Before an estate sale, the rooms are staged to make the most of the sale items. CONTRIBUTED

Good news: No one has to die. Although they’re commonly called estate sales, it’s more accurate to call them “living estate sales” or a moving sale. And they are growing in popularity in the Keys. After 30 years in journalism, I made the jump from writing and editing to starting my own business, Sara’s Estate Sales. 

Somehow, this is a return to my roots. At my age, I have a renewed interest in “nesting” and creating functional living spaces for my husband and myself, my adult children, my dad, etc. And, actually, estate sales are not that different from being an editor. I take a bunch of stuff (information), research its value (source), organize and display it (write and take photos) and sell it (publish). 

Here are nine things to know about the business:

Are estate sales hot right now? So, so hot … and for very cool reasons. The pandemic accelerated the real estate market, especially here in the Keys, creating situations where sellers were moving out of homes they had lived in for decades and despairing of what to do with the massive and natural accumulation of stuff. Then, the supply chain woes kicked in and people needed things they couldn’t get, especially down here in the islands. Outside the influence of COVID-19 is the growing popularity of thrifting and estate sales – people can buy quality used items that they can’t afford to buy new, and it keeps useful home goods out of the landfill. Estate sales are a very “green” endeavor – re-use is the highest form of recycling. 

How does an estate sale work? There are many variations on an estate sale, but the standard procedure for Sara’s Estate Sales is to spend a couple of days organizing and pricing the goods and then conducting a two-day sale, generally on Friday and Saturday. My fee is a percentage of the gross sale. Any remainders from the sale – things that didn’t sell – are donated to charity and the owner can claim a tax deduction. The days leading up to the sale are a little nerve-wracking but the sale itself is like hosting a two-day party for all my friends. Plus, I get a chance to give shoppers a little story to go along with their purchase, such as where the seller acquired the item, its purpose, etc.  

After the sale, the room is completely empty and ready for the next tenants. CONTRIBUTED

How are items priced? There are so many online tools to use and I subscribe to a few services to price rare and unusual items or call in a local expert. I price things very reasonably because the whole intention of an estate sale is to move it in two days. Now, if the Vanderbilt or Getty family gives me a call, I’m going to be a little more meticulous, but generally the whole point is about downsizing, not dollars. (You think a new car loses value as soon as you drive it off the lot? Try assembling a brand new couch and reselling it the next day!) I’m well aware that many shoppers are buying things at the estate sale with the whole purpose of reselling them. That’s fine. That’s not what I do. I’m interested in creating solutions for people in the middle of one of the most stressful times of their lives.

What are some common misconceptions about estate sales? First, everyone assumes that the seller is deceased. In most cases, it’s a moving sale because the owners are downsizing or leaving the Keys with only the essentials. Second, it’s not all antiques; my shoppers gravitate toward used tools, high-end cookware and recreational toys like fishing poles. Oh, and I don’t know who bought the house or how much it sold for – that’s not my business!

Why shouldn’t owners just sell their own things, keep all the money? It’s hard to put into words what happens when people are trying to sell their own things. It’s just … a bummer. It’s disconcerting when a stranger wants to take home Aunt Mary’s handmade quilt or insulting when a buyer offers a ridiculously low price. Buyers can sense the seller’s shock or unwillingness and the whole ordeal can sour quickly. Plus, estate sales take place inside the home, and that makes things even more emotional for the seller. It’s much better to contract with an estate sales company that can handle the massive undertaking quickly, professionally and knowledgeably. 

After the sale, the room is completely empty and ready for the next tenants. CONTRIBUTED

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever sold? A handicapped Porta Potty. 

What won’t you sell? Anything that is dirty or broken, guns, or anything attached to the house like an appliance. 

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found? Ummm … human ashes. I notified the seller immediately and mailed them to her. The seller was unaware she had left them behind. 

Do you ever buy things from your own sales? Of course! I fall in love with my sellers’ things all the time. I have learned to beg people to buy them so that I won’t. (Remember, estate sales are about mindful, functional living.) And, still, I purchased a vintage Middle Eastern brass and copper footstool warmer … because who doesn’t need one of those? 

— Sara’s Estate Sales operates in the Middle and Upper Keys and also offers decluttering, organizing and pre- and post-move assistance. For a free consultation, call 305-240-0074 or email [email protected].

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Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.