This warning comes from the offices of state attorney generals across the country: Be careful if you are considering hiring an estate sale company.
Not every state requires these companies to be licensed. This can create a "buyer beware" atmosphere, where it's difficult to tell reputable companies from the unscrupulous ones. Here are some tips for telling the difference and hopefully avoid the very costly aftermath of an estate sale rip-off.
Lloyd Gordon has been an estate liquidator for more than 30 years. He says these scam artists prey on people's ignorance of what things are worth.
"You do not want to work with that person, because they will rob you blind," says Gordon. "The biggest red flag against a liquidator is if you, the client, are barred from any conversation establishing the value of your own items."
Gordon says many of these low-down liquidators moonlight as antique dealers or appraisers in league with other dealers.
"If they're going to liquidate something for you and they see something in your house that they want to sell in their store, would you trust them to give you a good price for it? I don't think so. So that's something you've got to watch out for," says Gordon.
Gordon says never do business with a liquidator who operates on a handshake deal. Insist on a written agreement.
"You must have a contract," says Gordon. "And if you get a contract, it has to have three things: What the commission is, how soon you get your money after the sale is over, and what the expenses will be."
If you can see any past sales, see if the sales they've done in the past are comparable to what you need them to sell for you.
Gordon recommends doing your homework before contracting a liquidator, which includes checking references and looking at past sales on the liquidator's website.
"You've basically given the key to your home and everything that you, or your aunt, uncle or your parents or your grandparents owned, and entrusting them. So you need to know who they are before you hand over that key," says Gordon.
Gordon also says it's crucial to create a written inventory with photographs before you let a liquidator step into the house.
"It's very important for the liquidator and the client, the homeowner, to go through the inventory one on one, make sure they're on the same page about exactly what's for sale and what's not," says Gordon.
Once your estate sale is over, Gordon says an honest liquidator should review your inventory with you in detail.
"My clients get a list," says Gordon. "They get all the receipts turned over to them, which shows everything that's sold and how much it sold for."
Losing a loved one is bad enough. But having them robbed after death is a disgraceful exploitation.
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