Dealing With Problem Estate Sale Customers

By Pascale Saliba

In the business world, the customer may always be right, however, there’s never a shortage of problem customers in estate sales.

Even when you want to kick difficult customers to the curb, you want to maintain a good reputation, and stay in business. We hope these techniques to help you along the way.

Who Are Your Estate Sale Customers?

Before we begin discussing problem customers, it’s important to understand that the estate sale industry is unique. Most businesses only have one type of customer they deal with, the customers they serve.

Estate sale professionals have 3 different customer categories.

  • Estate Sale Referring Sources – These could be retirement homes, attorneys, real estate agents, or funeral homes.
  • Clients that hire you to hold an estate sale – Homeowners themselves or family members of a deceased.
  • Customers that shop your estate sales

Tips for Dealing with Problem Estate Sale Customers

Estate Sale Referring Sources

The issue a customer may have with you will vary depending on which category they fit under. Often times, there aren’t many problems that arise from the business/customer relationship between you and the referring source.

It’s generally in the best interest of the real estate professional to have you complete the sale so they can sell the home.

A problem between their client and you may lead them to get involved. This type of situation will not only affect your current relationship but may also hinder your ability to get future referrals from them.

Having a referring source that sends you business on a regular basis is extremely important to your overall business sustainability and growth.

When you have a problem with a client and it involves a referring source such as a real estate agent, make sure to keep them updated on everything.

If they contact you regarding the problem, always make sure you respond quickly and professionally.

Estate sale customer service skills are very important in an industry that relies on personal relationships with clients.

Problem Clients That Hire You

Simply put, know when to walk away. When family members are involved, greed plays a big part in this industry. Often times professionals are asked to do certain things that do not meet their common estate sale operating policies.

Estate sale professionals often prefer not to have the family members in the home during the estate sale staging process, but a customer might demand it.

There are many problems that arise involving the estate sale family.

  • Selling items to friends and neighbors after you’ve staged the sale.
  • Deciding to keep items after you’ve priced them to sell.
  • Canceling the sale after you’ve invested a lot of time and money to stage and advertise.
  • Showing up on the day of the sale and causing problems with shoppers.
  • Upset because the company sold items too cheap based on their sentimental value calculator.
  • Not getting a detailed list of items sold.
  • Not receiving their payment after a sale quickly enough.
  • Expect you to pay them at the end of each estate sale day.

These are just a few of the problems estate sale companies experience when dealing with clients.

If you’re a veteran estate sale company that never had to deal with these situations, you’re in luck or you will soon enough.

Field Stories From the Pros

Our private Facebook Group founded for estate sale professionals is a hub of information that’s filled with posts relating to company/client situations and how the professionals dealt with it.

Estate Sale Pro? Request to join our Facebook private group dedicated to professionals like you.

For estate sale clients, they often find it difficult to stick to their end of the deal, but it’s important to understand that estate sale professionals are exactly that!

Professionals that will do their best to get you the highest value possible for your items, they must be allowed to do so without interruption.

Pam Verrinder with Integrity Estate Sales in Redondo Beach, CA had her own difficult customer to deal with. In fact, she completely walked away from the sale.

Verrider said: “After the estate sale contract was signed and we setup the sale, our difficult client said he would like his family members to work the sale instead of our staff. He also wanted to take the cash box at the end of each day and pay us out. He didn’t want us to accept any credit cards because he didn’t want a paper trail. As a professional estate sale company, we have our policies and he simply did not abide by the contract he signed.”

Estate Sale Companies have rules, regulations, and policies they follow. Both shoppers, clients, and referring sources depend on them to hold successful estate sales.

That success is dictated based on their reputation, experience, and following the policies they’ve established. When a client changes those policies, it can affect the success of the entire sale.

Do Your Due Diligence

Difficult customers are easy to identify early. Never hold a sale without a written contract and take the time to explain all the details involved.

Having a signed contract isn’t enough. Your client must understand your rules, policies and not only what’s expected of you, but also what’s expected of them.

If you’re willing to negotiate these policies based on the situation, make sure and create an addendum to your contract prior to signing.

Use the opportunity during your estate sale interview to cover all these details and expectations.  Ask the client to initial each section of the contract as you explain it.

When your gut feeling tells you, you need to walk away! You must do so. Problems that come up early will often get worse later in the process if not addressed upfront.

Difficult Estate Sale Shoppers

Estate sale shoppers love estate sales for two main reasons. A unique find and a great deal.

Difficult customers that shop estate sales are often unreasonable. No matter what you advertise, announce, or explain, they still want that awesome deal you simply cannot afford to give them on the first day of the sale.

Competition, long lines, and greed also play a big part. Be ready to diffuse these situations when they come up. Creating estate sale company policies that minimize problems from coming up is a safe way to avoid problems altogether.

Using sales and customer service tactics with difficult shoppers will prove fruitful.

