|All photographs courtesy of Kuzak's Closet|
Visiting an estate sale is like discovering a time capsule that when opened, explodes with all the objects collected over a lifetime.
As Americans live longer and healthier lives, their aspirations often go beyond the idea of retiring, sometimes being called to new adventures that might mean starting anew in an exotic locale or moving to a smaller home. Many of retirement age, and even younger, are turning to what Amanda Kuzak of Kuzak’s Closet, Silicon Valley’s premier organization firm known for producing top-tier estate sales, likes to call a living estate sale.
I recently caught up with Amanda, who told me how she and her team help clients to quickly move years of merchandise out the door and secure top dollar to finance their bright futures.
ET: Why would someone want to have a living estate sale?
AK: In most cases clients choose to have a living estate sale when they are downsizing or moving out of the area. In a handful of occasions we also have organized them in the case of remodeling or divorce. In Silicon Valley people are either moving up or moving out, so there is always a need for a sale.
ET: How do you begin when considering a living estate sale?
AK: Clients always begin by figuring out what to get rid of, but this is actually the OPPOSITE of what they should be doing. They should only focus on what they want to keep and take with them. Once they figure that out, they should ask their friends and family if they want anything. And then, they should leave everything else up to the estate sale company.
ET: How do you decide what to keep and what to sell?
AK: I recommend starting with a space plan based on where they are going
and to factor in the cost of moving. There is no sense paying $350 to move a sofa that you no longer love and that won't fit, right? Start with the practical and then move into the sentimental. I say it in that order because being clear about what is practical will give you a clue on how much room you have for sentimental items.
ET: When items are sentimental, but you’ve just got to get rid of things, how do you pare down?
AK: Determine what is irreplaceable and be creative on how you can "keep the memory" of things instead of keeping the physical object. Kuzak's Closet recently worked with a client to downsize five storage units of sentimental items. In the end, our client kept 10 percent of the items. We coached him through keeping what he actually had room for in his life/home, and then we took photos of bulky things so he could keep a much smaller memory.
ET: Are there items that you might think you shouldn’t sell, but might want to reconsider?
AK: Furniture! Furniture is bulky, hard to move and loses its value quickly unless it is classic mid-century modern and extremely unique. The smaller the item, the more likely it is to resell, the exact opposite of what 90 percent of clients think.
Vintage family photos always seem like an odd thing to sell but our shoppers cherish them. They tell a story, and it's fun to see that story go home with someone at a sale.
ET: How do you price items?
AK: I look at the estate as a whole and develop a benchmark of value. If the home is in nice condition and I think the average priced item will be $95, then I will price with that middle ground being the barometer. For a vintage estate totally packed to the gills I might think the average item is only valued at $15, so that will change things. I also price things based on how difficult it is to move out of the house, how much time it would take to disassemble, the risk for the item to cause damage on the way out, the volume of like items we have and the need for the item to help with the success of the sale.
For example, if the estate is dark, I am going to price the lamps much higher than I would normally because I need them for the sale. They will also be more noticeable to shoppers and therefore be more desirable, which means they have more value in that situation. Bottom line, there is more psychology behind pricing that most people think, it's something
I've figured out over the years, which is part of the reason Kuzak's Closet estate sales are so popular.
ET: Are there items that are typically overpriced?
AK: For our sales we try not to overprice anything, we know we only have two to three days to sell the item, and we want shoppers to see the price tags and get excited to buy things.
ET: Are there items that are typically underpriced?
AK: Furniture would probably be No. 1 and then household items. You can
really get good deals on stuff like tin-foil and cleaning products at estate sales. Last week my husband put a $10 roll of tin foil in his cart at the grocery store and I was like, "Put that back; I can get that for 25 cents this week at our estate sale!"
ET: Should people participate in their own “living” estate sale?
AK: The only way they should participate is by choosing the items they want to keep. It is not a good idea to have the family at the estate sale in any circumstance. Shoppers want to have an imagination about who lived at the house and they also want to buy things without feeling guilty. My biggest "flop" projects were those that the family or client was present.
ET: How important is merchandising?
AL: Merchandising plays a HUGE part in the estate sale success. We spend time figuring out lighting, creating vignettes and moving around merchandise so it always feels fresh. We also clean up at multiple times during the day, sometimes even vacuuming during the sale. I always want shoppers to feel like they are the first shopper in the door. Pricing is also huge. No one wants to ask for prices, so if you have tags on at least 80 percent of the items available, it gives shoppers an idea of what you are looking to get for an item that might not be priced.
ET: And maybe a word on cleanliness?
AK: All odors can be a problem, especially smoke and pet odors. It really impacts the resale value of furniture, rugs, and clothing. For our estate sales, we are strict about requiring that the house is free of odors or grime. But for our estate liquidations, the grosser the better. That service is a bit of a pickers paradise, so shoppers love the thrill of the hunt and the mystery. We recently liquidated a house in Los Altos where the 95-year-old owner was so lonely that he started feeding rats in his home. You can only imagine the odors in that place!
ET: How should you manage expectations for a living estate sale?
AK: Always think about it as a service. Shoppers are coming into your home, paying you for items you no longer want and hauling it away so you don't have to. It's a win-win for everyone and the fastest way to sail into the sunset, in my opinion.
AK: Hmm, it's always tough when the client is living because the attachment to the items is more real. For the Palo Alto clients that we recently helped, they were worried they would need to throw everything away or coordinate weeks of donation pick ups. We coached them into just focusing on what they wanted to keep and putting their energy into packing it up and moving out. We would handle the rest. We spent one day merchandising, researching, marketing and pricing, and then had the estate sale a few days later. The sale was from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and was totally sold out by the end of the day. The clients walked away with $15,000…pretty amazing!
I would agree. Now click on over to Kuzak’s Closet and be inspired by the gorgeous estates Amanda and her team create. I know I am.
The Elegant Thrifter