2020 Estate Sale Industry Survey
2020 was quite a year! In 2017, we began surveying our customers to understand the estate sale industry better and learn how trends shift over time. Each year we provide the results to our customers to see how their company stands on a national level.
We were eager to share the 2020 Estate Sale Industry Survey and learn how or if the companies had to adapt to the changes everyone endured over the last year. The results, for the most part, were surprising because they stayed about the same.
The survey was sent to around 14,000 estate sale professionals, and 1,131 companies participated. A summary of the 2020 results is provided below. If you want more detail, take a look at the full data report. You can also take a look at the 2019 survey results for comparison.
What type of sales do you conduct?
The types of sales that companies conduct have stayed fairly consistent over the years. In 2020 we saw a slight reduction (-3%) in companies conducting just estate sales and an increase in companies conducting both auctions and estate sales (+3%). This increase is within the margin of error but will be a trend we pay attention to in future surveys. We also saw a 3% increase in auction-only companies from 2019, but this increase was only about 1% higher than the 2018 survey. These small fluctuations are within the margin of error.
What is your gender?
The estate sale industry is a female led industry. This has stayed very consistent over the past four years of surveys. 65.5% of estate sale companies are led by females while 32.4% are male led. 2.1% preferred not to say.
What is your age at the time of taking this survey?
58 is the average age of the survey respondents. This was identical to the 2019 survey.
What is the highest level of education you have completed?
The majority of estate sale professionals (90.38%) have completed at least some college all the way up to completed Doctorate degrees. 60.4% have a college degree.
Is your estate sale business your primary source of income?
We have seen this fluctuate slightly over the years. When looking at the industry survey, the answers are relatively split down the middle of companies that conduct estate sales as their primary income and those that do not. In 2020 we saw a slight increase in companies that have their estate sale business as their primary income (51%). In 2019 it was 49.5%. This increase is well within the margin of error for the survey.
In which state are most of your sales located?
The estate sale industry is spread throughout the United States. Texas and California were our two largest states that survey respondents headquarter their business in. 13.1% of survey respondents are in Texas, and 6.6% of respondents are in California.
How many years has your company been conducting sales?
Over the past four years of conducting surveys, we have found that the average years a company has been conducting sales is 15 years. This has stayed the same for all four surveys.
On average, how many sales do you conduct a year?
In 2020 the average number of sales a company conducts yearly was 29. This is a decrease by two average sales per year that was found on the 2019 survey. This small fluctuation is within the margin of error.
Does your company currently have a business license?
State and local laws can greatly affect whether a company is required to have a business license to operate. In 2020 we saw 74% of companies have a business license and 26% of companies do not.
How much staff (including yourself) do you typically have on hand during each sale?
The answer to this question has stayed very consistent over the years. The average amount of staff, including the company owner, is five members at each sale. We were interested to see if this fluctuated in 2020, but it did not.
Did events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic reduce the number of staff members you employed in 2020?
This was a new question for the 2020 Industry Survey. 40.6% of companies saw the pandemic reduce the number of staff members they employed in 2020, where 47.9% of companies did not reduce their amount of staff due to COVID-19. 11.5% do not have staff.
What is the average hourly wage paid to your staff/workers?
In 2020, $13 was the average wage paid to workers. This is a $1.00 increase in the average wage paid to workers over what was found in the 2018 and 2019 surveys ($12).
How do you report the majority of your workers’ income?
Eighteen percent of companies report their workers’ pay through a W-2, while over half of survey respondents (56%) report their workers’ income as contract workers (1099). We did see a 4.5% increase in 1099 reporting from 2019, where 1099 reporting was at 51.43% of workers. The differences year over year could be seen within the margin of error.
Do you currently have workers' compensation insurance?
Companies holding workers’ compensation insurance is 19.11%, while 61.89% of companies do not. This has not changed much year over year.
Do you conduct background checks on your employees?
The results from this question saw a notable change from 2019. In 2020, 27.2% of companies conducted background checks on their employees. This is up 5.2% over 2019. 52.4% of companies do not conduct background checks on their employees. This was down 5.6% from 2019.
