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North Hills Monthly

Estate Sales and Auctions Answer Downsizing Need

Feb 27, 2019 12:33PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Photo courtesy of J.D. Llama Appraisal & Estate Service

As we age, we often find that many of the material things that were so important to us at one point no longer have as much value. Some people want to rid themselves of items so that they can downsize; collectors of art and jewelry may have realized that their tastes have changed. Still others may be dealing with an influx of items as part of a parent’s or loved one’s estate. For all of these reasons and more, a real estate sale or auction may provide a solution to having too much stuff.

“People call us for a couple of different reasons,” explained Judi Stadler, owner of J.D. Llama Appraisal and Estate Service, located in Carnegie, PA. “Some calls are because a parent has passed, and the children need to sell items in the home for the estate. We’re also getting more and more calls from seniors who are moving to smaller homes or retirement communities and want to take control of downsizing their own items.” 

In many cases, dealing with a lifetime’s worth of objects can be overwhelming. Stadler offers a free home consultation to determine if an estate sale is the way to go, or to offer other options. If the client chooses to have a sale, her company will categorize the items, including collectibles and antiques, research their worth, price them and stage the objects for sale. 

“We want to make sure that there are enough items to make it worth their while to have a sale,” said Stadler. “If you’re going to have 300 people walking through your home, you want to have enough inventory. If there is not enough, there are better ways to disseminate items, including having someone purchase the lot.

“While these sales are traditionally done in the home, I have two buildings in Carnegie that we use if an apartment or condo association does not permit estate sales,” she added.

While every sale is different, Stadler says the average for a Pittsburgh estate sale is between $5,000 and $6,000. Depending on the particular business, estate liquidators may get a flat fee or a percentage of the items sold. 

Caring Transitions of Pittsburgh offers its clients the option of having a physical estate sale or selling items through an online auction. “While we specialize in seniors, we can help anyone in the process of transitioning from a house to a smaller residence or who needs to liquidate items,” explained owner Leslie McKinney, adding that the company can assist with space planning, hiring and supervising movers, packing items and more.

A free, in-home consultation is provided to help clients determine what type of sale would work best for them, including the option of offering certain pieces to private buyers. “We want to make sure that an estate sale or online auction is going to have sufficient quantity to offset the costs of our services,” said McKinney. “We don’t want them writing us a check; we want to write them a check. Our goal is to see that the sale of their items pays for our services.”

According to McKinney, online auctions differ from estate sales in a number of ways. “When you have an estate sale, you’re putting all of your eggs into one basket,” she said. “It may take place for eight hours on a Saturday, but if the weather is bad, it will impact attendance. An online auction can last 7 to 14 days, which gives people time to bid. It also provides national exposure.” She added that many people also aren’t comfortable with buyers traipsing through their homes and prefer a more private experience. 

Clients with high-end items with values of $300 up to more than $1 million may also choose to go the online route to connect with specific collectors, according to George Kaliada, Ph.D., gallery director for Aspire Auctions in Pittsburgh. Aspire sells 20 different categories of items from fine art to jewelry to vintage cars. 

“If the client has a few pieces, they may choose to come to our gallery on Ellsworth Avenue and have us take a look, or if they have quite a few pieces, they can schedule a house call for us to come inspect things,” he explained. “We may be able to produce an auction estimate on the spot, or it may require us to do additional research before we can provide an estimate.”

If a client hires the company, all of the items are packaged and shipped to Aspire Auction’s headquarters in Cleveland, where they are professionally photographed and listed for auction. In addition to Aspire’s Pittsburgh location, they also have offices in Chicago, Glencoe, IL and Williamsburg, VA.

Why Hire a Professional instead of DIY?

According to Stadler, one of the biggest benefits to hiring a professional service is that they understand market trends. “We know what is losing or gaining in value,” she explained. “We are also able to draw quite a crowd because estate sales are very popular—we actually have estate sale ‘followers.’”

Another benefit, especially in the case of loss, is that families don’t have to be present at the sale. “For many people, there’s quite an emotional aspect; there are memories attached to items, which makes it difficult,” said Stadler. “I’ve talked to people who have tried to do it themselves, and they say they’ll never do it again.

“There’s so much stress,” she continued. “It’s so much easier to have someone take the process from beginning to end, and you’ll probably make more money, because they know what items are worth. Some people are so anxious to sell they’re practically giving things away.” 

One of the biggest advantages to online auctions is the ability to reach people all over the world. Aspire Auctions’ events, which last nine days, attract an average of 1.2 million combined website visits each day. “Having exposure to this whole world of collectors is a huge advantage,” said Kaliada.

He added that having a professional offer a current auction estimate also benefits the client. “People tell me that they had an item appraised in 1960, or even 1980, so they think that they know what it’s worth,” he said. “But the market changes quite dramatically; tastes change and the economy changes. What may not have been popular a decade ago—like mid-century modern décor—is coming back.”

Finding the Right Match

Pittsburgh has a number of companies that provide these services, and it’s important to find the right fit. While the state doesn’t require certification to run an estate sale, it’s smart to find a company that has a proven track record. 

“We’ve sold everything from potato peelers to sterling silver, but we don’t know the cost of everything, so it’s important that a company knowns how to research, or has experts that can help them determine the value of items,” said Stadler, adding that J.D. Llama works with professionals to price everything from books to pens to records. “You also want them to show respect for your items.”

According to McKinney, just because one company’s commission structure is lower than another, doesn’t necessarily mean that the client will make more money with the lower commission. “You need to ask what other services are included and what additional expenses you might incur,” she said. 

“In an estate sale, it’s also important to find out if items are researched and priced ahead of time and what happens if an item doesn’t sell, because different companies have different practices,” she added.

Aspire Auctions, for example, charges a commission of 20 percent, which includes taking photos, doing research and providing insurance. 

“What many people don’t realize is that some auction houses expect them to provide their own insurance, which can be expensive,” said Kaliada, adding that Aspire provides its own “very substantial” umbrella insurance. “We also pay clients 30 days after the sale; other houses may make them wait from two to eight months.”

When you’re ready to keep the memories but part with the stuff, it’s wise to have a professional help. To learn more, visit JD Llama at, Caring Transitions of Pittsburgh at and Aspire Auctions at You can find a directory of estate liquidators at