting the right value for the items sold. Estate sale items sell better if they are properly staged in their natural location. Placing a beautiful crystal vase in the garage automatically lowers its value, but a properly displayed vase above a mantel may get you the price you want to sell it for.

Pricing as you stage may be a challenge if you’re a company that’s limited on employees or pride yourself on pricing every item in the home. It’s best to wait until all items are in their location before you begin the pricing process.

A staged table of priced crystal, porcelain and glassware. Photo courtesy of Jeanette McBeth and Platinum Estate Sales.

Avoid Pricing Conflicts

When the estate sale starts, it can get quite hectic with a lot of foot traffic in the home, questions thrown at you from every angle, you don’t want to stand there to research and price an item you’ve missed when you can be busy selling.

A final walk through the day before the sale starts is a great idea to insure items are priced and will minimize questions.

Pricing Estate Sale Items by Category

While every company tries to price each item individually, this can be a daunting task if there are multiple closets full of clothes, or a large book shelf with hundreds of books. Pricing estate sale items by category helps those shopping identify the prices on a list hung near the items.

Begin by identifying and separating the high dollar items. Placing the high dollar items near the register and only price those items individually. This will eliminate any pricing confusion with potential shoppers.

Strategic Tag Placement

Whether you use a price gun, circular hand-written price tags, large tags with strings, or any other type unfortunately some tags don’t stick on as well as they should and can easily fall off. Strategically place them where they cannot easily fall off or be removed.  Some shoppers are notorious about removing price tags and this can cause a conflict at the cash register.

Example of a “Sold” tag. Photo courtesy of Lee Parson of Aether Estate Sales.

Another thing to avoid is placing sticky price tags on sensitive surfaces such as leather or lacquered wood. While some price tags don’t stick very well, others do and can ruin the surfaces when removed. Strategically placing price tags on the inside canvas area of a wallet for example will avoid ruining the surface leather.

Common sense plays a big part in price tag placement. You wouldn’t want a sticky price tag on the surface of an oil canvas, and neither would an estate sale shopper that will spend their money only to be left with a damaged item when they remove the tag.

A custom branded price tag securely attached with string. Photo courtesy of Lee Parson of Aether Estate Sales.

Pricing Picker and Discovery Sales

Some situations will require you to hold a full picker/discovery sale or a partial one. A picker sale or discovery sale is just another way of holding an estate sale. As a professional estate liquidator, your job is to assess each estate sale and adjust accordingly.

It is your duty to always do your best, and try to make the estate as presentable as possible, but when the sale warrants it because it has thousands of pieces of clothing, tools, boxes etc. You may want to hold a picker sale or discovery sale.

These sales can be over a few days or even one day, but you’re literally pricing items on the fly at the register, or bulk pricing items as shoppers discover them and walk out to pay. Shoppers love these types of sales and consider them a treasure hunt.

The estate sale industry is not regulated, you are your own decision maker, and as the industry adjusts, you’ve got to be willing to do the same or you will be left behind. Whether you like holding picker sales or not, they do happen often and it may be an option to consider.

Pricing Assumptions

Some homes are filled with books, while others may have hundreds of dolls, or figurines. Never assume that all items of the same brand or category are “about the same price”. Common Barbie Dolls may sell anywhere between $15 and $20. But there is always an exception to the rule. Some rare and vintage Barbie dolls can reach thousands of dollars.

Taking the time to research is crucial in order to get the highest possible fair market value, but don’t price it too high otherwise you’ll find Barbie still sitting there at the end of the estate sale and will have to beg to give it away.
Besides staging, research and pricing can take up a chunk of the time when setting up an estate sale. The goal is to have many items sold on the first day, and the majority, if not all the items sold by the end of the estate sale.

Pricing Effects on Company Reputation

As an estate sale professional, reputation is everything! While many factors play a part in the reputation of an estate sale company, perception is everything.

Geographical location, level of competition, time of year, type and time frame of of an estate sale will have an impact on your pricing, but if you’re perceived as a company that always prices too low, or too high, it will directly have an effect on your reputation as a professional in the industry.

Experienced estate sale companies have perfected the art of pricing, but if you’re just starting in the estate sale industry and building a name for yourself, be cautious of under or over pricing.

Both bad and good news travels fast among estate sale shoppers and clients that complain to their realtors, attorneys, or anyone that referred you as a company, therefore you’re sacrificing future referrals.

Indications of Pricing Too Low

If you price too low, or even miss properly pricing valuable items, the news will travel fast. You’ll get a slew of buyers that frequent your estate sales, but soon find yourself with estate sale clients that are unhappy with the final numbers and not enough profit to cover your operating expenses.

Indications of Pricing Too High

If you price too high, you’ll begin seeing less repeat shoppers and find yourself with unhappy estate sale clients because the home remains too full at the end of the sale, more items are kept by the client, sent to donation centers, and will cost you more labor hours to empty out.

Being a great estate sale liquidator requires finesse and good judgement.

Discount Pricing Guide

Over the course of a few days, most companies will discount the items day after day.

We again reached out to our estate sale professionals and members of our private Facebook Group dedicated to estate liquidators to get an example of a few estate sale pricing discount variations:

Christine Finn with Optimum Estate Sales in Marysville Michigan said “We normally run with a 3-day sale, 1st day full price, might with large or multiple do a 10% discount, 2nd day open at 25% off, 3rd day open at 50% off and really deal around 2 pm. Most of our sales are 9-5. My area competition seems to follow the same pattern.”

