Use these questions to help you hire the right estate liquidator.
Are you bonded and insured?
This should be a given for any legitimate liquidator.
How long have you been in business?
Estate liquidators sell belongings in all kinds of venues, but many rely on a personal client list for the bulk of their sales. Someone who's been in business for at least several years is more likely to have a loyal clientele who will want to see what he or she has to offer.
How do you advertise and who makes up your customer base?
A proprietary e-mail list that numbers in the hundreds -- at least -- is what you're looking for, says Kathy Pimpan of Total Estate Liquidation. Other means of advertising to ask about include flyers, newspaper ads, a website, and faxes to repeat customers.
What methods will you use to sell my loved one's belongings?
Sunday "open house" estate sales are only the beginning these days, says Pimpan, who also uses auction house placement, eBay listings, and consignments. If your loved ones don't want strangers tromping through their house and going through their belongings -- or the process of selling their things is too emotionally loaded for them -- try finding a liquidator who will do "outright buys," suggests Pimpan -- offering your loved ones a lump sum for their belongings and then selling them later, without needing their involvement.
Do you have a relationship with any local charities?
If you'd prefer that belongings with little resale value go to a homeless shelter rather than winding up in a landfill, you'll want to ask this question.
How often do you hold a sale?
This question will screen out dabblers, suggests Kathy Pimpan, such as antique dealers who sometimes advertise themselves as "liquidators" in order to get good deals for themselves.
Do you understand the emotional meaning of "stuff"?
This may be an unspoken question -- something to watch for rather than ask explicitly. Parting with long-held belongings can be emotional for older people, so you'll want someone who demonstrates empathy and restraint. Someone who talks "over" your loved ones at a first meeting or brushes off their concerns (reasonable or otherwise) may not have the people skills necessary at a time like this.