Horror Stories in the Estate Sale Industry

By Pascale Saliba

The estate sale industry is quite unique, an estate sale business is made up of everyday people dealing with other everyday people and their belongings regularly.

Being it’s Halloween month we are inspired to bring you stories from the field that will give you an appreciation for the people involved, some that are here, and even a few that have passed but still had some things to say.

Death, divorce and downsizing are all reasons to hold an estate sale, liquidating these items is the goal of a professional estate sale company.  All three reasons are emotional topics, death however, is not only emotional, but at times can be quite spiritual.

All the companies we spoke with agree, once they step foot into a home, they “get a feeling”.

Some homes have a good, positive vibe about them, while others may have an “eerie” feel.  Either way, they are there to do their job, and focus on providing the highest quality service, and best value for the items they are selling.  Or is it more?

Estate Sale Business Communication

Communication before, during and after an estate sale is one key elements involved in the estate sale process, but no one ever expects to communicate with a person who is dead, or do they?

Years back, long before she owned an estate sale franchise, Simone Kelly owned and operated Grasons Co Estate Sale Services in Orange County, CA.

When she showed up to inventory a home she was hired to liquidate by an out-of-state family member, her employees hadn’t arrived yet.

Alone in the home, and waiting for her team, she decided to begin the inventory process in the upstairs bedroom.  The home and master bedroom belonged to a lady that passed away a few months back.

“The bedroom looked perfectly tidy as if no one had used it in a very long time.  I wanted to empty the dresser drawers and begin organizing.  I opened the first dresser drawer and saw a hand-written note” said Kelly.

The note read “You have no business being in my room, get out!”.

As you can imagine, this caught her by surprise, knowing that the lady of the home had passed away, yet she is clearly communicating directly at her.

“The hair on the back of my neck stood a little”, Kelly continued. “Drawer after drawer, each had a hand-written note that stated the lady’s wishes.  “Don’t touch anything, it’s not yours!”.

As a compassionate estate sale business owner, Simone Kelly found herself apologizing out loud and comforting a lady she never met by assuring her that she will take good care of her items, and is there to do her job.

Later when the team arrived, and began staging the estate sale, they realized the owner had been moved to the downstairs bedroom, and she had a security camera system she monitored near her bed.

She must’ve worried about caregivers getting into her personal belongings, and had someone place the notes in the drawers and closets of her room.

“You can’t help but relate to the people and their spirits in the home, we are all human and headed in the same direction.  If we want to be honored at the end of our lifetime, it’s important we do the same now.”  Said Kelly.

“The wood clock” by Cameo Estate Sales – Arizona

A few states over, in Arizona, Marie with Cameo estate sales recently found herself communicating out loud by apologizing and comforting the spirit of a lady named “June” while setting up her estate sale.

“My employees and I were in the process of organizing the sale, this sale had an abundance of clocks, every clock you can possibly think of was on the mantel.  As we were organizing, we started chatting.”

I said, “Why would anyone have so many clocks?” A few minutes later someone else would say, “Who would need this many clocks?” or “Can you imagine how loud they must be when they chime?”.

Marie continued, “We all froze quiet staring at each other when we saw one wooden clock fly feet away off the mantel all by itself.  It wasn’t on the edge, it was behind other smaller clocks, it simply didn’t make sense.”

I loudly said, “I’m sorry June, we didn’t mean anything by it, we’ll take good care of your clocks”, and continued with our estate sale staging process very quietly.

When the sale began, a few of the shoppers would ask if anyone lit a cigar in the house? A distinctive smell of a lit cigar would come and go.  The neighbor stopped by and Marie couldn’t help but mention this phenomenon she and her estate sale business team experienced.

The neighbor explained that June loved her clocks, her children didn’t care for them and always wanted her to get rid of them because they were loud and often chimed at the same time.

The neighbor also told Marie that June’s husband who passed away 15 years ago, was a heavy cigar smoker, but he never lived in this house!

The estate sale industry is filled with people that are compassionate, and emotionally in touch with the clients they serve because they experience such a variation in personalities and situations.  Their work is performed in the center of our most personal space, our home.

