Rain or shine, estate sales are big business

Nicholas Piotrowicz, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·6 min read

Mar. 21—Walking through a Perrysburg home this week, Gina Layman instructed its owners to hang onto those big Mason jars.

And those ash trays, too.

Also: any toys.

And to save all the baseball cards for a closer look.

And those Christmas ornaments still in the original box? Definitely keep those around.

Mrs. Layman is not a pack rat. In fact, she's the professional opposite.

At this point, she can walk through a home and have a sense for what might be worth something a week or so later — the art of starting an estate sale.

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"There are things that you don't think would be expensive," said Mrs. Layman, who oversees estate sales through real estate sales management firm Sell It All 4U. "And then you look it up and say, 'Oh my gosh, that is crazy.'"

With the real-estate market booming — local agents are having trouble simply keeping inventory on the market — estate sales have been a popular way to solve multiple problems quickly.

Once keepsakes are out of the house, there's the matter of what Mrs. Layman lovingly referred to as "the other stuff": Furniture, full garages worth of tools, decorations, toys, clothes, and whatever else might have accumulated during the owner's tenure.

The estate sale becomes a simple way to check off metaphorical boxes — and to move fewer real ones — by gaining some value for possessions, in the process keeping items out of landfills, clearing the house, and in most cases, moving that much closer to listing the home for sale.

Asked how someone can turn a regular home into something ready to welcome bargain hunters in a matter of days, Carolyn Haney, who works alongside Mrs. Layman, paused for a moment.

"Gina," Mrs. Haney said, laughing. "She's done retail all her life, and she's very good at what she does."

A method to the madness

When someone calls Mrs. Layman — and there has been no shortage of callers in recent months — she must first decide whether or not she will take on the sale.

There are homes that are ruled out because of their condition, and Mrs. Layman has seen just about everything: water-damaged, moldy, harboring surprise animal excrement. She once had to be rushed to the hospital after stumbling upon bees and getting stung.

"I may write a book about my adventures in estate sales," she said.

This week, however, brought a perfect candidate for an estate sale. The owner had a nose for collector's items, with everything from a Super Nintendo in its original packaging to full boxes full of sports cards to assorted items of Americana that are always popular.

The trick is organizing it.

Room by room, the crew goes through the house, evaluates what is there, and comes up with a theme for each room.

"We look to see what it is that's in each one of the rooms," said Charlene Gintzel, Mrs, Layman's sister. "Then we decide what each room can be, so we'll say, 'This one can be the toy room,' then 'This room here is the Christmas room,' and start sorting everything based on that."

Over time, the living room couch became filled with sports cards. One of the bedrooms was dedicated to toys. Another room was a Christmas wonderland.

Mrs. Layman, who once ran Reger's Church Supply and Religious Gifts, a business her grandfather began, has plenty of experience staging in a retail setting.

But pricing is another matter altogether.

"The thing is with this is that you have to look up everything," Mrs. Layman said. "And that's what is so time-consuming."

Ready to go

Preparing for the start of the sale Thursday morning, Mrs. Layman offloaded a washer, dryer, table, and a freezer for more space inside the residence.

The crew worked into the wee hours the previous night to price as many items as they could, though the forecast of poor weather seemed to have no effect on the sale.

By the time Mrs. Layman left for a quick trip home at 4:30 a.m., there was already somebody waiting in their car for the sale to start at 9 a.m. Once it had started, people waited in the rain to enter the house.

Pricing for estate sales is done mostly through online marketplaces, but there is simply no way to be an expert in everything, so Mrs. Layman has a wide network of people with expertise in jewelry, books, eBay, sports cards, and toys to help price items, and the price cards that line the house let customers know that Mrs. Layman knows the value of what is for sale.

The first day is typically the eBay crowd — people who intend to buy at a small discount, then resell online at a profit.

The items that go first are the marquee collector's items: a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle, vintage Tammy and Barbie dolls, tools, clothes, and many of the classic Christmas decorations.

But no matter how many times you've seen an estate sale, you never know what will go on the first day.

"Where do I start?" Mrs. Haney said. "[Thursday] there was this little gnome candle holder. The candle was burnt out and it was 50 cents. A guy came by and says, 'I could make a lot of money on this!'

"It's surprising what people buy."

The end game

By the second day, which brings steeper discounting and beautiful weather, some of the furniture and many of the items that didn't go the day before starts to find new homes

And as the sale approaches its end, Mrs. Layman has contingency plans for just about anything, because the end goal is to keep as much as possible out of dumpsters. She has a go-to scrapper for any metal that has some value, recycles anything that fits the bill, and alerts charitable groups that can make use of things like furniture, suitcases, and clothing. Many of the aforementioned experts will come by after the sale and claim the items that didn't sell.

Many times when Mrs. Layman is called, it's because the owner passed away or went into assisted living, so she feels a sense of purpose with each sale. Ideally, the good sale — and this week's certainly qualified — helps a family makes sense of a loved one's home while finding use for their possessions.

"This isn't going into a landfill," Mrs. Haney said, gesturing to the items in the house. "Gina recycles anything she can and she has a scrapper, so everything we do is about putting the least amount in the garbage."

Once everything is packed up, it's time to begin to look to the next estate sale.

Mrs. Layman usually conducts two a month, which keeps her plenty occupied.

Ironically, Mrs. Layman had no interest in antiques earlier in her life, but has come to love the joyride that an estate sale brings.

"I never liked antiques — actually, I hated them," she said. "If someone said, 'Let's go to an antique store,' it was like, 'Eh, no thank you,' But now I'm obsessed with them. I feel like I learn something new every sale."