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Downsizing? Ready, Set, Sell

How to cash in on castoffs

spinner image Mature Woman at Tag Sale, Selling Belongings to Downsize, Family Caregiving Project
Downsizing usually means selling your stuff.
Jose Luis Pelaez/Blend Images

Leaving the family home is preceded by the great, and almost always emotional, sorting, lamenting and finally deciding what will move with your loved one, stay with family or be left behind. At the end of downsizing comes acceptance. You can’t take it with you. Not Grandma’s settee. Not the kayak. Not your Saturday Night Fever disco suit.

Money, however, is easy to pack.

How you sell your loved one’s leftover belongings may depend on the timing of the move, the health of your loved one, the number of family helpers available and the amount and value of the items.

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Tag sales and eBay are obvious options, but both add another layer of work for a family that is already stressed. Other options — or a combination of other options — may be the answer.

Estate Sales

After you decide what you don’t want to move, book in-home appointments with two estate sale firms to get estimates of what the sale might bring in. (Some companies will do the sale only if their estimates for the total contents are over a certain figure.) Before signing an agreement, ask about hidden charges.

Pros and Cons

  • Estate sellers keep an average of 35 percent of the sales. If you have big-ticket items, sellers may agree to less.
  • Estate companies usually price items higher than you might. Buyers generally expect to pay a bit more than at a yard sale. And estate sellers are more likely to recognize hidden treasures and price accordingly.
  • The last few hours of the sale, most sellers go half-price on all that’s left.
  • Estate sellers will sell anything not earmarked for family. Anything. Half bottles of window spray, single earrings, a bent trowel. And people will buy most of it.
  • When it’s over, the house is empty — except for your earmarked items. Leftovers are tossed or donated.


  • High-end auction houses will usually take your items only if they include pieces likely to fetch a lot.
  • The house gets up to 20 percent of the “hammer price.”
  • These firms usually charge a “buyer’s premium.” A buyer’s premium is “an add-on charge” paid by the buyer. It goes to the auctioneer, but knowing it’s part of the deal may make a buyer bid less.
  • If the seller sets a reserve price and the item doesn’t sell, auction houses may charge 5 or 10 percent of the reserve price. You then decide to let them try again or take back the item.
  • Some auction houses charge for picking up furniture.
  • If you have a valuable, sought-after item, you may choose to sell through a high-end auction house because they draw a high-spending crowd.
  • Field and warehouse auctions sell a mad mix of household items.
  • Small or inexpensive items are often sold as box lots — a cardboard box with one desirable thing and several lesser items.
  • Household auctions usually take a more moderate percentage.

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