What to do with our stuff before we move to Portugal… how about an estate sale?

When you decide to move to another country, one of the first things you have to think about is what you’re going to with all the crap you’ve accumulated over the years.

If you’ve lived on your own for more than three or four decades, the accumulation can be mind-boggling, even if you don’t know it will be. When someone goes through all of your closets and drawers and corners of your garage and everything in between and puts it all on tables, you first ask yourself, “Where did I get all of this stuff?” Then, as you wander around the tables poking at all the stuff you own, you find yourself exclaiming, “I didn’t know I had that!” or “I always wanted one of those!” or “How in the world did I end up with six hammers?” (True story. I have no idea where they all came from.)

Before we decided on an estate sale, our ideas as to what to do with everything ranged from renting a room in a storage facility, to shipping it all overseas, to setting the house on fire and just living with the insurance payout (not really). In the end, we decided to have an estate sale and just pretty much sell everything. Shipping is expensive, and it’s actually rather liberating just to get rid of everything and start again with a lot less stuff.

Besides, when it all comes down to it, over the course of any average week, one tends to use maybe five percent of everything you own. Especially if you own six hammers. On those rare occasions when you use one of the hammers, you’re still only using 16.6% of your total hammer ownership. Of course, if you hit your thumb with the hammer, you’re likely to use about 100% of the swear words you own as well, but those are free and easily reused.

In any case, In addition to starting a new life in Portugal, we decided to start over in regards to almost everything we own. Except we did keep one hammer.

So we researched estate sale companies. As usual with the internet, you get tons of information, much of which is of dubious assistance. There were pages of professional tips and advice as to what to look for in an estate sale company, many of which came from estate sale companies as well. Some of that helped, but it became pretty clear very quickly that you really were a bit on your own when you start walking down that road. The estate sale industry isn’t regulated, which is really too bad because there’s almost nothing more intimate or needing of trust than an estate sale company coming into your house and turning it inside out… other than perhaps a visit to a proctologist.

Dr. Ben Dover, my personal Proctologist

And that, my friends, is the key word when it comes to putting on an estate sale. No, not proctologist: Trust.

If I were to give one piece of advice to an estate sale company as to what they should virtually exude as they’re talking with potential clients and conducting the sale, it would be to do everything possible to convey trustworthiness. Not the white-shoes-Johnson kind of “truuuuuust me” trust. But above-and-beyond behavior that constantly says, “Hey we know you’re gonna have to trust us to do this properly, and this is how we’re going to make sure you do.”

I contacted and interviewed about five different companies after first checking their BBB scores, online reviews, and websites. I learned pretty quickly that you’re very beholden to their own timing. If you want to have, for instance, a sale on a specific weekend, that’s going to eliminate X number of estate sale companies because they may already be having a sale that weekend. Most of the time, they can’t handle more than a couple or so a month. So if they’re booked up, you either need to be flexible with your time, or find another company.

Ultimately, we settled on a company named A&S Estate Sales, run by a husband and wife team, Arnie and Sura. As the preparation for the sale began, I became more and more pleased with my choice. They were professional and friendly, and we developed a nice rapport. Which is a good thing because we were not only letting them into our house to go through pretty much everything we owned, but we ended up working side by side with them for pretty much a full week. Since they are a husband and wife team with delightful personalities, it became pretty clear that we could trust them.

And the sale went very well; better than all of our expectations. They have a nice following, which meant that the house was virtually mobbed during the two-day sale.

That said, as a result of our experience, I developed some advice for both the estate sale companies and their clients:

  • Once the process begins, you have to understand that all the stuff you want them to sell more or less becomes their stuff. They fix the prices, they do the negotiating, and they try and move everything they can. With roughly a 40% cut, they’re as motivated as you are to get things sold. In the end, while we discussed minimums on several items that I’d prefer to have kept than to have been sold for too little, I can’t actually be sure what sold for what, because you don’t get an itemized receipt. You just have to trust that they did the best they could, and hope that they got the amounts you wanted on whatever things you were most concerned about. You’re pretty much only left with TRUST, and, if all goes well, a check in the mail a week or so after the sale is over.
  • Virtually everything you own (except for the stuff you hide behind closed doors), is brought out, categorized, and priced. They do an amazing job of organizing everything. After they swarmed through the garage, putting things as small as nuts and bolts into separate baggies and so on, I told them they should sell garage organization services. In just one day, they can come in, and –bam- your garage will be organized like it never has been, and you might discover you own six hammers.
  • While we loved working with Arnie and Sura, I would’ve appreciated a thorough sit-down, or a pamphlet, that really spelled out in detail what to expect. Since they’re so familiar with their own industry, when they make a comment in passing they expect that the information has been conveyed. However, since most of us only have an estate sale once or twice in our lives, we may not understand clearly what was said or implied. Since Arnie and Sura were so trustworthy, we didn’t end up with issues over it, but if something had gone a little haywire, it certainly could have.
My optometrist said I needed new glasses, so I bought a bunch ahead of the sale.

As for whether giving someone almost half the value to sell your stuff is worth it, I’d have to say absolutely yes. It takes a lot of man-hours to sort, price, and sell all that stuff. They had security, and they have a following, and they pretty darn near blanketed Wilsonville with Estate Sale signs. There’s no question that had we done it on our own, we’d have ended up with a lot less money while still owning most of our crap with no idea what to do with it after that. As long as you have enough stuff to make it worth their while, it’s worth it.

They also hauled everything that was left away for donation, making this perhaps the easiest move we’ve ever made. (It’s like having hundreds of elves descending on your property, hauling away everything and even leaving money behind!) We’ve heard stories of estate sale companies who haul things out and keep it for themselves, and to be honest, I have no proof that everything was taken to the donation spot, but I trust Arnie and Sura, and that, in the end, is pretty much all I have, except for the check.

After the sale. The couch was sold, just not picked up yet.
Our first box to be shipped to Portugal. Despite the sale, we still had a bunch of clothes and knick knacks we had to keep.
Ultimately we ended up with about 25 boxes to ship. This is now pretty much everything we own!


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