Build a trusting relationship with them. “I would love to sell it to you at that price, but it’s not mine and we really have to make as much as we can for the family, we’re holding the sale for. Come back tomorrow at this time, and if it’s still here, I will do my best to make you happy”.

Turn a bad situation with a difficult customer into a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Richard Old with Estate Services Pullman and a member of our professional liquidator Facebook Group said: “I explain that if my price is too high, the item will still be here when things are discounted.  I offer to give them (first dibs) at that time.  Since they’re inferring that my price is too high, it gives them the opportunity to benefit if they’re correct.”

Old continued, “I have never had to honor that offer, they either decide not to risk it and buy the item at full price, or they decide to wait and someone else buys it prior to it being discounted”.

Disarm Problem Customers

Anyone in the estate sale industry will tell you that emotions run high. Whether it’s the client who hired you to hold the sale, or those customers looking to purchase from you at an estate sale.

No matter what you do, there’s always an unhappy customer you must deal with that can simply walk away and yell at the top of their lungs about you and your company to others or even worse in the form of an online review.

Although you’ll never be able to control every situation, it’s important to deal with unhappy customers early and avoid negative reviews all together.

General Tips to Deal with Problem Customers

No matter who the customer is, here are some general tips you can use in any situation. The goal is to slow down, calm down, and always know when to walk away.

Control Emotions

Begin by taking a deep breath. After many days of staging an estate sale, organizing, researching and pricing, you and your staff are exhausted.

It’s easy to get angry and upset, but please don’t! Calmly begin by evaluating the situation.

Control the Audience

If you’re dealing with an upset customer one-on-one it makes things easier, but at estate sales, if your customer is an angry shopper, you bet yourself you’ll have an audience.

Calmly ask the customer to walk with you to a private space if possible. This will let the customer know you care and you’re willing to hear them out.


As much as you’d like to, don’t talk over the customer or argue during their complaint.

Hear them out, let them say what they need to even if they’re wrong. As your problem customer is complaining and you’re listening, try to build a rapport with them by nodding or gesturing that you hear them, meanwhile try to build a case to respond back politely.

It’s Not Personal

Very hard to accept, in such a personal business.  When a customer complains don’t take it personally. This isn’t about you, it’s a frustrated person venting their frustration. If they get off-topic and personal, guide them back to the issue you’re discussing. Ignore their personal attacks.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

You understand this business, they don’t!  Empathy doesn’t always work, because many problem customers are actually wrong, but try to put yourself in their shoes.

Perception is everything, what you may think is normal, was perceived as a problem.

Agree with your customer and assure them that you would love to give them what they want however the items are not yours and what you do is dictated by the client, but if it was up to you, you’d be more than happy to resolve their problem.

Once you see they’ve calmed down, offer a solution. “I cannot discount this, but I’m happy to give you a great deal on something else. I understand you drove a long way and I know how difficult that is.”

Know When to Walk Away

Not every estate sale will be ideal. If you negotiated your way into a contract with a customer that agreed to follow your policies but didn’t stick to those agreements. It may require you to walk away and take it up later.

Safety and security in the estate sale business are extremely important for you and your staff.

Our private group of professional liquidators has many stories that tell a dangerous tale of angry clients showing up on the sale dates, or aggressive family members causing problems during the sale.

You’re in this business for the right reasons, but at times you may need to simply walk away for your safety and the safety of those around you.

Nathan Beck with Beck Estate Sales in Virginia said “It’s not always the client that’s difficult, but the extended family members that can make our jobs very difficult.”

He continued.  “A grandson of the deceased paid a visit while we were working and started taking things out of the back door, he was angry and scared our staff. We had to tell his mother we couldn’t complete our job for fear he would show up again. She completely understood and we walked away.”

Tom Pager with the Local Auction Company in Illinois said that “After I did a walk through the house, loved the items and saw a great potential of over 50k for their sale, I left, and drew up the estate sale contract.  I came back, 50% of the items were gone and they said they held a garage sale to make more money. I asked them the amount they made, and they said $1,100. What they sold would’ve been sold for over $30,000 at an estate sale. I explained the big mistake they made to them and walked away.”

In Summary

Difficult estate sale customers are only affecting themselves and the success of their sale.

Just because an estate sale professional walks away from a sale doesn’t mean they’re not financially liable. In an unregulated industry such as estate sales, company policies, regulations, and the estate sale contract are essential to follow by both company, clients, and shoppers.

You’ve heard the term “The Customer is Always Right”.

In this industry, many situations have proven this to be incorrect.

As a professional liquidator, each situation should always be treated with the utmost respect, patience, and empathy.

If the company is at fault, correct the problem immediately because it will reflect on your business reputation and longevity in the industry.

The more you develop policies, procedures, and methods you and your staff strictly follow, you will learn to walk away early and minimize the times you have to deal with difficult customers.