2018 Estate Sale Industry Survey Results

Earlier this year we sent out our second annual estate sale survey. This is part of our ongoing effort to gain a better understanding of the estate sale industry, how it runs, and how trends shift over time.

We provide the results of these surveys to our customers so they can see where their company stands on the national level, and where the industry is headed. Take a look at the results of the 2017 Industry Survey to see where we started.

We received over a thousand responses to this year’s survey, which provided us with a much clearer picture of how estate sale and auction companies run, how they treat their clients and run their sales, and how the industry functions as a whole.

Now, we’d like to share the 2018 findings with you. A summary is provided below. If you want more detail, take a look at the full data report.

What type of sales do you conduct?

Percentage of Sales Conducted Graph

The industry does not limit itself to estate sales alone, though that is, unsurprisingly, how the majority of our survey respondents run their businesses. Estate sale-only companies made up 83.06 percent of respondents, while auction-only companies made up 4.08 percent. Hybrid companies made up 12.86 percent. There were no major changes in the results between 2017 and 2018.

What is your gender?

Estate Sale Companies Breakdown by Gender Graph

Just like in 2017, it appears the industry is a female-led one, though the 63.35 percent of responding women represents a 3.24 percent decrease from last year. Men made up 34.47 percent of respondents. The other 2.17 percent chose not to say.

What is your age at the time of taking this survey?

Estate Sale Companies average age of respondents

The average age of survey respondents was 58.4 years old.

What is the highest level of education you have completed?

Highest level of education bar chart

Those who run estate sale companies tend to have at least some college education, with 33.96 percent of respondents claiming to have attended some college, and 33.75 percent completing their undergraduate education. Another 14.07 percent completed graduate school.

Is your estate sale business your primary source of income?

Estate sales as a primary source of income pie chart

For 44.10 percent of respondents, their estate sale business is their primary source of income. For the other 55.95 percent, it was not. This is a notable change from 2017 when 56.53 percent of respondents claimed their estate sale business was their primary source of income—a 12.43 percent decrease.

In which state are most of your sales located?

States in which sales are conducted graph

Estate sale companies are, of course, located all across the country, but there are definite pockets of activity and inactivity. Texas and California had over 100 respondents, and Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia had no respondents.

How many years has your company been conducting sales?

Number of years companies have been in business Graph

This answer has not changed much from last year: The average age of estate sale companies is 15.1 years. Among respondents, there are 17,330 years of combined experience.

On average, how many sales do you conduct a year?

Number of sales estate sale companies conduct a year

On average, estate sale companies conduct 30.11 sales each year.

Does your company currently have a business license?

Percentage of companies with and without business license graph

How people choose to run their businesses is a matter of personal preference, but it’s also a matter of what their state and local laws require. So 76.17 percent of responding companies are operating with a business license, and 23.20 are not. Depending on where the company is based, they may not be required to carry one. This is a slight decrease from the 79.17 percent of companies that had a business license in 2017. This difference, however, is within the margins of error.

How much staff (including yourself) do you typically have on hand during each sale?

Amount of staff companies have on hand for each sale Graph

The average number of staff a company has on hand is 4.82. This is identical to the 2017 survey.

What is the average hourly wage paid to your staff/workers?

Amount of staff companies have on hand for each sale Graph

This new question for 2018 shows the average wage paid to staff/workers is $12.64 per hour.

How do you report the majority of your workers’ income?

How the majority of workers income is reported

More than half of responding estate sale companies (54.75 percent) said they report their workers’ income through 1099—as contract workers, essentially. Another 14.79 percent report their employees’ income using W-2 forms. The other 30.45 percent reported that they do not have staff.

Do you currently have workers compensation insurance?

Estate sale companies that have or do not have workers compensation insurance bar graph

Most reporting companies (61.92 percent) say they do not have workers’ compensation insurance. Only 17.30 percent of respondents do carry that type of insurance.

Do you conduct background checks on your employees?

Percentage of companies that conduct background checks on their employees bar graph

Half of the reporting companies (50.21 percent) choose not to conduct background checks on their employees; around one quarter (25.77 percent) do conduct them. The remaining companies report that they do not have staff.

Does your company currently have liability insurance?

Percentage of companies with and without liability insurance graph

When it comes to insurance, the majority of companies—72.56 percent—carry liability insurance, while 27.44 percent do not.

This is a 4.02 percent decrease from the 2017 survey that indicated 76.58 percent of companies had liability insurance. This difference could be explained by the margins of error that each year had, making the difference relatively negligible.

Is your company currently bonded?

Percentage of companies currently bonded graph

In 2018, 38.37 percent of companies reported that they were bonded. This is a decrease of 6.16 percent from 2017.

Do you use a Point of Sale system? If so, which one?

Point of sale systems used at estate sales chart

Most responding estate sale companies use Square as their point of sale system (45.39 percent) or none at all (32.11 percent).

Does your company take items on consignment?

Percentage of companies that offer consignment services graph

The topic of consignment is split relatively evenly down the middle, but less so than in 2017. In a slight decrease from last year (4.41 percent), taking items on consignment is a practice for 43.83 percent of respondents. The other 56.17 percent elect not to.

