As warmer weather approaches, the collector, the frugal and the curious are drawn to newspaper ads, Facebook posts and sidewalk sandwich boards announcing yard sales and the most extensive of reselling — estate sales.
In the 1960s, Martha Van Donge was the first person in the Walla Walla Valley to offer estate sale services.
The business happened rather serendipitously for Martha, as she owned an antique shop and was running out of space and money to purchase her friends' and neighbors' items. When potential customers became overwrought as to what to do with the inheritance of personal and household items, Martha helped her customers price, display, and sell the items on the premises.
As Martha’s services became popular in the Valley, she asked her daughter Connie Rogers (Van Donge) to assist. The mother-daughter duo became partners in managing estate and moving sales. Connie managed her first solo sale in 1975. This will be the 45th year in business for Connie with White Elephant Sales.
From his earliest memories Shane Laib, entrepreneur, event planner and collector, was taught the importance of reusing items.
Laib remembers as a child tagging along with his mother to thrift stores and yard sales. He was raised in a family who understood the value of reusing, recycling, and repurposing. His grandmother was particularly keen on the idea, having lived through the Great Depression and World War II.
Laib started his work in estate sales 15 years ago when he was helping close friends downsize for retirement. His business, Three Doors Vintage, provides a service making lives easier by removing objects while providing others with new, treasured objects.
Rogers and Laib both share the same job description when taking on a new client.
First, there is an initial consultation to discover the client’s needs. Once the time for the sale is agreed upon, a formal contract is signed, and the process begins. New clients are asked to remove items they do not want to be sold out of the house, or at least to segregate items in a room closed off to the public. Then the long process of sorting, staging, researching to determine the best price for trending items and labeling sale items before the sale.
The average amount of hours from the time the estate professional enters the home to closing the door for the last time can vary depending on the depth of the collection, whether the person was a “neat-freak” or “free-flowing.”
It can take at least two weeks to prepare for the sale. After the sale is finished, there is still scheduling for buyers to remove heavier items like furniture or appliances.
The goal is to leave the house in better condition than found. Remaining items can be donated to charity or discarded for refuse.
“Organization is key,” Laib explained. “Family heirlooms tend to be the biggest struggle. Having items clearly marked or listed on paper such as in a Last Will & Testament are helpful. Designate a point-person. Perhaps an estate sale is not always the right answer. If there are timing issues (due to vacating a house), boxing and storing may be the better answer. Clearer minds always prevail.”
“There are two important things people need to consider if they want a professional to manage an estate or moving sale,” Rogers said. “No. 1 — and it is the most important — do not parcel the items out by donating clothes or other items or throw items away arbitrarily. You’re hiring me to do that for you … Disposal can always be done after the sale, so let’s give things an opportunity to be sold and bring in some income. The more variety in a sale the more successful the sale.
“No. 2, give us some lead time. I have been booked as far as three months in advance … In other words, no, you cannot contact the estate sales professional on a Monday and expect the following weekend to have an estate sale.”
There is also advice for potential customers when attending an estate sale.
“As Ellen DeGeneres says, ‘Be kind to one another,’” Laib said. “I’ve actually started putting this on my signboard at the main entrance to my sales.”
For buyers, understand the difference between an estate sale and a yard sale. Remember, you’re in someone’s home. Be conscious of your surroundings and the neighborhood. Honor requests such as no early sales, and come prepared with smaller bills. No large bills! Don’t ask for discounts at the beginning of the sale. The day is still young, and others after you will pay the original price. Consider leaving a written offer, or come back later before closing.
Estate sales are meant to generate the most income for a family, which is typically used to pay debts, funeral costs or even future living expenses. Most sellers will entertain reasonable offers if they are presented politely.
As Rogers pointed out, “With a little patience, you may end up purchasing your chosen item for much less than anticipated.”