Millions of Americans will need long-term care at some point in their life. But, just 35 percent of Americans over the age of 40 have started saving money for their long-term needs, leaving many older adults worried about how to pay for their senior care. To make senior living fit their budget, some people decide to sell their homes or conduct an estate sale before transitioning to a senior community.

While selling one’s home via the traditional route can eventually provide seniors with the funding they need for senior care, the process can be long drawn out. An estate sale, on the other hand, can be a good option for seniors who need cash in hand to finance a move to a senior living community but don’t have the time or desire to wait for the home sale to finalize. 

Estate sale services can make the process of selling one’s home and belongings easier and quicker, but it is not the right choice for all seniors. We created this guide to help seniors better understand estate sales services and their costs, benefits, and downsides. We also provide guidance on selecting an estate sale company to ensure you work with a reliable and trustworthy service. 

What Are Estate Sale Services?

Estate sale services are companies that oversee all aspects of an estate sale, relieving homeowners of this responsibility. They handle inventory, appraisal, cleaning, and the sale itself. These “turnkey” services are often attractive to seniors moving to a senior living community who don’t want to manage the sale themselves. If preferred, these services can also manage specific parts of the sale.

Using an estate sale service simplifies moving but comes at a cost. Instead of a flat or hourly fee, these services appraise your entire estate, and take a fee from the estimated value, typically 25-40%. As the estate owner, you receive the remaining sum, which is a portion of your estate’s total value.

Another option is to work with an estate auction company. Rather than selling one’s estate over the course of several days, estate auction houses will schedule a set day and time for the auction. Auctions also tend to have fewer attendees, so homeowners won’t have as many shoppers going in and out of the home. These companies also take a smaller commission, usually 10-20%. 

What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Using an Estate Sale Service?

Before engaging a company for your estate sale, weigh the pros and cons, particularly if considering a buyout. The traditional route of property selling might be more beneficial depending on your circumstances. Remember, the advantages and disadvantages discussed below apply mainly to estate buyouts, but can also pertain to conventional estate sales.

Benefits of Estate Sale Sale Services

Sellers May Receive Cash Up-Front 

Seniors may choose to work with an estate seller when pressed for time to sell their estate. Indeed, one of the biggest benefits of working with an estate buyout service is that sellers receive cash up-front. For seniors who need to use the revenue from their estate sale to finance a move to a senior living community, having cash in hand can enable them to move on their own timeline rather than waiting through the process of selling their property. 

Moving is Less Stressful 

Working with a full-service estate sale company means that seniors can leave the heavy lifting to experienced professionals. In some cases, homeowners don’t even need to clean their homes before moving out– they can simply pack what they want to take and leave the rest for the estate liquidator to handle. Compared to the full process of selling one’s estate and moving, this option is likely to be much less taxing. 

Profit Maximization

For those who aren’t familiar with estate sales, knowing how to price certain items can be tricky. Experienced estate salespeople and appraisers will understand the resale market and know how to strategically price your belongings for maximum profit. Some estate auction companies will also hold online auctions, which can help sellers maximize profit by not limiting the sale to a certain geographic area. However, keep in mind that the service will take a portion of your earnings from the estate, which may cancel out the increase in revenue.


Though working with an estate sale company has its benefits, it isn’t the right choice for everyone. There are certainly some notable downsides to working with an estate sale company that need to be considered. 

Sellers May Receive Less Money from the Sale 

Especially when receiving a lump payment up-front, it’s important to note that the sellers are likely to end up with less money overall compared to if they sold their homes and possessions independently. Everyone who uses an estate sale company or auction service will lose some profit by paying the company a commission. 

Not All Estate Sale Services are Legitimate 

While the actual estate sale process can be easier when working with a liquidator, sellers will need to do some legwork when it comes to researching and choosing a company. Because there is no national regulatory agency or certification standards for estate sale companies, consumers need to do thorough research to ensure that they choose a trustworthy and reputable service. Unfortunately, seniors who are less internet-savvy may fall prey to scams posing as legitimate estate sale services.

Alternatives to Estate Sales

Sometimes, seniors need accessible funds as soon as possible. In certain circumstances, waiting to sell one’s home through the traditional route simply is not an option. While estate liquidation is one way to access money quickly, it isn’t the only option seniors have for tapping funds from their estate.

