Estate Sales Primer: Downsizing? Cleaning Out A Relative’s Home?

estate sales

For many people, the way to get rid of a lot of things at once is to arrange an estate sale. Take out what you want to keep, then turn the house over to a professional who promises that, when finished, it will be empty.

By Alma Gaul


Your parents have died or are moving to a nursing home, and their house is filled with a lifetime of possessions. Or maybe you’re ready to downsize your own house.

For many people, the way to get rid of a lot of things at once is to arrange an estate sale. Take out what you want to keep, then turn the house over to a professional who promises that, when finished, it will be empty.

Dick Taber is one of the estate pros in the Quad-Cities, so the Quad-City Times visited with him about how the process works.

Q: Isn’t it overwhelming to walk into a big house filled with stuff?

A: Not really. About eight employees with specialties such as dishes, pretty clothes, jewelry and furniture divide the work. Taber’s own specialty is antiques.

Employees go through every room, every cupboard, every drawer. With paintings and books, they consult online sites to see what things are selling for. “We do all the research,” Taber said. “We want to get the most we can.”

“When it’s too good, it goes out East to auction,” he added. A particular oil painting fetched around $40,000 when sold that way. On the other hand, a $10,000 painting was sold right in Rock Island.

“I tell people, ‘Don’t clean it out. Don’t throw anything away. Let me throw it away.’ You’d be surprised at what people buy.”

Q: How long does it take to go through the average house, if there is such a thing?

A: Ten days to two weeks. That gives time for pricing and lead time for advertising.

Q: What is hard to sell?

A: “The number one thing is entertainment centers because everybody has flat screen TVs (nowadays), and the number two thing is dining room sets. New homes don’t have dining rooms.

“We don’t sell anything baby-related because of liability,” he adds. Clothing is OK, but he doesn’t sell cribs, car seats or playpens.

Vinyl records, holiday decorations … they all sell, and the public is always buying pots and pans, couches and beds.

Q: Any big surprises through the years?

A: “Every house is a big surprise. There’s always something good.

“I found a bag of gold jewelry stuffed in a shoe. The woman thought she had lost it.

“I also found a huge box of twenty dollar gold pieces.”

Q: How do sales work?

A: “I run a three-day sale. The first day everything is full price. The second day everything is 25 percent off and the third day everything is 50 percent off.”

As many as 240 people have been waiting in line on an opening day. Everyone is issued a number, and about 25 to 30 people are allowed in at a time. As people come out, those waiting are let in.

“Some people are coming to spend a dollar, some are coming to spend a thousand. We get everybody from kids to the elderly. For a lot of them (the elderly), it’s something to do.”

“I get 25 percent of the sales, plus the cost of advertising.”

Q: How do you price things like furniture, books and clothes for an estate sale?

A: “Modern furniture, even if it’s fabulous, brings only a fraction of what it would new. That chair,” he said, pointing to a red leather wingback with French tacks, “would be about $250.”

Books are $1 to $2 each. In the area of clothing, shirts usually are priced at $2, jeans are $5 and sweaters are $10. But then there might be a pair of brand-name shoes tagged at $350.

Q: What about dishes?

A: Dishes, particularly antiques, don’t fetch the prices they once did, but Taber recently sold 6,000 pieces of Noritake china at one sale.

Q: What about personal papers?

A: Anything personal — photographs, scrapbooks, letters, financial records, children’s art work, saved greeting cards — is the homeowners’ responsibility to sort through and dispose of before Taber begins his work.

In once instance, though, the estate’s children were from out-of-state and did not have time to go through everything. They asked Taber to box up all the papers and photos and mail them.

All other items get tagged with a price. Anything that doesn’t sell gets another look-over by the owners. Then the items are either donated to Cinderella’s Cellar resale shop, Davenport, or a shop of the owner’s choice.

Q: How did you get started in this business?

A: Taber formerly sold antiques, but the business declined around 1999 with the growth of online selling.

About that time a Realtor who had known him from his antiques business called about handling an estate. The business took off from there by word of mouth.

Taber makes a point of saying that neither he nor his staff buys from the estates whose sales they handle. This ensures that items are priced fairly with no insider deals. — AP/Quad-City Times

2 Responses to “Estate Sales Primer: Downsizing? Cleaning Out A Relative’s Home?”

  1. Amy Winters says:

    Thank you for pointing out that there are professionals that can take over estate sales and auction off or sell the items for you. My dad has been thinking about selling the items in his house before he moves. It’s good to know that there are people who can do this for him.

  2. Thomas Jameson says:

    It’s good to know that estate cleaners can specialize in specific areas like dishes or clothes. my grandma passes away unexpectedly recently, and we need to go through all of her belongings. We’ll be sure to look into our options for estate cleaners to help us do that in the future.


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