Frequently Asked Questions



What is the difference between an estate sale and an auction, and how do they work?


 -- An estate sale is held at the house.  Prior to the sale our staff thoroughly goes through all items in the house from the basement to the attic.  We box up any photos or family memorabilia for delivery to you.  The items are then marked with a fair market re-sale value, cleaned if necessary, and organized and displayed in a professional manner.  We obtain the necessary permits, advertise the sale, and put up appropriate signage.  Sales usually run two to three days depending on the number of items, and we maintain an accurate ledger of all sales.  At the end of the sale, if there are any items remaining, we will dispose of them according to your instructions.  (Most clients choose to donate to a favorite charity.)  We will also leave the property in "broom clean" condition.  The fee for an estate sale is paid from the sale proceeds and is based on the amount of work necessary to prepare the contents for sale.


There are two different types of auctions.  In some instances we will recommend that specific items be sold through a specialty auction house.  For example, Arts & Crafts furniture and unusual 1950's vintage furniture through Threadway Auction in Cincinnati, and fine French decorative porcelain through DuMouchelles Auction in Detroit.  Other items, such as vintage advertising memorabilia often does very well on E-Bay.  Fees for a specialty auction or E-Bay sale vary, but we will provide you with a written statement of our fees so that you can make an informed decision.


In certain circumstances an auction of the contents is advisable, for example if the sale of the house is imminent.  The auction can take place either at the house or the auction house will pick up the items to sell at their premises.  The sale price of each item is determined solely by the persons bidding on the item, although you can set a "reserve" price on large items.  Usually there are items that the auction house will not sell or that remain unsold after the auction.  Auctioneers typically charge between 25% to 35% of the sale proceeds, plus advertising and moving expenses.  If there are items left at the house after the auction, it is your responsibility to dispose of the items, and the auctioneer will not do any post sale cleanup.




What are some of the things you consider when determining whether to recommend selling by estate sale or auction?


 -- Our goal is to sell the contents of the house for the highest price possible.  It's been our experience that an estate sale usually brings the most money for the contents.  We know the local market and  fair market re-sale values.  We also research items to determine valuation and have a network of professionals that we consult with on vintage, antique, and unusual items.  There are certain instances where a specialty auction house is the best method of selling certain items.  For example, we had a coin collection where the best offer by a dealer was $1,500, but the auctioneer was able to sell each coin separately in an advertised specialty coin auction and the coins sold for almost three times the dealer's offer.  Another case involved a client that had collected French porcelain at trade shows and flea markets, the resulting sale at DuMouchelles Auction brought over $30,000.  In another situation the condition of the house was so bad, (the house had flooded and was full of mold), that an estate sale wasn't possible, so we boxed up what could be sold (mostly porcelain, china, and collectibles), and sent them to an auction house.  The rest of the contents of the house went into the dumpster.


Because every situation is different, we offer a free initial consultation so that you can make an informed decision.




Do I really need to go through all the documents in the house?


 -- The best way to ensure that you have located all of the assets is a complete review of all the documents in the house, including the contents of the desk and filing cabinet, bank statements, old canceled checks, and receipts.  You never know what you might find.  For example, we've found life insurance policies and out of state property by reviewing old canceled checks and bank statements, a safe deposit box full of coins from an old receipt, and an uncashed dividend check that led us to shares of stock.  We have extensive experience in this type of document review.




What is the most unusual request that you have ever had?


 -- We were cleaning up a very large house for an estate sale. One of the bedrooms was decorated in a tropical island theme with woven straw matting covering the floor.  After we had been in the house for several days, the owner told me that a loose one carat diamond had been dropped behind a dresser several years previously and never found.  Three of us spent two hours on our knees searching every crevice in that straw matting and running a metal file under the baseboards.  I also sifted through the contents of the sweeper bag.  Unfortunately, we never did find the diamond.




Why do I need to hire someone to do the estate sale?  I've have garage sales at my house lots of times.  Couldn't I just do this myself?


 -- You could conduct the estate sale, but in my opinion you will not make as much money as a professionally conducted estate sale, you will have a number of unsold items at the end of the sale because they have been overpriced, and you will unknowingly sell items for a fraction of their value.  I attend numerous sales every year, and invariably I find items at family run sales that are underpriced.  My latest find is a very rare Alphonse Debain sterling silver asparagus cuff, circa 1900.  Priced at $2 by the family, its value is between $1,000 to $1,200.


You also need to consider the emotional cost of conducting a sale for a family member.  Most of the items in the house will have memories attached to them - the Christmas tree that your mom put up every year, the nesting bowls that your grandmother used to make her special bread pudding, the Japanese screen that your uncle brought back after WWII.  It is very hard for family members to objectively price these items, and then to watch strangers go through the home and haggle over prices.  Somerset House Services does not have any emotional attachment to the items it sells - our goal is to sell the items for the highest possible price and to have an empty house at the end of the sale.  So while you could conduct the sale yourself, I don't believe that it is in your best interests to do so.




What’s the hardest job you’ve ever done?


 -- A cleanout of a house in August where raccoons had gotten into the house and made a complete mess – you would not believe what raccoons can do to the inside of a house - plus the basement had flooded and was full of moldy boxes.  On top of that, there was no air conditioning and it was over 90 degrees each day.  We were all very tired by the end of that job.




© 2014 Somerset House Services, Inc. ~ Dayton, Ohio 45409 ~ 937.654.5959