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Eldercare Advice: Estate Liquidation Interview

In our eldercare advice series, we offer information on common topics and concerns caregivers face.  We recently gave some personal feedback from dealing with a major transition and some of the lessons we learned liquidating a household of belongings.  We’re happy today to bring a guest expert in to share more important advice on estate liquidation and transitions for elders and their families.

We hope you are not spending your Thanksgiving or holidays dealing with liquidating an estate, but the reality is that some of you are…and many families will visit together during this time and be able to heed some of the preparatory advice from our guest. 

encore events Florida estate sales resized 600Encore Events is an Estate Sales and Liquidation company based out of Largo, Florida and helping clients throughout the Tampa Bay area (and families far and wide).  At Aging Wisely, a number of our clients’ families have used their services and we thought it would be great to get their eldercare advice on this important topic. Working with so many elders and families in transitional times here in Florida, we appreciate the many challenges involved and hope this interview gives you some helpful advice on your eldercare journey. (We have also added a couple comments in, which you will see in italics within the interview.)

What do estate liquidation companies do?

Life has many transitions. As people age, these transitions become more difficult. When parents die or need to move into assisted living or nursing care, they must leave a home where they have spent decades, accumulating many things. For family members, decisions must be made about what to do with the home and all its contents. For financial reasons alone, family often feels pressured to get the house emptied and on the market quickly. Where does one begin?

This is where a professional estate liquidation company steps in as facilitators to help such transitions go smoothly. The primary job of an estate liquidator is to sell the contents of the home. He will stage the property, appraise and price the contents, advertise the sale and conduct a multi-day “Estate Sale” in the home. Once a client signs a contract, all she/he has to do is take away anything they want to keep, then go away and let the estate liquidator do his job.

What is the most difficult part of the process as you see it for families?

“Letting go” is often the most difficult part of the process. For someone moving to assisted living, letting go of their home and most of their possessions causes a lot of anxiety and is emotionally challenging. Decisions must be made quickly and often without any prior experience with dealing with death or a debilitating condition. Many people who die here in Florida have family who live far away. Just finding the time and money to make an extended trip to Florida to tie up loose ends (in the case of death), or arrange for moving mom or dad to an assisted living facility, is stressful enough on family members. Once they get here, they often have to deal with attorneys, Realtors, utility companies, moving companies, and try to figure out what to do with mom or dad’s “stuff”.  When this stress is combined with grief, it’s very difficult to know how to make the best decisions.

What could an individual or family do to be better prepared? (or what advice would you give after years of working with families during such times?)

Too often, we run into bereaved family members who’ve lost touch with mom or dad over the years. They arrive clueless as to what needs to be done, how to find important papers, what to do with dad’s dog, or are shocked to see that mom had become a hoarder. To be better prepared for a time that will eventually come, here’s what family members should do when they still have the luxury of time.

  • Someone in the family should assume responsibility for overseeing mom or dad’s life. This might mean more frequent visits. This responsible family member should learn who is mom’s banker, lawyer, doctor, and which neighbors have house keys. Regular visits will alert this person to changes in behavior, such as dozens of Home Shopping Network packages piled up unopened in closets, or kitchen cabinets that contain more dog food and alcohol than human food. They should look for clues that mom has started to hide money or important papers in very odd places.  Long-distance families, especially, might want to consider bringing in a professional geriatric care manager to be your “local eyes and ears”—and, as geriatric professionals, we can often spot things, anticipate concerns and help with resources before problems get out-of-hand.
  • No one likes to think about their parents’ passing, so perhaps that is why there is so little preparation. Whether out-of-town or in, family members would be wise to start thinking about “what’s going to happen to mom’s house when she must leave it long before it happens. This would be the time to  start looking for Realtors and estate liquidation companies when you have the leisure of getting references and interviewing.  Oftentimes, mom’s attorney is a good source for referrals as are any word-of-mouth referrals. Talk to people.

By the same token, there are some things the elderly can do, while they are still able, to make the process easier on their families:

  • Start giving stuff away now. That set of china, collection of Hummels, family photo albums … ask the kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews if they want them and then give them to any takers. Not only does it eliminate some “stuff,” but it brings both the giver and the receiver pleasure.
  • We often are in homes where we find “notes” inside or underneath a treasured piece. These notes sometimes convey the history of the item, where it was purchased, or its sentimental or financial value. This is very helpful both to family members who may want to retain these items, or to estate liquidators who will be able to more accurately fix its value.