  • Reverse Mortgages: These are loans homeowners can take out against their home’s value, essentially converting some of their home equity into cash without having to sell the home. Reverse mortgages are not a permanent solution, as the loan does have to be repaid with interest once the home sells, and there may be a time limit on repayment. However, reverse mortgages can provide seniors with the money they need in the short term to finance their move without feeling rushed to sell their estate. 
  • Bridge Loans: Like reverse mortgages, bridge loans are short-term loans that use one’s current home as collateral. They’re typically used by individuals who find themselves in need of money while in the process of selling their current home and purchasing a new one. Bridge loans tend to have higher interest rates than other types of loans, so they may not be the best choice, but can provide some much-needed financial assistance for those who find themselves in a bind and who do not want to sell their home to an estate sale company. 

How Do I Choose an Estate Sale Service?

If you are interested in working with an estate sale service, you’ll find that you have plenty of options. According to the National Estate Sales Association, the number of estate sale companies has increased by 650% since 2006. With so many companies out there, it may take some effort to find one with which you feel comfortable. Below, we’ve outlined some steps you can take to find a trustworthy estate sale service. 

Ask Around for First-Hand Recommendations

The first step in the process is to ask your network for their recommendations. You may have friends, neighbors, or friends-of-friends with first-hand experience using an estate sale company. If you already have a realtor you’re working with to sell your home, they likely have estate sale company recommendations. Or, if you live in a larger city, the local realtor association is a great place to call to ask for a referral to an estate sale company. 

If you’re conducting an estate sale to finance a move to a senior living community, ask community staff if they have any recommendations. Other residents have likely used an estate sale service before their move as well, and the community staff may be able to offer some insights. Some services even specialize in “senior relocation” or “senior move management.” If no one in your network has any recommendations, an online search will of course suffice. 

Check The Company’s Record and Reviews

After shortlisting potential estate sale companies, it’s time to do some research. While there is no official certification program for estate sale services, there are some membership organizations like the American Society of Estate Liquidators and the National Estate Sales Association. Membership in one of these organizations does not guarantee a good experience, but it can indicate that the service sees estate sales as a legitimate profession rather than a side business. An online search can also reveal any major complaints or scams associated with these companies.

Some companies may also have a profile with the Better Business Bureau. On the BBB website, you can check to see if any complaints have been filed against the company and read client reviews. Whether you use the BBB site or another reviews website such as Google or Yelp, first-hand accounts from current or former clients are the best way to get a sense for what it’s like working with the company. When trying to narrow down your list of estate service companies, this step is not to be overlooked. 

Ask the Right Questions and Prioritize Transparency

At this step, you should have your list narrowed down to 1-3 of your top choices. Before making a final decision, it’s important to reach out to all of the companies and ask some important questions, including:

  • How many years have you been in business? 
  • How many estate sales have you conducted? 
  • How do you advertise your sales to ensure high attendance? 
  • Are you licensed and bonded? How much insurance do you hold?
  • How do you report the inventory of what was sold after the sale?
  • How long does it take after the sale to receive payment? 
  • How often do you provide updates during the sale period?

These questions should be simple for any legitimate company to answer. If you’re talking to a company and it’s resistant to providing you with information about its history and experience, it’s wise to steer clear. 

Additionally, ask for at least two references from past clients. You’ll be more relaxed throughout the process if you’re working with an estate seller with whom you feel comfortable and get along.

Obtain Quotes and Make a Decision

Before finalizing a company, get quotes from your top choices. Provide them with an idea of the items you’re selling for an accurate estimate, and be ready to arrange a walk-through. Make sure to request written proposals detailing their estimates and your potential earnings. If you’re torn between two companies, these proposals or estimated earnings could guide your final decision.

If the company doesn’t feel like the contents of the home will bring enough money, it’s possible they will turn down the sale after the walkthrough. If this happens it’s a good idea to reach out to an auction company as they don’t have as much staff and take a lower percentage from the sale. 

What Is The Best Way To Organize An Estate Sale?

Organizing an estate sale can be a complex process, but with careful planning, you can make it manageable. Below, we outline the steps for organizing your estate sale, including the extra actions you’ll need to take if you choose not to work with an estate sale company. 

Step 1: Decide What to Sell

Go through your belongings and decide what you want to keep, what to give to family or friends, and what to sell. This can be an emotional process, so take your time. Remember, the goal is to downsize or clear out the estate, so be realistic about what you can keep.

Step 2: Take Inventory and Hire an Appraiser

The next step is to take an inventory of all the items in the estate. This can be time-consuming, but it’s essential for determining the estate’s value. For valuable items like antiques, jewelry, or artwork, consider hiring a professional appraiser to ensure you’re pricing your items correctly. In addition, they’re knowledgeable of the value of specific items in your area and can help verify the authenticity of collector’s items and jewelry.