The discount methods used will vary from one company to the other and may also vary from one estate sale to the other including items within the estate. A client may also have a set amount they want for particular items and do not want them discounted no matter what.

Bonnie Frederics with Arizona Estate Sales LLC said “ Our sales are held from 8-4 on Saturdays, prices are set with no negotiations. Prices reduce 25% at 12:30 and another 25% at 3:00, an hour prior to closing. There are a few exceptions to the reduction amounts such as on fine jewelry, precious metals like coins and certain pieces of art which will not reduce beyond 25%. We’re open Sunday from noon-2:00 with the same discounts as above. There is an offer sheet available and reasonable offers will be considered at that time.”

As a professional company, these estate sale policies are established by you and only you. The estate sale industry is not regulated by any governing body; therefore, each company will make its own policies, and adjust them accordingly in the best interest of the client, and their business.

Amy Williams with Estate Sales Service Professionals in Gainesville Florida said “We decide how much to discount on a sale by sale basis. We negotiate throughout the sale with the “negotiable price” getting lower as the sale progresses. My cashiers know what percentage they can discount without approval. We only advertise set discounts in the last couple of hours of the sale. We find we sell more throughout the sale as our customers enjoy being able to negotiate.”

Estate sale commissions are generally earned based on the amount sold. The more money an estate sale company makes for a client, the more money they earn themselves.

Estate sale shoppers “Love a great deal!”, and as a company you obviously need shoppers, so it’s a win-win situation for all involved. If priced right, you will have many items sold on the first day at full price, otherwise you can explain to shoppers they can come back and get a great deal on the second or final day of the sale but give you the opportunity to sell the item at its fair market value the first day.

Pricing example for a full set of Vaseline glassware. Photo courtesy of Wayne Halbritter of Trunk Full of Treasures.

Online Pricing Resources

Besides your own estate sale experiences, there are many online pricing resources specific to certain categories. Click here to view a previous article we published directing you to category specific appraisal guides.

What we aim to provide in this article is a general overview of resources and common online sites used to begin using immediately for research and estate sale pricing purposes.

The pricing resources listed below are free, however, there are many paid subscription websites that can give you a lot more information and details if you need. As a professional estate liquidator, you should at least know simple facts about the items before you even begin researching and pricing it.

  • Difference between silver plated and sterling silver
  • Is it ceramic, porcelain or stoneware?
  • Is the painting an original oil, water color, lithograph or print?
  • The different eras in estate jewelry
  • Eras and styles of furniture
  • Wood types and carvings. Is it hand carved or machine made?
  • Is it crystal or glass, if glass, what type of glass?
  • Is the item I’m looking at Jade or Jadeite, what’s the difference?

Online resources for all these subjects are available. During your off hours, educate yourself and improve your knowledge. This will not only help you during your estate sale interview with a lead,  but will also help you efficiently find an item when researching to price.

Research and Pricing Using Google

Searching Google.com by description and clicking images will allow you to find a similar item by looking at the photographs. Once you’ve identified the item, you can follow the link for the image in order to learn more about the history of the item, and possibly its value.

The link could lead to other FREE or pay-per-use sites. This method is best used when an item is not branded, and you’re trying to find a similar item by using a description only.

eBay Pricing Guide

eBay.com is a great resource to use in order to lookup previously sold items. When searching, make sure you filter the search to only view “sold” items, not what they are currently listed for.

Replacements.com

Replacements.com is a site that mostly focuses on fine vintage and new china patterns. They do offer a free identification service and can be a great resource to find pricing.

Antique Road Show Archives

Everyone knows the popular Antique Road Show on PBS, they offer an appraisal archive you’re able to search for free.

TheSpruceCrafts

Thesprucecrafts.com is a great visual and price guide for vintage and costume jewelry. It also uses Ebay’s sold data, but may have historical data that is not currently searchable on eBay.

Facebook Groups

Our very own Estate Sale Company private group is a great resource with thousands of experienced estate sale professionals eager to help each other. If you haven’t seen the item before, it doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t. Join our professional estate sale company group and ask others to help.

It would be in your best interest to also join the various collector groups on Facebook. No one can identify an item better than an avid collector! There are groups dedicated to Asian furniture, Chinese art, vintage and antique dolls, costume jewelry, and more.

If you’re new to the estate sale industry, you’ll eventually get a feel for pricing the most common items in the home after a few estate sales under your belt, but in the beginning, these resources will be your best friend as you’re pricing an estate sale.

Always remember as you’re using these reference sites that they are for reference only. Use your judgement based on your geographical area and  the condition of the item in front of you.

When in doubt, never assume! If you believe you have a valuable item, you may need to rely on a professional appraiser. You can find someone locally to partner with on a regular basis or contact an experienced appraiser by browsing the International Society of Appraisers.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, we hope you realize that estate sale methods including pricing are not etched in stone. Using your experience, judgement, and resources such as this will help you adjust as you grow.

EstateSales.org is your resource for all things estate sales. We offer an online platform that provides marketing opportunities for your estate sale company, visibility and traffic when you list your estate sales, an online auction that reaches avid collectors and this estate sale blog as a free information resource for you to use.

We love hearing from you. If you have a topic you’d like our team to research and report back on, please contact us and we’ll be happy to listen.