How to get the most from auction services

If you want to be happy with the end result of an auction or estate sale, do your homework long before the gavel strikes.

“Auction services” has been one of the most complained-about categories on Angie’s List for several years, with almost 30 percent of consumer reviews earning D or F grades.

Many members report that while their initial interactions with auction or estate-sale pros seemed fine, post-sale problems ruined the experience.

Unhappy consumers cited issues with proper accounting for funds or property, unexpected fees, missing items, late or no payments, and items sold with steeper-than-expected discounts.

So if you’re planning to hire help with disposing of a loved one’s estate, or with downsizing for a move, heed the advice our researchers gathered in interviewing highly rated pros, consumers and others.

Make sure the company is not only reputable and reliable, but also has experience selling the kind of items that you plan to sell.

Keep price expectations realistic. Be aware that no matter how much sentimental value you may place on something, it’s ultimately worth what someone is willing to pay.

If an estate sale is planned to last more than one day, expect that discounting will occur to reach the goal of having everything sold.

If you’re planning an on-site auction, which generally occurs at a set time on one day, make sure you have sufficient parking, bathroom facilities and a display area.

The cost of hiring a pro can vary. In talking to highly rated auction and estate-sale pros from around the country, our researchers learned of options ranging from a flat fee based on total profit to a commission of 30 to 40 percent.

Before you hire an auction or estate sale company, get clarity about the following details:

Credentials: Verify local requirements; auctioneers must be licensed in about half the states.

Contract: Don’t neglect to read it or to ask about anything that’s unclear.

Fees: Ask about any and all that might be charged. Examples: photography, advertising, setup, pricing, labor, tables, tents, and cleanup or trash removal. Some companies may also charge consultation or per-item fees.

Bonding and insurance: Make sure the company has coverage, so you don’t end up liable if someone’s hurt on your property or if employees aren’t paid.

References: Ask for references and take time to contact them. If possible, attend an auction or sale managed by the company.

Permits: Make sure your neighborhood or locality allows sales or auctions. Some require a garage sale or auction permit. Be clear if you or the company you hire is responsible for getting the permit.

Price cuts: Ask in advance how much discounting to expect.

Payment timing: Ask when you should expect to receive your post-sale check, and include that information in the contract.

Unsold items: Some companies may offer to take care of leftover items themselves. Be sure you’re comfortable with what ultimately happens to anything unsold.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care; www.angieslist.com/.

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