Does your company currently have liability insurance?
2020 saw a 4% increase in companies that have liability insurance at 76%. In 2019 companies that had liability insurance was 73%. 24% of companies do not have liability insurance.
Is your company currently bonded?
In 2020 38% of companies were bonded, while 62% of companies were not currently bonded. This has stayed relatively constant across the years of surveys.
Do you use a Point of Sale system? If so, which one?
Square has remained the top point of sale system that estate sale companies are using (46.95%), while PayPal Here did see a slight increase (within the margin of error). Cash Register with categories saw a slight decrease over what was found in 2019.
Does your company take items on consignment?
This question remained the same as 2019, where 45% of companies do take items on consignment while 55% do not.
Do you own a consignment shop?
In 2020, 91% of companies did not own a consignment shop, while 9% of companies did.
Do you offer estate sale buyouts as a service?
This question did see a change from 2019, though some of the change could be seen within the margin of error. In 2020, 32% of estate sale companies offered buyouts as a service, while in 2019, 27.7% offered buyouts as a service. This is a 4.3% increase. We will watch this in future surveys to see if this is a trend. We have heard of more companies offering this service in areas where COVID-19 impacted holding in-person sales. 68% of companies do not offer this as a service.
Are you a certified appraiser?
19% of companies are certified appraisers, while 7% of companies have one on staff. 57% of companies use a certified appraiser. 43% of companies are not certified appraisers and do not have one on staff or use one outside of the company.
What source(s) do you use to price your items?
Completed eBay listings are still the top source for pricing items (86%), while experience is a close second at 81%. Worthpoint is used by 38% of companies, and Live Auctioneers is used by 34%.
Do you require a signed contract for each sale?
4% of companies do not require a signed contract for each of their sales, while 96% of companies do require a signed contract. This is the same as what was found in the 2019 survey.
What is your average commission rate?
Over the years of conducting industry surveys, the average commission rate has fluctuated very little, often hovering around 35%. This year the average commission rate was 36%.
Do you charge your client any fees outside of commission?
49.8% of companies charge clients fees outside of commission, while 50.2% do not. This was a nearly 5% change from the 2019 survey where 55% of companies did charge fees outside of commission while 45% did not.
What types of additional fees outside of commission do you charge? (Check all that apply.)
Trash removal (70.8%), Advertising (50.4%), Professional Cleaning (28.8%), Credit card fees (28.6%), Disposal Fees (Chemical, electronics, etc.) (23.9%), and Moving Fees (18.9%) were the top six fees charged by estate sale companies.
How soon after a client's contract has been signed do you typically start their sale?
The average time it takes for a company to start a sale after the contract is signed is 15 days. This is one day less than in 2019 (16 days)
On average, how many days does it take your company to set up an estate sale?
This number has remained consistent. On average, it takes a company 9 Days to set up for an estate sale.
Do you share your sales on social media?
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the top social media networks companies use to share their sales. Facebook is the leader, with 87% of companies using it. This is a 4.15% decrease from 2019. Instagram is second, with 34% of companies using it to advertise, followed by Twitter at 14%.
Does your company have an email subscriber list?
This has changed a little since 2019, but it is within the margin of error. 73% of companies have an email subscriber list, while 27% do not.
Which paid online marketing channels did you use over the past 12 months to advertise your company? (Select all that apply.)
Outside of social media, there are other online marketing channels that companies use to advertise their sales. Estate Sales.NET is used by 82.7% of companies, followed by 39.9% of companies using Facebook Ads. EstateSales.org is used by 18.7% of companies, and Google Ads is used by 15.7% of companies.
Does your company currently have a website?
71.5% of companies currently have their own website, while 28.5% of companies do not. This has remained fairly consistent year over year.
What is the most common reason your clients need an estate sale?
50% of the respondents answered that death is the most common reason for an estate sale. Downsizing/Moving was a close second at 46.5%. Divorce came in at 0.1%, and Business liquidation at .3%.