They don’t experience fear when faced with these situations, it only confirms to them the importance of respecting and honoring people whether they are dead or alive.

Estate Sale Business at the Castle
“The Castle” – Photo by Estate Sales America

The Spooky Castle

Vivian Duplant, a certified appraiser, and co-owner of  Estate Sales America in Austin, TX with her son Logan Duplant.  Estate Sales America has performed over 600 estate sales across Texas and Louisiana, and after 17 years in the industry, we thought for sure she has a great story to share.

“Every estate sale is an adventure, but some are more adventurous than others!” said Duplant.

One of those very memorable adventures was “The Castle”, located in Houston.  It was quite large, and required 3 weekends to sell.  Due to the amount of time it required to setup, her team decided to spend a few nights on location.

“Oh, my goodness, the comfortable Louis XV beds provided no rest when the darkness fell.  Ungodly sounds were coming from every dark corner and corridor” said Duplant.

Her team came running down the hall clinging to each other with fear, and yelled “Did you hear that?”.  They quickly decided to band together and fall asleep on the sofas in the Parlor downstairs.

“The creeks, flutters, scratches, knocking noises, and I’m pretty sure I heard moans, they were terrifying!” continued Duplant.

In the early morning hours, everyone peeked their heads from beneath the blankets, they vowed to work the setup quickly and look for accommodations nearby.  There was no way they’ll spend another night there.

She continued. “Each one of us started working quite efficiently, Wanda was working on her laptop with her back to the fireplace when Aunt Dot strangely whispered “What is that?” as she began slowly moving towards Wanda and staring at the fireplace screen behind her.”

Everyone was trying to figure out what the “black dots” were all over the fireplace screen.  Needless to say, it didn’t take them long to figure it out.  “Oh my goodness, bats!” said Duplant.

Everyone spent the night thinking they are safe and protected under their blankets while the bats were flying all around.  That was the one and only night they spent at the castle or any other setup for that matter.

Fear of Letting go by estate sale industry clients

The Fear of Letting Go

The estate sale industry does a great job of honoring those that have passed, they respectfully organize, price, and sell their items to new families, however, when the estate sale professional is hired to conduct a liquidation sale for the living due to a divorce or downsizing they are faced with a different set of challenges.

Stacie Boerger with Best Sales by Boerger in Fayetteville, Arkansas says “Asking the client to choose what to keep and what to sell is one of the first, and most important steps in the estate sale process”.

Many people do fear letting go of items because they feel that a piece of them is missing, or they won’t have enough of what they may need.

Even when a client thinks they are ready for an estate sale, they still struggle with the fear of letting go.

“I tell my clients to focus on the positive.  Focus on what comes next, whether it’s retiring to a new location, traveling, or making room for new things in their life.  Letting go is not an easy task, but sometimes holding on is much harder and heavier.” said Boerger.

On many occasions, parents are upset when they downsize, and their children do not want to keep any of their items.  To them,  it’s “partially letting go”, and they are hurt.  It’s a way of dealing with their fear of letting go but also keeping it in the family.

“I remind the clients that objects do not represent their memory, and with an estate sale we are able to recycle those items into a new family that will build new memories.” said Boerger.

The fear of letting go is harder for some, it’s something they cannot overcome no matter how hard they try, it’s no wonder hoarder estate sales account for a large percentage of liquidation sales in the U.S.

As an estate sale industry professional, it’s important to relate, communicate, and help the client along the way while they’re overcoming the fear of letting go.

Steve Maraboli, an author and speaker recognized as a leading voice in the field of Business, Peak Performance Mindset, and Human Behavior says,

“When you let go, you create space for better things to enter into your life.”

All you can do is try to remind the client of that while they’re struggling to overcome their fear of letting go, the rest is up to them.

The Guilt of Letting Go

Guilt plays a big part when the children of a deceased parent hires an estate sale professional to hold a sale.

“We encourage children to keep items of sentimental value, but if that sentimental item is a set of china, and they have no room for it, they are overwhelmed with guilt as if they are letting their mom or dad down.” said Boerger.

