What is the Best Way to Sell My Personal Property? 

There are many ways to sell personal property, including an in-home estate sale, an auction, selling items online yourself or hosting your own garage sale.  There are a number of factors to considering when deciding which format best serves your needs.  These factors include your time frame, the amount of work you personally want to do, and the value and desirability of the items you want to sell.  Each format has its own pros and cons and, as a seller, you should review the options to determine which format will be best for your specific circumstances.

Estate Sales:  

An estate sale is a great option when the majority of the items in a home need to be sold. The items are in generally good condition, and the total value of all the items to be sold is greater than $3,000.  Estate sales are a considerable amount of work to do properly.  The home is usually cleaned and all trash is removed.  There is usually some merchandising or staging of the home to make the inventory look its best.  The sale is advertised through national estate sale websites, local newspapers, and websites like Craigslist.  On the day of the sale, signage is used to get the customers to the door.  Properly run estate sales are managed like retail stores, with staff available to assist customers and quickly and efficiently ring up sales.  One of the best features of an estate sale is that the format allows you to sell almost everything in a house, from heirloom sterling silver flatware to half empty bottles of toilet bowl cleaner.  Most people don’t consider the hundreds and hundreds of low priced items in their home that add up to a significant impact on the estate sale total sales.  

There are a few aspects of estate sales that some would consider negatives.  The first is that the public is invited into the estate sale home.  Over the course of a multi-day sale, hundreds of people might walk through the house handling the property for sale.  At times, neighbors don’t appreciate this increase in traffic to the neighborhood.  A second issue can be the time frame.  Estate sales take time to set up and, in the busiest seasons, quality estate sale companies can be booked weeks to months in advance. Lastly, estate sale companies will charge a commission on the gross total of the sale.  Depending on your area and the services that the company provides, the commission can be 25% to 50% of the sale.  In spite of this, most consumers in need of estate sale services will receive higher net proceeds at the end of the day by hiring a company to set up and run the sale for them, even after paying the commission.  For more information on hiring a company vs. running the sale yourself please see this article: Host Your Own Estate Sale or Hire a Company?


Auctions can be a great format for items of higher value and greater interest, or for those who live in a rural setting.  Most established auction houses are not going to be interested in the entire contents of your home.  They will not sell the half empty bottle of toilet bowl cleaner, or if they do, they will sell it as a box lot that sells very cheaply.  Auction houses usually have a dollar value threshold for the items that they will take and sell.  Depending on whether it is a local or national auction house, the minimum threshold per item can be as low as a few dollars, or as high as many thousands, as is the case for Sotheby’s and Heritage.  

Most areas also have local auctioneers that are able to handle the entire contents of an estate, including the real estate.  Usually the sale can happen sooner than an estate sale would, but it can be dependent on the weather.  The auction company might spend a day or two getting the contents organized and then hosting the sale, often outside on the property.  This type of auction is usually the very best option for those with a full household of goods in a rural setting.  Through their advertising, the auctioneer will get group of people to the home for a few hours, or up to a whole day, and the all of the property is sold to the highest bidder.  Those in a suburban or urban setting can usually net more with a properly run, multi-day estate sale.

There are items that should only be sold through an auction format. These are usually rare or unique pieces of higher value.  Items that NESA members have brokered to auction houses on behalf of their clients include a pair of  hand-drawn Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson ($27,000), an Ercole Barovier signed vase ($37,500), and an original Eduard Gaertner oil painting that sold for just short of a quarter of a million dollars.  These values can likely only be realized at an auction house with an international clientele and reputation for selling items of the highest interest.  

Online Selling:  

As the internet has risen over the last twenty years to become an integral part of our daily lives, selling used goods online has become a legitimate option. Online selling allows consumers to market their own goods directly to the end users who want to buy them.  There are dozens of online selling options such as Amazon or Etsy, but we will focus on the two most popular sites consumers use to sell their own items: eBay and Craigslist.

eBay.com is an online powerhouse with web sales around a quarter of a trillion dollars per year.  Merchandise, both new and used, is sold in almost every category.  Like traditional auctions, online auctions are not a format to sell half empty bottles of cleaner and the like.  eBay has over 200 million registered users around the globe, so your chances of the right buyer finding and bidding on your items are good.  Often, individual items of high interest or collectability can sell for 20% or more above prices realized at a local estate sale. eBay leverages its popularity by charging commissions and fees on the items sold on its site. The fees can range from 9% to 15% depending on the listing.  While the selling price can be high, listing on eBay takes time.  Each item has to be photographed, described and posted online.  As an eBay seller, you have to answer buyer questions, be ready to ship items quickly once sold, and deal with the occasional complaint or return.  To be truly successful at listing a large quantity of goods on eBay, be prepared to devote a significant amount of time to your online “store.”

Craigslist is the world’s largest searchable database of classified ads.  Everything that you can think of, from beer can collections to luxury automobiles, are sold daily through Craigslist.  Most listings are free to post and can generate plenty of interest for desirable pieces.  Craigslist is simply a classified listing and they do not monitor or vouch for the sellers or buyers, therefore it is important to use common sense and think about safety when posting on Craigslist.  When selling small collectibles, meet your buyer in a public space and take a friend or family member along with you.  For larger items, like furniture, make sure you are not the only person at home when the buyers arrive.  Like eBay, it really only works to sell desirable items on Craigslist, however, you can also post free goods.  People might see treasure in some of your trash and haul it away for free. The best thing about using Craigslist to sell your personal property: you keep 100% of the sale and pay no commissions.  If you have the time on your hands and take safety precautions, this might be a good fit for you.

With both eBay and Craigslist, you keep control of the process and get to sell your items with little or no commission.  The downside of online sales is the time involved, since the items are sold one at a time.

Garage Sales:

Many people have at least some experience with garage sales, whether you have run one yourself, have a family member who hosted one, or attended a sale in your neighborhood.  It is the tried-and-true method for doing a bit of spring cleaning and getting paid for things you no longer use.  Garage sales can be a great option for a smaller amount of lower-priced or less desirable items.  If the total value of all the goods is less than a few thousand dollars and no single item is worth more than a few hundred, this is usually the best route to take.  Garage sales are typically run with no company’s assistance and you get to keep all the profits, but you also have to do all the work. They are weather dependent, as garage sale shoppers usually like to get out in nice, sunny weather.  If you are considering a garage sale, check with your city or homeowner’s association to see if there is an upcoming designated sale day for your area.  Whole city or neighborhood sales will usually generate more traffic and, in turn, generate more sales for you.  Posting a classified in your local newspaper, putting up colorful arrow signs and placing a garage sale ad on Craigslist will all work to drive additional shoppers to your garage.

There are so many ways to get personal property sold.  The method that will best meet your needs is entirely dependent on your specific circumstances.  If you live in a populated area and it is reasonable to expect the property you want sold to be worth more than $3,000 we suggest that you start by calling several local estate sale companies.  Most estate sale companies will offer a free on-site consultation and, if they are unable to assist you with a sale, they should be able to point you in the right direction.

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Learn more about preparing for an estate sale, finding the right company, or discovering sales in your area.

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