• Blair, Blair Antiques, 25 years in business
• Sunny Wagner, Sunny Wagner Appraisal Services (formerly Those Girls Estate Sales), 36 years in business
• Jo Welch, Welch's Antiques and Estates, 35 years
Sissy Brackett is preparing to leave the East Brainerd home that she and her late husband, Dr. William Brackett, built 44 years ago.
"We cleared a honeysuckle patch and built this house," she said of the brick Williamsburg-style structure. "I'm downsizing to move to a smaller place in a retirement community."
The National Association of Senior Move Managers, a senior advocacy group, reports that it helped 50,000 older adults downsize and move in 2011. Locally, estate sale liquidators and appraisers say they are seeing a rise in estate sales due to foreclosures, older adults moving in with their children, downsizing and families clearing the property of a deceased relative.
After choosing the pieces she wanted to take with her, Brackett asked her four children to make their picks from their childhood home. What's left she has entrusted to Jim Blair of Blair Antiques for an estate sale that will be held May 18, 19 and 21.
"My husband collected antique American clocks. He had about 36 of them restored completely," Brackett said of the collection that will be one feature of the sale.
"We're partial to Southern antique pieces, and through the years we'd go to auctions and estate sales and collect. We were living in a six-room house when we began to collect, and by the time we moved here, we had enough to furnish this house," she said.
One collector's piece with which she is parting is an original painting of the Brackett home by the late Ben Hampton. A family friend commissioned the painting as a gift for the Bracketts 30 years ago. It was never made into prints but is included in the 1988 book "Monument to an Era" by Patsy Hampton about her father's work.
Blair said he's found people love "the experience" of an estate sale.
"You're getting items that have been kept 50 years or more and just coming out in the open. It's not something that's been sold multiple places; it's like brand new. It's the thrill of finding something you've been looking for over years and years," he said.
Three local estate sale appraisers gave advice on planning an estate sale, questions a client should ask, services a liquidator should offer and how much the client should expect to part with for those services.
CHOOSING AN ESTATE LIQUIDATOR
• Ask friends for recommendations; word-of-mouth often includes the scoop on whose sales were efficiently run and whose weren't.
• Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints.
• Ask for references.
• Find out if the company is insured and bonded.
• Decide whether you want items appraised or an estate sale. "Sometimes clients just want appraisals because the kids are going to divide possessions," said Welch. "Others want someone to price their possessions and sell them."
• Know what you want to sell before the consultation.
WHAT TO ASK AT CONSULTATION
• Before signing a contract, consult with the company owner. State your expectations. Ask what services are provided. Are you comfortable with him or her? Are they open, above-board in their responses and manner of handling the sale?
• Ask how a company arrives at its prices and if it has accredited appraisers, advised Wagner, a member of the International Society of Appraisers.
Blair said he and his son are both certified property appraisers. "We come to price armed with a laptop and wireless card. We have software that allows us to do historical searches."
• Start planning a month in advance. "It takes two weeks to set up, price it all, get the sale on the Internet and advertise through Internet, email and newspaper. If you don't call way in advance, you aren't going to get the date you want," Welch said.
• How will the sale be staged? What does the liquidator provide in the way of tables, shelving, tablecloths and locked showcases for valuables?
"My wife, Kathy, helps with staging. She'll do creative things such as pin old hats to curtains, hang purses on display racks," said Blair.
"Anything valuable should be under lock and key. If it's really high-dollar, such as a diamond ring, I'll wear it with the price tag on it," said Welch.
• How many entrances/exits will be open in the home?
• How many staff will assist in the sale? Will someone be stationed in each room of the house for security purposes?
"I hire an off-duty policeman to handle security and parking," said Wagner.
"We're one of the few companies to provide loading of furniture at no charge," said Welch. "And, if the customer pays extra, we deliver."
• How will parking and traffic patterns be handled? Will they get any needed permits? "As a courtesy I try to make sure the neighbors know about the coming sale. I put fliers on all mailboxes so they are aware of it, and I'll talk to the mailman," Wagner said.
• Sign a contract. "All expectations should be addressed in that contract," Wagner said.
BEFORE THE SALE
• All items the homeowner and family wish to keep should be removed from the house.
• Any items bequeathed in a will should be distributed.
• Don't throw anything away before the liquidator sees it.
"Don't start pitching everything. People can sell what you think is junk. Sometimes we get there, and the family has thrown everything in a Dumpster except furniture. We like old things out of the attic," said Welch.
• The liquidator will bring tables and shelving to the home to stage each room and will price all items.
• The homeowner should not be present. "It's too emotional," said Welch. "They don't like to see their family treasures walking out the door with a stranger."
• The liquidator will control how many visitors are allowed inside the house at one time.
AFTER THE SALE
• According to contract agreements, the liquidator will clean up and remove any unsold items. This might be accomplished either by selling them to a sweeper (a buyout company that purchases all leftovers for a package price) or by donation to a charity specified by the homeowner.
• The client has the right to remove any items still remaining after the sale before removal by the liquidator. This should be stated in the contract negotiations.
• The client should expect to part with a minimum of 25 percent and possibly as much as 40 percent to 50 percent of the sale earnings. The percentage paid to the liquidator is determined by the nature of the sale, length of the sale and labor involved before and after.
• The client can expect to receive a check with their share of profits about 10 days after the event, no longer than two weeks. This allows time for any checks or credit card payments to clear before the liquidator writes the check.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...