Last October, Jean Allen faced a task dreaded by those who’ve reached middle age.
Her parents sold her childhood home in Rhinelander, Wis., and had 30 days to move themselves – and nearly 60 years’ worth of stuff they’d accumulated during their marriage – into smaller quarters.
They had lived there for 38 years, so they had this huge accumulation of things, says the Monroeville woman. I told her, I’ll be up,’ and I went through the whole house with my mother.
It took about a month, but after a successful two-day sale, Allen, 54, a former corporate executive assistant, knew she’d found a new career – in a field that’s growing thanks to 21st-century demographic and lifestyle trends.
Families are living farther afield, the baby boomers’ parents’ generation is dying or moving into assisted-living or nursing homes, and the boomers themselves are busy with their own families and careers.
They don’t have the time to go through stuff, Allen says.
Enter Allen’s Fort Wayne affiliate of Re-Purpose Estate Services, as yet a one-woman company that organizes estate sales as an alternative for people faced with the prospect of disposing of excess household property.
Despite its name, an estate sale doesn’t necessarily require a death, Allen says. The sales are sometimes called tag sales, and the term estate simply refers to an individual’s personal property, she says.
Potential clients include those who are downsizing, selling a second home, getting a divorce, remarrying, facing bankruptcy or foreclosure or just moving.
The real distinction, Allen says, is between what she does and the time-honored public auction.
Unlike auctions, Allen explains, items at estate sales have been pre-priced. There’s no auctioneer’s patter or competitive bidding, although private haggling often comes into play, she says.
That aspect has its ups and downs, depending on whom you talk to.
Josh Lewis, 23, vice president of The Steffen Group, a real estate and personal property auction company in Fort Wayne, not surprisingly, sticks up for auctions.
An auction, if it’s properly advertised, attracts buyers that really know what things are worth, and it will drive up prices if there is fierce competition in bidding that day, he says.
You’re not going to lose a lot of value. At the end of the day, things will average out, and generally you’ll have a higher return.
Auctions are great for the people who go because of the deals, but they’re not always great for the seller, she says.
That’s because sellers often don’t know which items might fetch more money if sold another way, and auctioneers can’t negotiate price once they get a final bid.
She cites a German-made Hoffritz antique chrome razor, apparently never used and in its original case, that didn’t sell locally.
I’ve seen them for $400 to $500 online, she says, adding she’s willing to take the extra step of selling online to maximize value.
Melody Kolke, 59, owner of Melody’s Estate Sales, a Logansport company that has run many estate sales in the Fort Wayne area, says they’re becoming more popular.
Her company is already on pace to surpass its 35-sale mark from last year, having already completed 23 sales this year, she says.
Kolke says some buyers prefer estate sales because they don’t have to wait through multiple auctions to purchase an item – and they don’t have to buy unwanted items in a box-lot or pairing.
We price things to sell, she says. We do sell between 95 (percent) and 98 percent. If (clients) tell me they want it gone, I’ll do our darnedest best to get it gone.
If items don’t sell, they can be donated to charity if that’s what the owner wants, Allen and Kolke say.
Allen says the Internet has opened up a whole new level of marketing available to estate sellers. Not only does it let them reach both wider and more specific audiences, but it also helps them quickly find out what an item is and compare what the same or similar items are fetching elsewhere, she says.
Another aspect of her business, she adds, is her affiliation with Cari Cucksey of HGTV’s Cash and Cari reality-based estate sales series. The tie-in offers Allen the expertise of Cucksey’s family in Michigan and a network of price experts and business training, Allen says. Hers is the first Indiana affiliate.
For their services, estate sale professionals charge a percentage of the total sale, 15 percent to 30 percent, with extra fees for additional services such as cleanup or dumping.
Kathy Carrier, 52, of Fort Wayne, said the money was well spent. Not only did Allen stage a successful sale, but she also cleaned her parents’ home so it sold in a matter of days.
She made it look like an entirely different house. She not only did a great job, but she took a hard thing for me emotionally and made it into a fun little project, Carrier says.
Sometimes, Allen says, she can’t resist estate items, and she buys them herself to repurpose and resell from a workshop in her barn. She says she likes passing on possessions’ histories as well as the items themselves.
I think respecting people’s possessions and their stories is the best thing about what I do, she says. Whether they’re worth a dollar or a thousand dollars, they need to be respected.