Hints for Auctioning off a Loved One’s Belongings

My friend Linda Wakefield recently lost her father.  After his death,  Linda was left with the task of cleaning out his home and finding new homes for he and her mother’s belongings.  Her parents had collected a great deal of memorabilia throughout their married life so Linda chose to solicit the help of an auction house.

Even though Linda hired the auction house to handle the sale of many of her parents’ items, she was surprised to learn that there was still a great deal of work and responsibility associated with auctioning items off for sale.

She has several words of wisdom.

  • Record information (heirlooms/stories/times/dates/locations) on your parents’ belongings when they are still well enough to share this information with you.  It assists the auctioneer when listing and promoting the items.
  • Be realistic about the value of used furniture (even if it is walnut or cherry, etc).  Auctioneers will be upbeat and optimistic prior to the event.  But, you should assume that the item will likely sell for very little money.
  • A responsible party should attend the auction(s) to assess the honesty of the sale/ the follow-through/the detail.
  • Take a buddy for distraction and moral support.
  • Be prepared for the onslaught of emotions from others who purchase items out of sentimentality for your loved ones.  Linda equates it to being almost like a mini funeral.
  • Offer to help with tasks during the auction to help reduce excess fees.  Linda explained that people will buy a box of items and take out the one thing they want and leave the rest.  By Linda reorganizing items herself throughout the day, she was able to save herself some substantial administrative fees.
  • Be prepared for the sense of loss you may feel in selling items of importance to your loved ones.
  • Stay through the entire sale.  Unless you want to pay a fee, you should arrange to collect/handle any unused items at the conclusion of the sale.

It is not unusual to have unsold items at the conclusion of an auction.  Linda recommends that a representative be present at the end of the auction to clean up and to evaluate what should be kept in the family and what should be donated to others.  Linda suggests:

  • donating unsold household items to charities such as the Salvation Army in hopes of helping the less fortunate (collect a receipt for a tax deduction)
  • donating items of special meaning directly to individuals or organizations that you know will appreciate them.  For example, Linda donated walkers to the area rest home, religious books to her parents’ church, popular novels to the local library, etc.
  • selling valuable items on eBay
  • restoring furniture that did not sell for your own future use

Note:  if the sale is held at a location outside of your home, you may be assessed for a dumpster (sometimes called a “tipping” fee) and incur additional labor costs if the staff of the auction house is left to discard your unsold items.

According to Linda, as difficult as it is to auction off items of a loved one,  ”it is also helpful and cathartic to see your organization/work and all the stuff go to interested parties.”