10 Tips for Liquidating an Estate

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated February 10, 2022
 A two-story house with yellow siding
Photo: davelogan / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

How to get rid of everything and the kitchen sink

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

The death of a family member or a close friend can be emotionally draining, especially if they entrusted you with the responsibility of liquidating their estate. This process includes clearing out their personal belongings through donation or estate sales.

Read on to learn our top tips for liquidating an estate so you can complete the tasks as quickly and painlessly as possible.

1. Appraise Valuables

If the estate features antiques, artwork, or other items that have financial value, you should hire an estate appraiser to review the items. The professional appraiser will determine whether some of the pieces might fetch a high price through a major auction company, such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s. 

Many items may have value you don’t recognize, so don’t throw anything away until the appraiser checks everything out. The cost of hiring an estate appraiser ranges from $150 to $350 per hour.

2. Hold an Estate Sale

 Vintage glassware part of an estate sale
Photo: Massimo Ravera / Moment / Getty Images

To sell several rooms-worth of items at one time, consider hosting an estate sale. Keep in mind that a large estate sale with high-ticket items is not the same as an impromptu yard sale, so you should contact an estate sale agent to set up an estate sale

The estate sale professional will determine if an estate sale is the best course of action, and then research all the items and price them accordingly. The pro will set everything up, organize and display the items, and help generate interest in the sale. Some professionals also offer clean-out services and double as professional appraisers. They can typically complete the process within a few days and will take a portion of the sale’s proceeds as payment. Hire an estate sale agent with solid references and experience selling the types of items you have to sell.

3. Auction Off Items

Auction houses exist to sell off items that might not be valuable enough for an auction house like Sotheby’s but will still garner interest and bids. With an absolute auction, an item will be sold to the highest bidder. With a reserve auction, the seller sets a minimum price that must be met for the item to be sold. If the reserve price is not met, the item does not sell, no matter how many bids are on it. 

Auction companies charge fees ranging from 10% for higher-end items to 30% for more commonplace goods. There might be additional feeds for pickup, storage, and advertising. You can also sell items on eBay or other online auction sites, but prepare to invest some energy into taking photographs and shipping out sold items.

4. Sell Pieces at a Consignment Store

Another option is consignment selling. A consignment store will display and sell the items and keep between 40 and 50% of the sale’s price—you keep the rest. You can usually request that anything that doesn’t sell is donated to charity if you don’t want to take it back. 

5. Use Online Resale Platforms

If you want to cut out the middleman, try selling individual items on online marketplaces, such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or OfferUp. Be prepared for buyers to negotiate and submit offers that are lower than your asking price, and you’ll need to make time to meet with buyers or ship sold items.

6. Hold a Garage Sale

Try selling off items the old-fashioned way. To ensure your garage sale is successful, advertise the date and time of the sale with flyers around the neighborhood, online, and in your local newspaper. Ensure the items for sale look tidy and organized to create a positive shopping experience for potential buyers. 

7. Donate What You Can’t Sell

Clothes in donation cardboard boxes
Photo: DjordjeDjurdjevic / Ε+ / Getty Images

Once you think you’ve sold everything you can, consider donating the leftover items to a local charity organization. While you won’t receive payment, you can get an itemized, tax-deductible receipt. If you need to liquidate someone’s estate of a car that doesn’t run, find a local charity or mechanic shop that will take the car to sell off its remaining parts.

8. After the Goods Are Gone, Sell the Property

Once you’ve sold or donated all the furniture, clothing, appliances, and knick-knacks, it’s time to move on to the home. Keep in mind that some people include instructions about how the property should be handled in their will, and you legally have to adhere to that contract.

First, ensure the home is completely empty, and then tackle any repairs necessary to get it past inspection and sold as quickly as possible. Plan to hire a real estate agent, a home inspector, and a home stager to help put the home on the market.

9. Familiarize Yourself With Estate Taxes

The IRS has a tax exemption for estates worth less than $12.06 million. However, if you sold the inherited home (instead of living in it), you might have to pay capital gains tax if the sale price is higher than the home's purchased price, which is typical. A tax professional can help you sort through the implications of the sale and how to deduct as many expenses as possible. 

10. Try to Detach Emotionally 

The process of selling a loved one’s things can feel emotionally taxing, but it’s important to remember that there is a task at hand—to liquidate the estate and sell off as much as possible. After you sort through their belongings and keep the sentimental items, try to emotionally detach from the selling process so that you can find good homes for your loved one’s items.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.