Do you own a consignment shop?

Percentage of companies that take items on consignment graph

Although nearly half of companies accept items on consignment, only 9.43 percent of them own a consignment shop—a number that has changed very little from 2017.

Do you offer estate sale buyouts as a service?

Percentage of companies that offer buyouts as a service

In another new question for 2018, we learned that 71.11 percent of companies do not offer buyouts as a service. The other 28.89 percent do give their clients that option.

Are you a certified appraiser?

Percentage of companies that are certified appraisers, hire a certified appraiser, are not a certified appraiser

Most companies (60.52 percent) utilize the expertise of a certified appraiser in one way or another. Many business owners (22.3 percent) are appraisers themselves, while 7.81 percent have an appraiser on staff. Another 30.39 percent hire an outside appraiser when one is needed.

What source(s) do you use to price your items?

Sources companies use to price items graph

Estate sale and auction companies use a number of other resources to price their items. The most popular is eBay, cited by 86.98 percent of respondents. Worthpoint and Live Auctioneers were the second and third most popular online source 32.02 percent and 31.15 percent, respectively). Offline, 79.27 rely on their personal experience.

Do you require a signed contract for each sale?

Percentage of companies that require a signed contract graph

Of the companies that responded, 94.46 percent require a signed contract for each sale, while 5.54 percent do not. This is nearly identical to the 2017 survey results.

What is your average commission rate?

Average estate sale company commission rate

The average commission rate reported in 2018 was 35.38 percent. This is not much different from 2017 when it was 34.96 percent.

Do you charge your client any fees outside of commission?

Additional fees charged to clients Graph

The industry is split relatively evenly on this issue. And indeed it is a matter of what works for each company in their given market. So 53.27 percent of surveyed companies charge fees outside of their commission, while 46.73 percent do not.

What types of additional fees outside of commission do you charge? (Check all that apply.)

Additional fees charged to clients Graph

Of the companies that charge fees outside commission, 71.55 percent of them charge for trash removal/dumpster, 53.97 percent charge for advertising, 29.48 percent charge for professional cleaning, 22.93 percent charge for credit cards, and 22.76 percent charge for disposal fees (chemical, electronics, etc.).

How soon after a client's contract has been signed do you typically start their sale?

Time after the contract has been signed to start sale graph

On average, it takes 16 days after a contract is signed for a company to start their sale.

On average, how many days does it take your company to set up an estate sale?

Average time to setup an estate sale pie chart

On average, it takes nine days to set up an estate sale.

Do you share your sales on social media?

Social media platforms used to advertise graph

When it comes to promoting sales, most companies use social media—only 14.2 percent of respondents choose not to. Which platforms are used has changed slightly over the past year. Facebook is the most popular outlet at 85.19 percent—a 2 percent increase from last year. Instagram is still the second most popular platform. With 25 percent of respondents using it, there’s a 3.07 percent increase from 2017. Twitter is used by 18.11 percent of companies—a 1.11 percent decrease from last year, followed by Google+ (13.37 percent), Pinterest (5.9 percent), Snapchat (1.03 percent), and Reddit (.62 percent).

Does your company have an email subscriber list?

Percentage of companies that have an email subscriber list graph

Email subscriber lists are utilized by 75.41 percent of companies. The other 29.18 percent reportedly do not have such a list. This is a 7.22 percent decrease in email subscriber list usage from 2017. We will be monitoring this number in future surveys to see if this continues to trend downward.

Which paid, online marketing channels did you use over the past 12 months to advertise your company? (Select all that apply.)

Paid online marketing channels used in the past 12 months

Respondents also use digital advertising channels to promote their companies. EstateSales.NET is used by 85.39 percent of respondents, followed by Facebook ads (40.14 percent), EstateSales.org (23.19), EstateSale.com (16.65 percent), Google Adwords (14.65 percent), Twitter Ads (2.76 percent), Bing Ads (.92 percent) and Pinterest Ads (.41 percent). A few—7.25 percent—companies opted to use no paid online marketing channels.

Does your company currently have a website?

Percentage of companies that have a website graph

Most companies (70.82 percent) have a website. The rest (29.18 percent) do not. This represents a 5.57 percent decrease in website ownership from 2017, but this could be explained by a margin of error in the survey.

What is the most common reason your clients need an estate sale?

Reasons a client needs an estate sale graph

Death, at 51.89 percent, was a slightly more common reason for an estate sale in 2018 compared to 2017. (It is up by 3 percent, though it is still within the margin of error.) Downsizing is the second most common reason, at 44.81 percent.

What is the smallest sale your company would be willing to take (in gross revenue of sale)?

Minimum required gross revenue to conduct a sale $8,228

In 2018, on average the smallest sale that companies would be willing to take in gross revenue of sales would be $8,228.13. In 2017 the number was $5659.74.