What is the smallest sale your company would be willing to take (in gross revenue of sale)?
Since 2018, the smallest sale a company would be willing to take (in gross revenue of sales) has stayed very consistent. In 2019 it was $8,317. In 2020 it was $8,283.
Did you turn down any sales within the past 12 months?
This was probably the most significant change that we have seen in questions comparing surveys year over year. In 2020 83% of companies turned down sales over the past 12 months. In 2019 that was 92%. 17% of companies did not turn down sales in 2020 compared to 8% in 2019.
What was your reason(s) for turning down sales in the past 12 months?
This year we added a new reason for turning down sales to the list. The additional reason was COVID-19 restrictions. 32% of companies said that COVID-19 restrictions were a reason they turned down sales in 2020. This was the eighth most common reason. The top reason (76%) was because of too few items followed by items of little value (67%). The third greatest reason was that the sale was too far away (45%), followed by unrealistic expectations (39%)
On average, what are your total gross sales for an individual estate sale?
2020 saw a slight decrease in the average total gross sales for an individual estate sale at $18,029. In 2019 it was $19,000.
After the contract is signed, do you allow the client or the client's family members to remove items from the home?
65% of companies allow the client to remove items from a sale after the contract has been signed. 12% of these companies do not charge a commission on the items. 16% always charge a commission on the items. 37% only sometimes charge their commission on the removed items. 35% do not allow items to be removed from the sale after having a signed contract.
What do you do with found cash?
18% of companies return found cash to their client but take a commission. This is down 4% from the 2019 survey. 82% of companies return the found cash to the client without taking a commission. This is up 4% from 2019.
Do you pre-sell items?
35.35% of companies will presale items while 64.65% of companies will not. This has remained fairly consistent year over year. We saw the largest jump of companies that would presale items in 2019. This year it went up by around two percentage points (well within the margin of error).
Do you allow early entry into sales?
88% of companies do not allow early entry into their sales, while 12% do. The amount of companies allowing early entry into sales has slightly increased since 2019, but the increase is within the margin of error.
What procedure do you use to let buyers into your sales?
This has stayed very consistent over the years. Line formation (58%) is still the most popular way to let buyers into sales, followed by a signup sheet (33%), and finally, numbers the company provides (30%).
Do you allow your clients to attend their own estate sales?
48% of companies will allow their clients to attend their own estate sales but discourage them from attending, while 44% do not allow their client to attend their own sales. 8% encourage their clients to attend their own estate sales.
Do you accept credit cards?
82% of companies accept credit cards at their sales, though they do have different policies around accepting credit cards. 22% of companies accept credit cards but require a minimum purchase amount. 40% accept and do not require a minimum purchase amount. 20% accept with a fee. 18% of companies do not accept credit cards.
Do you collect sales tax at your sales?
Not every company is required to collect sales tax because of how the laws vary from state to state. 55% of companies collect sales tax, while 45% do not.
What do you do with unsold items when the sale is over?
74% of companies donate the items, 55% leave the items with the client, 44% Dispose of the items, 31% sell items to resellers, 23% take items on consignment, 14% buyout the remaining items.
Do you move unsold items from one estate to another?
16% of companies move unsold items from one estate to another, while 84% do not.
On average, how many days after a sale has ended do you typically pay your client?
This has not changed much year over year. On average, it takes a company about seven days after the sale has ended to deliver payment to their client.
Would you like to see your state regulate the estate sale industry (license requirements, education requirements, etc.)?
This question saw a significant change from 2019. In 2020, 36% of companies felt the industry should be regulated—a 6% decrease from 2019. In 2020, 64% of companies believed it should not be regulated. This is a 6% increase from 2019.
Did you incorporate online estate sales or online auctions into your business model at any point in 2020?
This was a new question for the 2020 Industry Survey. 33.4% of companies incorporated online estate sales or online auctions into their business model in 2020. 51.4% did not incorporate online sales, while 15.1% were already selling online before 2020.