Step 3: Prepare Your Home for the Sale

After you hire an estate sale company, they will sort and organize items into categories such as furniture, kitchenware, books, clothing, etc. This will make it easier for shoppers to find what they want during the sale. It also helps you manage the items and makes pricing easier. The company will also clean all items to make them more appealing to buyers. If you’re not working with an estate sale service, you will need to do these things yourself and should evaluate if the time and resources needed to repair an item outweigh its potential value, as not all things are worth salvaging.

Step 4: Determine Pricing

This is the trickiest part of hosting an estate sale. Price your items reasonably to compel people to buy. Remember, the goal of an estate sale is usually to empty the house, not to make a huge profit. Check online marketplaces or use the appraisal values to set fair prices.

Also, don’t let the sentimental value of an item get in the way of fair pricing. Buyers are objective and will unlikely pay exorbitant prices for family heirlooms and travel souvenirs. Essentially, you’ll want to set two prices for an item: the highest price you can reasonably ask for and the lowest price you’re willing to accept. If you’re working with an estate sale service, they’ll handle this for you. 

Step 5: Advertise

Use local newspapers, online marketplaces, social media, and signs to advertise your sale. Include the date, time, location, and a brief description of the items for sale. Include photos of your most appealing things, and highlight valuable items and bargain bins.

Step 6: Organize Setup and Staffing

Consider hosting the estate sale on a weekend unless there are time constraints. On the day of the sale, arrange items to make it easy for shoppers to browse. Make sure valuable items are in a secure location where they can be monitored. If setting up the sale is physically challenging, consider asking family members or friends or hiring outside help.

Consider enlisting the help of more people to monitor the sale, answer questions, and handle transactions. This can include family members, friends, or hired help.

Additional Resources

Like in any industry, there are some estate sale services, especially those offering estate buyouts, that may prey on seniors and try to scam them out of some of their money. These companies know that older adults who haven’t spent as much time online may not be privy to their tactics, and they take advantage of people looking into estate buyouts who may be pressed for time. 

The resources below can help seniors understand their home equity options, avoid online scams, and become overall more informed regarding their finances. 



This guide published by the Minnesota Attorney General focuses on avoiding untrustworthy estate sale companies and estate sale scams. 

CalBRE published this list of tips to help seniors protect themselves against targeted real estate scams. Though written specifically for California residents, almost all of the tips apply to seniors living anywhere. 

These tips from the Federal Trade Commission cover financial scams in general, not just online, but notes that new technology is often a factor in people falling prey to fraud. 

The FDIC published this curriculum for seniors and caregivers to be able to identify and avoid financial exploitation and scams. The curriculum, developed by the FDIC in partnership with the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, is free for anyone to download. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Does an Estate Sale Company Do?

An estate sale company handles all aspects of one’s estate sale, including sorting items and taking inventory, appraisal and pricing, advertising for the sale, and conducting the sale itself. These companies tend to have industry experience and connections that may make the estate sale more lucrative. However, keep in mind that the companies do take a percentage of the revenue from the sale. 

What Is an Estate Buyout?

An estate buyout is when a company buys someone’s entire estate, including the home and all of its contents, for cash upfront. This enables sellers to access these funds without having to wait for their possessions to sell. This differs from a typical estate sale when neither the seller or the agent receive any money until after the home and items have sold. 

How Much Do Estate Sellers Charge?

Estate sellers typically do not charge a flat fee, but rather take a percentage of the sale revenue. Most services take between 25-40%, and the seller keeps the rest. Estate auction companies charge less, typically 10-20%. Fees can vary between different companies, so it’s worth getting quotes from several services before signing on with one. 

How Do Estate Sales Work?

During an estate sale, all of the items in one’s home are tagged with a price. Interested buyers walk through the home and claim items they want to purchase, either by picking the item up or otherwise marking it. In the case of an estate buyout, the company pays the seller a lump sum in cash prior to the sale, based on their appraisal and estimated value. 

How Do I Find a Reputable Estate Sale Business?

To find a reputable estate sale business, it’s crucial to do thorough research. Look for consumer testimonials, both good and bad, and check the company’s history on the Better Business Bureau to see if they have had any complaints filed against them. Also, be sure to ask the company about its history, experience, and methods before signing any contract. Unfortunately, some illegitimate and scam companies out there prey on people trying to sell their entire estate on a tight schedule, so it’s imperative to do your due diligence before signing any contract.