She continued  “I am always patient in these situations, and I assure them they have every right to keep the item, but the memory of their loved one is not in a set of china, but rather in their heart and the moments they shared together when their parents were alive.”

Stacy Carver, publisher of be more with less, and author of Soulful Simplicity, a book focused on how “Living with less can lead to so much more” says that if an item is important to you but you can’t keep it, take a photo of it, so you can enjoy the memory of the item without having to store it.

Most children will eventually overcome the guilt, and include items in the sale they originally intended to keep or felt guilty about, especially when they realize that estate sales, when professionally conducted do honor the memory of their parents and recycle the items their parents cherished into the life of new families.

“We recently had a sale where a shopper was thrilled to find a particular Wedgwood Fine China pattern to complete the set her father gave her before he passed, I make sure and share stories like that with my clients at the end of each sale to assure them that what we do is done with compassion and care” said Boerger.

Evil Greed in the Estate Sale Industry

Quite often, greed plays its evil part in the estate sale process, an experienced estate sale planner knows how to handle the situation when faced with it.

Once an estate sale contract is signed between the client and the estate sale company, that contract clearly defines the responsibilities outlined between the parties that signed it and no one else.

Childhood friends, loving neighbors, long-lost cousins, or siblings will sometime appear out of nowhere during the sale and cause havoc like ghosts in the night.

Many estate sale companies have endured threats, verbal abuse, and disruption of their sale when a greedy family member or friend suddenly shows up feeling entitled to the items at the sale.

Greed is one of seven basic character flaws or “dark” personality traits.  Everyone has the potential for greedy tendencies, but in people with strong fear of lack or deprivation, greed can become a dominant pattern.

While it’s their job to sell the items in the home at the highest value, and protect their clients interest, it’s an ongoing battle and a balancing act between client, family members, and shoppers.

Keeping everyone happy while maintaining their good reputation requires finesse.  Veteran estate sale professionals know this, new estate sale companies will learn it quickly.

Often times, those family members will attack the companies on social media or leave them negative reviews because they didn’t get their way.

Estate sale professionals aren’t robots, they are also human that have experienced losses, death, divorce, downsizing, and every possible life-changing situation their clients experience.

Many of the successful estate sale professionals understand the balance and know that this industry requires a strong whit, heart, compassion, and a lot of patience.

Don’t think for a moment that their experience makes them become easier and more forgiving, but rather stronger and resilient with a focus on doing what’s right for their client.

Good Spirits in the Estate Sale World

Now that we’ve covered the dark, and ghostly side of estate sales, there are many stories that will warm your heart and give you an appreciation for the estate sale professionals and your own life.

Have you visited a local estate sale lately? If not, we highly recommend you do.  Whether you’re a spiritual person or not, when you walk into a home filled with personal possessions, you can’t help but self-reflect.  “This will be me or someone I love someday”.

In the unregulated world of estate sales, there may be a few bad apples, but overall, estate sale professionals value their reputation and understand that the business of estate sales isn’t simply about selling people’s items for profit.  It’s about providing a service that helps the living and honors the dead.

“If we define ourselves by objects that surround us, once those items are gone, so is our memory.”  Going to an estate sale will remind you that this life we live is precious, and one that we must enjoy to the fullest.

We must not allow objects to define who we are, but the relationships and memories we build along the way are everlasting.

If you’re starting a new estate sale business, you should know that whether the industry itself is regulated or not shouldn’t matter, but regulating your own business is a must in order to last.  Reputation in this business is key, and bad news travels fast.

While there are many topics that will help you start by teaching you the estate sale process, provide you with an estate sale contract, and even teach you about staging, and marketing an estate sale, there are some things in the estate sale industry that cannot be taught.

Not sure if it’s Karma, or spirits that successful estate sale businesses believe in, but it’s knowing that while they may be in a home to hold an estate sale for a client today, someday they will be the client.

An estate sale professional with morals will always conduct themselves in the compassionate, and professional manner they expect for themselves someday.

Let Your Estate Sale business Shine!

We value our network of estate sale companies and want you to get involved.  Have a tip, subject or idea you’d like to share or hear more about? Leave us a comment below, or email us so we can research and deliver or share your topic with others.