This is an increase of 31.21 percent, or $2,568.39, in one year. The reason for this is one we can only speculate at this point. Is it an indication of a changing industry? Perhaps expenses have gone up, forcing companies to raise their expectations for a sale. It’s certainly a matter we’ll be monitoring more closely.

Did you turn down any sales within the past 12 months?

Percentage of companies that turned down sales within the past 12 months

In the last 12 months, 88.17 percent of companies turned down sales for a variety of reasons.

What was your reason(s) for turning down sales in the past 12 months?

Reasons companies turned down sales in the past 12 months

Sales were turned down for a variety of reasons in the last 12 months, most commonly because there were too few items available for the sale (79.61 percent) or because the items had too little value (69.74 percent). Scheduling issues (50.21 percent), distance (46.67 percent) and the potential for drama (43.88 percent), were the other most common reasons.

On average, what are your total gross sales for an individual estate sale?

Average gross sales per estate sale $18,565.20

In 2018 the average gross sales for an individual estate sale was $18,565.20. In 2017, the average gross sales were $11,249, but the question itself was worded differently: “On average, what are your total gross sales for an estate sale?” For the 2018 survey, we revised the question to make it clear that we were referring to the individual sale.

Some of the difference could also be explained in the margin of error, and it should be noted that the same individuals may not have taken the survey both years, but this is a trend we will be monitoring.

After the contract is signed, do you allow the client or the client's family members to remove items from the home?

Allowing clients or family members to remove items after a contract is signed graph

When it comes to their clients, the policies of estate sale companies can vary considerably. A common issue businesses face is clients who want to remove items from the home after the contract is signed. Most companies (66.57 percent) allow this to happen, but with some occasional caveats. The majority of companies that allow clients to remove items (36.62 percent) do not have a hard-and-fast rule about whether to charge commision on those items, choosing to do so “sometimes.” A smaller number (around 18.74 percent), always charge commission. A smaller number still (11.21 percent) never charge commission. The other 33.43 percent of companies do not allow items to be removed.

What do you do with found cash?

Found cash procedure graph

A commission is rarely charged when cash is found on the client’s property. Should a company come across money left behind while preparing for a sale, only 17.91 percent of them take commission from it before returning it to the client.

Do you pre-sell items?

Percentage of companies that pre-sale items graph

Most companies (72.10 percent) do not pre-sell items. The other 27.90 percent do. This is 1.43 percent lower than the 2017 survey.

Do you allow early entry into sales?

Percentage of companies that allow early entry into sales graph

Most companies (90.79 percent) do not allow early entry into their sales. The other 9.21 percent do. This is nearly identical to the 2017 survey.

What procedure do you use to let buyers into your sales?

Entrance procedure graph

Estate sale companies love to have a crowd waiting for the sale to start on opening day, and often employ at least one method to keep the crowd orderly. A basic line formation is used by 57.76 percent of responding companies. Line numbers are often used, either assigned to shoppers by the company (34.63 percent) or relying on street numbers—numbering systems the customers create themselves (5.91 percent). A sign-up sheet is also used by 29.73 percent of respondents.

Do you allow your clients to attend their own estate sales?

Clients attending sales graph

Most estate sale companies prefer that their clients remain off the property during the estate sale. No matter the reason for the sale, it can be difficult for their clients to see people in their homes, browsing their belongings. Which is why only 8.59 percent of companies encourage their clients to attend their own sales. The others either discourage the practice (50.83 percent) or don’t allow it at all (40.59 percent).

Do you accept credit cards?

Percentage of companies that accept credit cards at sales graph

The majority of companies—79.15 percent—accept credit cards. Of those companies, most—33.46 percent—do not have a minimum. Almost 27.26 percent require a minimum purchase, and 18.43 percent charge a convenience fee.

Do you collect sales tax at your sales?

Percentage of companies that collect sales tax graph

Very little has changed between 2017 and 2018 when it comes to sales tax. The split is relatively even: 52.23 percent of companies do not collect sales tax. The other 47.77 percent do. Because sales tax laws vary from state to state, not every company is required to collect them. Take a look at our state sales tax article to help determine what is expected in your state.

What do you do with unsold items when the sale is over?

What happens to remaining unsold items graph

When the sale is over, companies must decide what to do with the unsold items. Most companies—76.87 percent—donate items, and 56.46 percent leave items with the client. Both of these responses increased slightly from 2017. The rest stayed nearly the same.

Do you move unsold items from one estate to another?

Percentage of estate sale companies that move unsold items pie chart

With this new question for the 2018 survey, we learned that what happens at an estate sale, stays at an estate sale. Most companies, 84.07 percent, do not move unsold items to other estate sales. The other 15.93 percent do attempt to sell items at more than one sale.

On average, how many days after a sale has ended do you typically pay your client?

The timeframe of payment made to the client after sale graph

The average amount of time it takes a company to pay their clients is 7.25 days—just over a week.

Would you like to see your state regulate the estate sale industry (license requirements, education requirements, etc.)?

The timeframe of payment made to the client after sale graph

Nearly identical to the 2017 survey, 40.60 percent of responding companies feel the industry should be regulated; 59.40 percent do not.