• Jill Harris

DISCOVERED: A Fresh Approach to the Estate Sale.

Updated: May 5

Hey! Jill here. The Marketing Manager at Corcoran Realty & Co. If you've spent any amount of time with me, you'll quickly become aware of my obsession with secondhand discoveries. Estate sales, FB Marketplace and warehouse sales are my jam. As a kid, my mom and I would frequent the Indiana State Fair Ground's Flea Market, where she would hand me a few bucks to get out of her hair and that's where my passion for the hunt was born.

Two of my favorite 'for the home' finds! (Please excuse the mess. We live there.)

If you've never been to an estate sale, here's typically how it works...

1- An estate sale company comes to a home, evaluates items, typically organizes them, prices them based on value, promotes the sale, etc. These days, there are even online estate sales!

2- The first day of the sale, people usually line up at the door. There's a sign in sheet or you take a number. This is to keep the crowds limited in the home.

3- Also on the first day, items are full price. You don't typically haggle or negotiate at an estate sale. You could try, but it probably won't get you far. Remember it's not a rummage sale.

4- The second day they may take 25% off all items. The third might be 50% off or sometimes there is something called "fill a bag" for X amount.

5 - Estate Sales have EVERYTHING - I mean everything... gardening tools, clothes, cars, boats, even pantry items! That's why if you're planning to have one, they say to not get rid of anything before the Estate Sale company comes through and tells you what to do. What might seem like trash to you may be another person's treasure.

I have been to countless estate sales and you never know what the vibe will be. Like real estate sales, estate sales can be delicate, and the mood is typically set by tone of whoever is running the sale. I nearly always ask what they're doing with the house because I'm incredibly nosey and usually want to buy every house I see. I typically hear one of two things:

(1) A family is clearing the home of a loved one who passed

(2) A family member can no longer care for the property and is being moved to a home

As you can imagine, these are emotional, sensitive situations. While I'm there for fun of the hunt, I've very aware of how this sale came to be. I find it disrespectful to get too excited about gaining a "thing" at the expense of someone else's difficult time. And so I most certainly do not act like it's a party....

HOWEVER, I have recently noticed a happier trend in Estate Sales that could be changing the tone of the industry. People are having estate sales, or 'downsizing' sales, while they are still able to make sound decisions and move comfortably into the next phase of life.

The first story came from a friend, who told me their parents did not want to burden them with the enormous task of cleaning out their home of many years. So they did it themselves and chose to move into a retirement community at a younger age.

The second family, I didn't talk to them, but the estate sale company told me that they were simply moving to be closer to their kids, didn't have a need for a lifetime of furniture, housewares, art, clothes, gardening tools, etc. and an estate sale was the easiest way to minimize the stress of a move.

In both cases, they were able to sort through things, giving important items to family members now and to keep what they wanted and needed. Then, and this is my own take on it, because it was their own decision to downsize, perhaps they might even have found some joy in seeing people flock to their homes and pay good money (estates sales aren't garage sales) for items they once loved! Anyone else thinking about the movie UP right now?

These are the types of estate sales that feel so much lighter in my opinion.

Most recently, at one such sale, my husband and I bought an 8 foot tall Norfolk Island Pine. Yes, a potted tree! If we had purchased this tree at a nursery, I bet it would have been $400+. But we paid $125. I've never been so obsessed with taking care of tree. I really do think that it's because I know it's original parents are still out there. I owe it them for knowingly passing on their joy to us. And for that I say, thank you, for making the fun of hunt a little less awkward.

From left to right - our Norfolk at the sale, next to a fiddle fig that I wouldn't spring for, on it's first day home and now in it's new pot!

BONUS ESTATE SALE PROVIDER LIST: There are only handful of Milwaukee area providers with a good amount of 5-star Google reviews and we've curated that list here, along with an excerpt from each one's 'About Us' page.

NOTE: We have no affiliation with these companies.

Landmark Estate Sales

"Landmark Estate Sales is dedicated to providing our clients with friendly, honest and professional service. We will sell the contents of any size home or condo on location. We understand that moving to a new home or settling the estate of a loved one is a stressful time. Our goal is to take as much of that stress away by providing liquidation services that will clear the contents of the home in preparation to sell or rent your house."

Lake Shore Estate Sales

"Whatever your situation might be, whether you are downsizing, relocating, handling the estate of a loved one, or going through a divorce, we will handle your sale with care and discretion, down to the smallest detail. Our desire is to make your experience with Lakeshore Estate Sales as stress free as possible."

Caring Transitions

"Transitions can be tough – whether you’re looking to downsize, relocate or you’re trying to clear the home of someone who has passed. With Caring Transitions, you don’t have to do it alone. We are here to help you however we can, from space planning to packing and unpacking to estate liquidation."

Have any of your own tips or recommendations on the topic? Please share! While we do not have direct relationships with the featured companies, we do have experience with these types of providers and are always open to discussing our experience. Reach out!

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