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The way today’s estate auctions work, you can generally pick among “fast, cheap and easy.” Depending on how many items you have, what type, and your time and money constraints, you can generally find an auction process that delivers two out of three. Our guide will help you choose the right auction for you.

The best auction method depends on what you have to sell. Our guide outlines the pros and cons of each method, and summarizes what works best for your collection. The happy ending? If you have the right combination of items, and you need to move quickly, you can actually get all three – fast, cheap, and easy.

How an Auction Company Estate Sale Works

Some online auction companies work by taking your stuff to their warehouse, listing it for sale, then paying you a percentage of the proceeds.

Pick Two: If your goal is to empty the house quickly, this option is fast and easy, but not cheap.

Pros: Your items go away, so you don’t have to store them, show them, or manage the sales process. It’s never a guarantee, but online bidders can often drive up the price higher than when selling directly to a single person at a fixed price.

Cons: Auction companies may only take high-value items to sell (you must empty the rest of the house), and they have a minimum project size. They charge as much as 50% of the sale price in fees. And it can take several months before you receive your check.

Works Best For: High-value items (download our top 10 list) that will earn good money even with the fees. This is a good option for people who don’t have time to manage a sale themselves, or need to empty the house quickly.

Get the Auction Checklist: Know What Will Sell

How an Estate Sale on Property Works

There are also auction companies that will to manage an estate sale at your house. An auction company will list your items online, manage the sales process, and staff your house the day of the auction.

Pick Two: For emptying a house and converting items to cash, this option is easy and cheap (because you can sell nearly everything and earn more money in relation to the auction company fees).

Pros: People will buy almost anything! By the end of the sale you are likely to have a fairly empty house. Then you must schedule a donation company and trash service to clear out the rest.

Cons: Estate sales can take weeks or even months to stage and promote, and you pay mortgage and insurance costs during that time. Is it worth it? You may not earn that money back, or earn enough to cover your time and energy. Also, expect hundreds of people to traipse through your house on sale day.

Works Best For: Someone with little to no holding expenses on the house, and lots of household items that don’t necessarily have high value for auction or specific collectors.

How a DIY Estate Sale Works

Instead of hiring an auction company to manage the estate sale at your house, you organize and manage the sale yourself. Plan to work hard before, during and after the sale.

Pick One: Managing an estate sale yourself is not easy or fast (click here for our DIY checklist) It is, however, cheap, because you don’t pay auction company fees.

Pros: You set the auction date, and you control the pricing.

Cons: This method takes a lot of time and hassle, including haggling with buyers on sale day, and arranging for pickups. And you’ll need others to help on sale day.

Works Best For: This is the best method for someone with lots of time, who needs to get the best value from a collection of everyday household items.

How DIY Online Auctions and Sales Work

List your items one at a time with online auction or sale platforms, like eBay, Craigslist or specialty collector sites.

Pick One: This option is cheap, since you do it yourself, but it’s not fast or easy.

Pros: If you have few items and lots of free time, this is the best way to earn the most money. Craigslist and other sites are free, while eBay charges a sliding scale.

Cons: Your time may be worth more than you’ll earn back in sales. You must research prices, list the item, handle showings (and no-shows), storage, shipping or pickups, and collecting payments.

Works Best For: Someone who has plenty of free time, extra storage space, and is selling a handful of specialty or valuable items.

How a Consignment Auction Works

Some auction companies accept items on consignment. You load up a truck and carry your prospective sale items to the auction company to be evaluated on the spot, and accepted or rejected for later sale.

Pick One: If you need to clear things out of the house, and you’re pretty sure they are worth something, this option is fast and easy, but those auction company fees aren’t cheap.

Pros: You get those items out of the house immediately, and someone else manages the sale.

Cons: Auction companies can reject up to half the items, and they’ll charge up to 50% of the sale price in fees for the things they do sell. Whatever they don’t take, you must then figure out how to get rid of.

Works Best For: A potentially valuable collection that you don’t have time to sell online yourself.

How Our Auctions Work

We work with families to sort everything in the house, helping decide what to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Then we pack up everything and get it where it needs to go, including to the auction company.

Pick Three: Because we can clean out a house quickly, and our auction fees are lower than average, this option can be fast, cheap, and easy.

Pros: We can empty an entire house within days, plus cart away all the trash. We know what items will sell at auction and what should be donated. Our auction partners pass lower fees to you because we streamline their work process.

Cons: The auction itself can still take weeks, and we can’t guarantee sale prices.

Works Best For: A busy, stressed, or grieving person with little time, overwhelmed by a house full of items.

Working with an auction company, the process of emptying a house can be customized to your needs. Fast, cheap, and easy – choose one, two, or all three as your goal, and then select the right auction option to help you get there.


At Legacy Navigator we work with families in transition. We can empty an entire house within days, sorting what items to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Our employees pack and move everything, then prepare the house for sale. Call us for a free consultation.

Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.