There is no one-stop-shop for estate sale pricing guidelines. There are just too many variables. Every estate is different. It represents the lifetime collection decades in the making.
How does estate sale pricing work? Research. Lots and lots of research.
Pricing items at your estate sale will take up the majority of the time spent planning the estate sale. One of the big reasons to hire an estate sale liquidator is experience—not just with running a sale, but with pricing.
Many estate sale service providers have seen so many estate sales that they have pricing down to a science. They can look at a stack of dusty oil paintings, a shelf of encyclopedias, a drawer full of silverware and estimate how much cash each will fetch.
For some rare or valuable items (or items that might be valuable, like baseball cards, comic books or Barbie Dolls), an appraiser’s eye is necessary.
If you want to tackle the task yourself, the information is out there. You just have to know where to look. Our 2019 Estate Sales Pricing Guide covers:
- How to Price Household Items
- How to Price Efficiently
- Discount Pricing Guide
- Pricing Assumptions
- Online Pricing Resources
With these estate sale pricing tips, you will be well on your way to a successful DIY estate sale.
1. How to Price Household Items
The art of estate sale pricing is based on “fair current market value.” This is less than what you would pay for the same item at an antique store and way less than you would pay for the same item new in a store or online.
Put yourself in the estate sale shopper’s shoes. These are impulse buyers. If they wanted to pay the retail price, they would go to an antique store where the quality is much more curated. They subject themselves to the madness and uncertainty of estate sales every weekend to find bargains.
They aren’t looking to pay garage sale prices (a quarter for something worth $5) but they need to be motivated to purchase now. Getting the price right is a big part of that motivation.
Rare or desirable merchandise may get close to the market price. These include:
- Oil paintings by popular artists
- Popular brands of clothing, jewelry and collectibles
- Unique items
- Consider regional value—merchandise covered with giant “lone stars” might kill in Dallas. In San Diego? Not so much.
In general, however, expect to charge 10-30% less than what you might find that same item maxing out for on eBay or at an antique store. Don’t feel ripped off. The value is in the volume.
The goal is to sell many items on day one and almost everything by the last day. It would take lots of time and overhead to get the maximum market value.
Other people are in that business. Your business is to liquidate the estate. There is no prize for items left unsold. A few lucky items might be consigned, but the rest will end up donated or trashed.
Is the item like new? Well maintained? Showing some wear and tear? Broken or practically destroyed? Items in terrible condition might not be worth selling at all. They just make your estate sale look bad.
The condition of the item makes a difference in pricing it. eBay.com has a useful feature where you can search completed sales or auctions. You can even limit the search by condition. It’s a great feature, but remember that people bid high for the convenience of an eBay purchase. Price your items 10-30% lower.
2. How to Price Efficiently
The trick is to price your items not too high, not too low and get that price without sacrificing value.
One of the top estate sale pricing tips is to consider staging. The principle is simple—no one will pay top dollar for a crystal decanter if it’s displayed on a table in the garage. Stage it in the dining room, surrounded by several other desirable (or at least passable) pieces of dinnerware, and someone may jump on it.
You may have dragged items out of closets and attics for the estate sale. Still, try to stage them sensibly. Place clothing in a bedroom or walk-in closet; bathroom sets in bathrooms; decorations in living rooms.
Some items can be priced by category. You don’t need to set an individual price—or even individually tag—every plate or t-shirt or book. Placing a sign that assigns all items in a category for the same price is perfectly acceptable. Be sure you have weeded out the outliers that might be higher value.
Price tags matter. Whether you choose a label machine, hand-lettered stickers or paper tags on strings, fasten them where they will be visible and hard to steal. Make sure your security staff looks out for tag-snatchers!
Some estate sale shoppers steal the tags and then start a fight at the register over what the price was “supposed” to be when they saw the mysteriously missing price tag.
Pro Tip: Keep an inventory at the register of every item and its assigned price!
Pro Tip: Do not put adhesive price stickers on sensitive surfaces like leather, oil paintings or lacquered wood surface. The adhesive will damage the merchandise and reduce the price it can command.
If you are really at your wits end on how to price, you might consider making your estate sale a “picker sale” or “dissolver sale.” This means that you assign items’ prices on the fly at the register. It’s a haggler’s heaven. The thought might stress you out, but resale shoppers love picker sales. Be prepared for some lively negotiations; you will have a horde of motivated buyers. Those bargain-basement sale prices will add up.
Pro Tip: Do not have a picker sale before an appraiser or estate liquidator has had a chance to peruse the merchandise! You could end up letting a priceless baseball card go for pennies.
3. Discount Pricing Guide
Most estate sales span several days. You will get your highest prices on Day 1. The goal is to price the merchandise attractively. Shoppers won’t want to risk losing a well-priced item in hopes that it will be discounted at a later date.
The following discount schedule is typical, but discounting is entirely up to you.
- Full price
- Negotiate as needed
- Small price reduction across the board
- Negotiate as needed
- Larger price reduction across the board
- Negotiate as needed
4. Pricing Assumptions
Be careful in making assumptions. A collection of 100 Barbie Dolls might all look the same. Unless you are a doll expert, you might not recognize the limited-edition doll worth thousands. Some savvy shopper will recognize it and eat your lunch on the deal.
Other important distinctions to watch include:
- Sterling silver vs. plated silver
- Ceramic vs. porcelain vs. stoneware
- Original oil paintings vs. prints vs. watercolor vs. lithograph
- Different eras of jewelry
- Different styles and eras of furniture
- Handmade woodcarvings vs. machine carvings
- Crystal vs. glass and the various types of glass
- Jade vs. jadeite
The bottom line is—do your research. If pressed for time, hire an appraiser. Look for a vendor that specializes in the category of merchandise most abundant in the estate. He or she should be able to walk through the house relatively quickly and identify the treasures amid the junk. Expect to pay about $75-$500 an hour for an appraiser.
Otherwise, skip to #5.
5. Online Pricing Resources
It’s time to dig in and do the research. Recruit the assistance of the following resources:
Google allows you to enter as many search terms as you want. Click the “shopping” tab amid the search categories and the search results will only be e-commerce store results, including eBay. Browse the pictures to find items closest to what you have for sale. Pro Tip: An asking price with no bids does not tell you much. Look for “sold items” or auctions with bids. Whatever someone has committed to pay for the item is its actual value.
eBay.com not only allows you to enter as many search terms as you like, but you can narrow your search to only completed auctions or sold items and sort by condition. Extending the search lookback period will allow you to look back in time until you have enough sold items to make an accurate judgment.
Replacements.com focuses on china, both vintage and new. They offer a highly useful free identification service.
Antiques Road Show Archives
Antiques Road Show provides a searchable database that can be an invaluable resource for what items like yours have sold for.
A great resource for vintage and costume jewelry, this database provides an easy visual reference for items like yours.
Estate sale-, yard sale-, or resale-themed Facebook groups can be a great way to crowdsource prices. You will usually need to request permission to join. Once accepted, post your pictures and see what feedback people give. You may hear from professional appraisers and liquidators!
Dozens of free online resources can provide estate sale pricing guidelines for specialty items.
This estate sale pricing guide may not tell you exactly how much the swan sculpture you are looking at is worth, but it suggests places to start looking. Contact us for more free resources and estate sale pricing tips.