Common Estate Sale Rules and Industry Guidelines

By Pascale Saliba

Although the estate sale industry has been around for years, there is no governing body that establishes estate sale rules, industry regulations or estate sale guidelines for companies to follow.  Professional liquidators establish their own rules and guidelines to follow, and those may even change from one sale or company to another. In this article, we’ll discuss some commonly followed rules and guidelines that estate sale companies follow.

Estate Sale Guidelines and Industry Rules

Common Estate Sale Rules and Regulations

Commission Structure

While the amount of commission an estate sale agent can earn isn’t regulated, you’ll find it’s pretty common to have many estate sale companies earn their living based on a commission structure from the proceeds of an estate sale.

The commissions will vary based on many factors including the size of an estate sale, type of items to be sold, and/or geographical location.

One big variation you will find with commissions is whether labor is included or not included in the proceeds earned.

There are no set estate sale regulations on commissions.  Every company will make their own, but should have it clearly outlined in an estate sale contract to the client.

Of course, additional fees many apply based on other factors, but the majority of liquidators will charge commission as one of their estate sale rules.

Estate Sale Contract

Most professional estate sale agents will only perform a sale with a written estate sale contract.  There are no estate sale industry guidelines on what type of contract to use, or a government accredited contract to follow.

Companies will establish a contract between them and the client which outlines all the details and responsibilities of parties involved.  It is a written agreement that protects both the client and the company.

Estate Sale Rules for Discounts

One of the most common estate sale rules you’ll see every company follow is a discounted structure over the course of an estate sale or none at all.

The discount amount may vary among companies, but each company has a discount structure established and often outlined in their estate sale contract in order to achieve a successful sale for the client.

Some companies are flexible on their discounts, others are firmer,  and some companies don’t discount at all.  However, almost all companies follow some sort of pricing structure over the course of the sale dates.

The discount structure may also vary from one sale to another, however in order to be successful, sell the contents of a home within a few days, a discount structure is quite common.

Jerri Hardwell Delany, owner of We do Estate Sales in Northeast Georgia and a member of our private Facebook Group for estate sale professionals said:

“On the first day, we are always firm on the prices and have a sign that states our pricing policy; Friday prices are firm, Saturday everything 25% off, Sunday everything 50% off.  I let people leave bids in an amount at least 10% more than the half price would be on Sunday.  We open the bids after we close on Saturday and call anyone who won their bid.”

As you can see, the estate sale discount rules vary among companies but regardless there are rules to follow.

Estate Sale Marketing

Proper marketing is extremely important for estate liquidators, it’s their way of getting buyers to the front door. has written about many marketing tips for estate sales and offers a robust listing site that allows companies to list their company, feature their upcoming estate sales, and an auction selling platform to sell items online.

There are no set rules for marketing estate sales, however companies do understand the importance of it, therefore the professional companies have established common procedures and guidelines they follow with every sale they hold in order to generate estate sale leads and reach buyers.

Safety and Liability

In an unregulated industry such as estate sales, there is no governing body that’s auditing the safety and liability concerns, and if there was, it wouldn’t be an easy task since estate sale companies aren’t static at a store front location.

Sales are performed at various locations on a weekly basis, therefore estate sale safety and liability are mostly managed by the companies themselves to protect them, their clients, and their employees.

Liquidators will establish estate sale safety procedures they follow along with a liability insurance policy to protect them and their clients from any unforeseen issues that may come up during an estate sale.

Estate Sale Rules for Liquidators

Staging and Organizing

Part of hiring an estate sale company is knowing that they’re experienced in staging and organizing an estate sale.  Almost all companies that hold professional sales follow the rule of organizing, researching and pricing an estate sale.

First Come, First Served

Estate sales can be a competitive event for shoppers. People will line up really early to get first dibs on the items inside.  One of the most common estate sale rules is “first come, first served”.

Each company will establish their own guidelines on how to manage the process, but as a general rule, shoppers that arrive first, get to shop first.

Pre-Selling to Shoppers

Some situations may require pre-selling items online or in person, especially if certain items are highly desirable and extremely valuable.  An online estate sale auction will make sense prior to the sale date, but as a general rule at estate sales, no pre-selling is allowed.

Again, since estate sale shopping is highly competitive, and a lot of effort is put into marketing the items to potential buyers, it’s considered taboo to show up at a sale when it starts and not find the item that was advertised.

This does occur at times because the client changed their mind and didn’t want to include something in sale, but it’s a rare occurrence and not something an estate sale company can always control.

Items on Hold

Unlike retail shopping, one of the most common rules practiced by the majority is not allowing customers to place items on hold.

Exceptions are always made if the shoppers put a deposit in order to pick up later, but you will find a no-hold policy is practiced with the majority of estate liquidators.

Whitney Smith, Co-owner of True 2 You Estate Sales LLC, located in Norman Oklahoma, provides estate sale services all over Oklahoma and North Texas.  Smith is a member of our private Facebook group for estate sale companies and had this to say regarding estate sale rules.

