Getting the most for furniture you no longer want or need

Selling Used Furniture and Household Goods

by Gary Foreman

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Dear Dollar Stretcher,
We have furniture from a five-bedroom home in storage. Eleven pallets have been there for four years. We would like to take it out of storage, look over what we have, take out the stuff that we do not want to sell, and have someone take care of selling the rest of it for us. What would be the best plan of attack for this?
George and Jeanne

George and Jeanne are not alone. According to a Self-Storage Association Study, approximately 9% of U.S. households currently rent a self-storage unit. That's up from 6% in 1995. So a lot of us have "stuff" in storage!

Related: Estate Sale Handlers

What's the best way for George and Jeanne to separate the things that they want to keep and get rid of the rest? The first step is going through the stuff and picking out the keepers. Those items should be separated from the things that will be sold. It's also a good time to make a list or inventory of the items that will be available for sale.

The next question is whether George and Jeanne want to handle the sale themselves or have someone do it for them. It sounds as if they prefer having it done. If that's the case, contact a company that does estate "liquidations" or "tag" sales. Look in the yellow pages under "estate sales" or see who's advertising tag sales in your local paper.

The advantage of dealing with an auctioneer or liquidator is that it's usually very easy for you. It's pretty much a matter of staying out of the way and collecting a check when the sale is over. The downside is that you may be paying someone to dispose of goods that are not that valuable.

Once you've contacted a professional liquidator, expect them to make suggestions as to the best method for disposing of your goods. Depending on the quantity and value of the items involved, they may suggest having an on-site auction, moving the items to an auction house or having a "tag sale" where the goods are currently stored. If you're planning an auction or sale at the storage site, check with the storage company to find out any restrictions they might have.

For tag sales, the liquidator should set the prices for all items. Expect them to charge 20 to 30% of the sale proceeds for their services. All costs and commissions should be clearly specified before you sign an agreement.

Once you've decided what method to use, they'll decide when to hold the sale and how to advertise the sale.

Anyone who's attended an auction or tag sale knows that many household goods simply don't have much value. Unless you have very high quality furniture or items that will attract collectors, most items are worth pennies on the dollar. That can make hiring professional salespeople relatively expensive.

Related: Why I Buy Estate Sale Furniture

You'll probably end up with more money if you sell the items yourself. Furniture can be sold to second-hand furniture stores or through an ad in the local paper. Collectibles can be sold to dealers or through online auctions. Have a bottom line price in mind. You'll probably need to negotiate a bit to get the best price for your items.

If you have trouble finding someone to buy your bigger items, an auctioneer or second-hand store may be willing to take them on consignment. Smaller items can be sold in a garage sale or George and Jeanne might want to give the items to a charitable thrift store and take the tax deduction.

Expect to spend some time handling the sale. Only George and Jeanne can decide whether they'd rather spend their time or money to arrange the sale.

Depending on what they have, George and Jeanne might not make that much. But, that's not to say that they shouldn't try to sell excess stuff. Even if they gave the items away, they'd be financially ahead. To store eleven pallets could easily take a 20' x 10' storage space. Depending on where they live, that space could cost between $100 to $250 per month. No matter what size space they've rented, it's money largely wasted.

Like George and Jeanne, if you have items that have been in storage for years, it's probably time to see whether you're storing valuable items or just running up a monthly storage bill. Hopefully, their sale or auction will be a huge success.

Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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  • Follow these guidelines to determine the best price at which sell your used furniture.
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