What word of warning would you give to families?

Especially in families where there are two or more heirs, the best words of warning are: Don’t get greedy. We are constantly amazed how often siblings who have gotten along well for decades, suddenly become squabbling enemies when it comes to who gets mom’s stuff. We’ve seen it happen in the best of families. Two of them want that Oriental vase that belonged to mom’s grandmother.  They squabble over it, and then suddenly they are squabbling over everything. Greed causes damage among family members that sometimes never gets repaired. Families need to remember: it’s only “stuff” and most of us already have too much of it.

Greed will also lead you to make dumb decisions. We recently did an estate sale for a wealthy local family. It was in an old mansion full of old antique furniture; however both the mansion and the antiques had seen better days. When we discussed with the New York son what we thought the antiques would bring at the estate sale, he insisted on shipping 10,000 pounds of antique furniture to New York saying he could get a lot more money up there. He failed to heed our advice about how much the market for antiques has changed just in the past few years. As a result, he paid high shipping costs for a lot of furniture that is still sitting in NY consignment shops.

Another word of advice, especially for out-of-town family, is to not underestimate the work involved in settling an estate long-distance. Although decisions must be made quickly, things don’t get done quickly. There’s probate, there’s trying to sell a house in a down market, there’s the time and energy required to empty the house. (If you’ve never done it, even simple houses are surprisingly stuffed. It is not a job for the easily overwhelmed.)  If you’ve done your homework, you will have already lined up an estate liquidation company that you trust. Which leads to the next question.

How does someone find a good estate sales company/person to work with? What should they be looking for or who should they ask?

As mentioned earlier, your estate attorney (or geriatric care manager!) may be able to recommend liquidation companies he works with regularly. Or ask neighbors or friends for referrals. Word-of-mouth is much better than huge yellow page ads.

In general you want to hire an estate liquidation company that:

  • has been in business a long time and has years of experience liquidating estates just like yours
  • has an appraiser knowledgeable in many areas such as art, jewelry, china, silver, etc. (You don’t want to read in the news about someone buying a painting for $4 from mom’s estate that turns out to be worth $4 million.)
  • is insured. Hundreds of people will attend a well-run estate sale in your parents’ home, leaving opportunity for all types of mishaps. An insured liquidator is a liquidator who takes his job seriously.
  • has a stable, consistent staff. Staging a sale properly is a huge undertaking that involves many hands helping. You can feel more assured when you know the staff has longevity with the business.
  • has a contract that clearly outlines both your and the liquidator’s responsibilities
  • tells you how the property will be left at the end of the sale. Totally empty? Broom swept? Or will they just walk away leaving the unsold items for you to deal with.
  • has a strong marketing/advertising plan in place. When the estate liquidator does heavy print advertising and has a strong Internet presence, the sale will attract more buyers which increases the net sale proceeds. Ask him how he advertises. Throwing up a sign on the street corner just won’t cut it.
  • most importantly, you need to completely trust the company you hire. Hold interviews. Be looking for someone who answers all your questions, is professional in appearance and personality, and, hopefully, comes to you by recommendation.

Once you have made a choice, you should feel comfortable in turning over the keys. Aside from removing any items from the house that you do not want sold, your job is finished. Quite often, we discover important papers, cash, family photographs, jewelry, even gold coins as we begin to stage a property. At Encore Events we make sure to notify the family about such items, as would any reputable estate liquidator.

Thanks to Bill and Merry from Encore Events for taking the time to provide such thoughtful answers and advice!  If you’re in the Tampa Bay area, check out their page for services and their latest sales.  As always, if we can help you with any eldercare needs or resources, give us a call at 727-447-5845.

Aging Wisely can help in many ways during transitions and beyond, such as:

  • Overseeing things for long-distance family members; acting as a local advocate and liaison;
  • Mediating family discussions and care decisions-helping you to get through tough decisions/emotional times while keeping family relations intact;
  • Assisting with Assisted Living, Nursing Home and other eldercare moves: everything from professional advice to make the best choice to practical help with the whole move and emotional help for your loved one to make a smooth transition;
  • Advice and resources for a wide array of eldercare needs;
  • and more!  We’re here to help!
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