“No pre-sales, no holds unless a deposit has been made, deposits are non-refundable, zero tolerance rule for disrespect to staff or other customers, no refunds, everything is inventoried and recorded at checkout, no favoritism, client gives okay on all reserve pricing items with bid below reserve, NO CLIENTS working or lingering around at the sales.”

Smith continued, “The last rule is different from one company to another, and a company will figure it out on their own, but we do not allow clients at the sale.  We tried to in the beginning and if it makes the customer feel uncomfortable, it 100% effects the sale and proceeds.”

Distribution of Funds

Clients will receive their funds from the estate sale after the sale has completed.  All estate sale companies follow a distribution of funds policy, but the amount of time it takes to distribute may vary from one company to another.

Clients do expect to get a list of items sold during an estate sale, but not all company follow this as a policy.  It’s not easy to compile a list of all items, but it’s common for most companies to at least provide a summarized category list of what sold during an estate sale.

Estate Sale Policies on Proper Conduct

Proper etiquette rules at estate sales are very common.  If you visit an estate sale on any given weekend, you’ll find that clearly defined and possibly displayed throughout the home on signs.

  • A zero-tolerance policy for disrespectful shoppers
  • Shoppers are required to respect employees on site and vice versa
  • Estate sale company reserves the right to refuse service to anyone
  • Etc…

Whatever policies you establish, let it be known, make it visible and readily available on-site in order for shoppers to follow.

Estate Sale Guidelines on Payments

Because estate sale professionals must pay their clients quickly at the end of every sale, you’ll still find many companies that accept cash only, some will accept cash and credit cards, and almost no companies will accept a check as a form of payment at an estate sale.

Again, there are always exceptions to the rule because some companies may choose to accept a check from a shopper they know and have previously sold to in the past.

Estate sale professionals cannot risk accepting a check with non-sufficient funds, therefore you’ll find this as one of the most common estate sale merchant rules they follow.

Charging tax at estate sales is another variation you’ll find.  Each state has its own tax requirements for estate sales.   Companies will follow their local rules and regulations based on jurisdiction.

Estate Sale Clients on Site

During the estate sale staging process or an estate sale, there’s a large flow of shoppers, many questions, unexpected issues that arise, negotiations that take place on the spot, competition between shoppers and verbal comments that freely flow as people shop.

Emotions can run high for the property owner or their family, and it’s not an environment anyone would want to be in while hundreds of people are touching, talking, and moving their personal items around.

The majority of estate sale companies do not allow clients to be on-site during the staging process or the sale itself.  They consider it a distraction, and a detriment to the success of the estate sales.

It’s important to explain this to the client ahead of time, and outline it in the estate sale contract.

Debatable Estate Sale Guidelines

Here are a few of the estate sale rules and guidelines you will find debatable among estate sale professionals.

  • Allowing shoppers to use the restrooms in a home
  • Allowing children to attend an estate sale with parents
  • Negotiating prices on the first day
  • Shoppers packing the items purchased themselves
  • Local delivery services for large furniture items
  • Shoes off while inside the home
  • If bags, backpacks or purses are allowed

Licensing Regulations for Estate Sales

There are no set credentials that a company must hold in order to be in the estate sale business, however business licensing requirements are dictated based on local jurisdiction and city/state laws.

There are however industry organizations that provide training courses, and promote good ethical standards to help businesses.

This article you’re reading now is one of many published on the Estate Sale University, a free resource created by for professionals by professionals.  We gather information that helps estate sale businesses grow, and share information they find useful in their day to day operations.

The American Society of Estate Liquidators “ASEL” offers liquidators multi-level memberships, designations, training courses, on-going support that promotes good ethical standards and growth for estate sale businesses.

Stepping Out of the Box

Many estate sale business owners will reach out of the box to neighboring industries in order to further their education, knowledge, and added services provided to the clients.

  • Appraising services and certification
  • Gemology courses to gain knowledge about gemstones and jewelry at estate sales
  • Auctioneer training and licensing
  • Staging and organizing courses

An estate sale business eager to grow has many opportunities to do so by enhancing their knowledge, and marketing those efforts to differentiate them from the highly competitive world of estate sales.

Summary of Estate Sale Guidelines

The estate sale industry is unique because it involves many variations that you are faced with on a daily basis.  From location of sales, type of items within a sale, and the estate sale shoppers served.  The dynamics of each sale vary greatly.

Being fluid is important in this industry.

As of today, the industry is not regulated by any governing body.  Many people enter the industry because they find it easy to setup an estate sale business, but many don’t last when they have to deal with the reality of every day struggles.

Those who are patient and determined may acquire the experience necessary to withstand this ever-changing industry.

As for estate sale guidelines, you as an estate sale company set the rules.  You are in charge of your own destiny.  Even the rules you set may need to be broken or adjusted at times.

You have to be willing to adjust accordingly, but whatever you do, always make sure you and your clients are protected from any unforeseen liabilities.

An estate sale contract is a must, but what’s in it may need to change often and according to the estate sale you’re conducting. leads the way in providing a platform that allows estate sale professionals to feature their services, advertise their sales, sell items online and this Estate Sale University as a FREE resource that helps industry professionals grow their business.