The Darker Side of Estate Sales

My husband and I enjoy scouring estate sales for hidden treasures and touring the beautiful homes that hold the sales. We often find unexpected prizes that we never knew we needed, and we are both quite proud of the bargains we obtain.

Estate sale companies appraise, price, and sell the personal property of persons who have passed away or are moving to smaller homes. To paraphrase the famous philosopher Forrest Gump, estate sales—like life—are “like a box of chocolates; You never know what you’re gonna get.”

We speculate, however, that our children may not want our accumulated trinkets and knickknacks. When we are ready to downsize, we plan to have a sale of our own.

Seller Beware!

Unfortunately, what most people don’t know is that the industry is largely unregulated; there are plenty of opportunities to get scammed.

There are a wide range of ways that sellers can be ripped-off during estate sales. Occasionally, a seller might be charged an excessive fee by unethical companies—or even not get paid at all. A shady dealer may deliberately overprice the items to prevent them from selling and allow themselves to scoop them up at a deep discount afterwards to resale later.

Other companies may not be intentionally corrupt but are still dangerous due to neglect; they might underprice items due to lack of knowledge or fail to properly monitor your home throughout the sale to prevent theft.

What can you do?

The Office of the Minnesota Attorney General has a created a practical tip sheet to help persons avoid estate sale scams. Tips include insisting on a written contract with terms spelled out, comparing rates and fees, and demanding immediate payment.

While there are many reputable estate sale companies available, it is up to each seller to do their homework to ensure that the company they choose is reputable.

To learn more about how you can protect yourself and your family from scams, please contact Empowerline by calling (404) 463-3333 or visit our Elder Legal Services page.

Mary Blumberg

Mary leads the Strategic Planning and Development Team within the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Aging and Independence Service Group. She is especially energized by helping cities and neighborhoods learn how to become age friendly and changing hearts and minds about many of our stereotypes about aging and older persons. Mary lives in Atlanta with her husband Marc and enjoys yoga, traveling, and SEC football.