It’s a chilly March morning, and there’s already a line of about 50 shoppers a half-hour before the doors open at a Blue Point address. Some look through the windows while others pull on the locked door to see if anything has changed since the last time they tried.
Inside, Denise LoSquadro and her staff are checking on details like merchandise price tags.
When it’s time, she greets the first customers by name as they grab shopping baskets by the cash register. They all make a hasty beeline to the items they’ve come for, clear about what they want to buy, having seen the inventory online. In less than 10 minutes several customers have piles marked "sold."
These shoppers are not at a store: They’re at a tag sale at a modest home, organized by LoSquadro, owner of Sisters in Charge, a family-run tag sale company in Hauppauge.
Among the customers are Mike Anselmi and Allen Treibitz, owners of The Heritage Gallery in Oakdale, who shop for art and Americana to resell; Hugo Miranda of Brentwood, who is looking for vintage Goodyear, Texaco and Shell signs; and Mike Czajowski of Milo Toys & Collectibles Inc., in Oakdale, who scores four bins of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.
For buyers, the hunt for collectibles and household goods is a weekly sport where they run into each other so often they’ve become friends — or rivals, trying to be the first to snag a coveted item. For sellers, it’s a way to earn from $3,000 to $65,000 or more, just by getting rid of things they don’t want or need.
Estate sales are often confused with tag sales: An estate sale results usually when family members liquidate the contents of a deceased relative’s home. Eva Elenson, owner of New York Tag Sales by Eva based in Garden City, said a tag sale occurs when someone wants to sell their own items. The sale can be in the home, or at an online auction or in a warehouse, options that have become popular during COVID.
But spring and fall are the busy season and people are now eager to get out to in-person sales, Elenson said.
On the East End, where residents move often and redecorate their new dwellings, tag sales of the entire contents of the home are a regular occurrence — especially because home sales have increased due to COVID, said Kristen Hanyo, who owns Privet Estate Sales based in Quogue.
That’s a boon to people like Christopher Seriale who comes from Englewood, New Jersey, at least every two weeks to attend three or four East End sales a day.
"About nine years ago I became obsessed because the treasure hunt is really fun," he said. "I’ve updated all the furniture in my own house and turned over all the furniture in my rental properties and even furnished my office."
For Seriale, the draw is in part the high-quality items he otherwise couldn’t afford — and the chance to enter $50 million homes. He’s spent as much as $5,000 a weekend on used items, including bluestone and landscaping materials.
Here are 10 things you need to know if you want to tap into the treasure hunt by having a sale of your own:
1. Evaluate what you have.
Mona Scavo-Scopo, owner of Tag Sales by Mona in Baldwin, recommended walking through the home and deciding what each family member wants to keep. Assigned colored stickers can help.
2. Find personal items.
LoSquadro said gathering personal papers is crucial. You should also look for any hidden items that could be an embarrassment. Scavo-Scopo said clients have found boxes of old marijuana, $10,000 in cash, rifles and pornography.
3. Know what’s saleable.
These items tend to be — but are not limited to — antiques, artwork, books, clothing, coins, dishes, furniture, jewelry, kitchenware, linens, records, silver, tools and toys. Elenson said her company has also sold Koi fish out of the pond, toilets, granite and kitchen cabinets. Scavo-Scopo once sold a used shower curtain and a skeleton (the plastic version).
4. Do your research.
If you have an item you’ve always expected would sell for a lot, Elenson recommends investigating its value. But LoSquadro added that sometimes you’re going to be disappointed. "If you really think it's worth a lot of money, then you should keep it so you don't have any regrets that you undersold it," she said.
5. Be realistic.
Remember that even if it appears new, it’s still used. Hanyo said, "Even if you spent $10,000 on a dining room table, you might get $2,000 for it. You have to be prepared for that."
6. Hire a professional.
One way to determine the value of what you have and to get help selling it is to hire one of several local companies — most of which have been in business for 20-plus years — that can handle the entire sale for you. LoSquadro said that usually with a tag or estate sale, you want to try to have a minimum of $5,000 in items. Otherwise, Hanyo said that it might not be worth paying a fee to a company. Professional fees are about 25% to 45% of the total sales or a flat fee. You could hold your own sale or consider having your items put on consignment in their warehouse sales.
7. Interview the owners.
A Google search of "estate sale companies on Long Island" will yield several options. Hanyo suggests interviewing at least three companies to learn how they manage issues like COVID protocols and to see if you feel comfortable with them because they’ll be handling items that mattered to your family. You should also ask for referrals.
8. Determine what type of sale is best for you.
Most companies will evaluate what you have and recommend the type of sale. For instance, if you have a small number of valuable items, Scavo-Scopo said sometimes it’s better to sell them privately. But if there are enough for an estate or tag sale, they will take professional photos and post them to their own sites and several others, including LISaler.com, for customer preview. If you’d rather have an online auction, LoSquadro said those items are put on a site and people bid just like with eBay.
9. Expect it to move quickly.
LoSquadro said the whole process usually takes about a month in advance of the sale, and many companies have the staff to hold more than one event a day. Most sales are held over two days.
10. Step away on sale day.
If you decide to have a sale in your home, the company will handle the setup and research the items for prices and tag accordingly. The firm will also manage the traffic flow and collect the money. LoSquadro said that if you still have personal items in the home, the firm help you lock them up if you can’t take them. "Your house is open to the public. It's like walking into a mall," she said. Which is why she also recommended not being there, as that can be hard to watch.
What is the most important thing to know about sales? LoSquadro said, "The more you sell, the more you're going to make — and the less you're going to have to clean out the house."
Shopping tips for buyers
Before you head out to a sale, keep these expert tips in mind:
- Eva Elenson recommends getting there a couple of hours before the sale starts so you have a greater chance to get the items you want.
- Research the sale inventory beforehand. "EstateSales.net is the best site that will tell you what type of estate sales and where estate sales are," Elenson said. LISaler.com is another.
- If you see something you like, don’t hesitate because the next person will grab it, said Kristen Hanyo. "Some people come with pre-made labels with the word 'sold' and their name. Dealers are prone to do that. Once you do you’re committed to the item."
- The first day you have to take the price listed, but the second day is negotiable if the item is still there. "If you love something you should buy it the first day because it might not be there when you come back," said Hanyo.
- Because you’re in someone’s home, be respectful of their property and the other shoppers.
- Hanyo added that the experience should be enjoyable. If you miss out on something, don’t get upset as there will be another sale next weekend.
Getting the legal part right
Nothing hinders a successful estate sale more than arguments between the family members of the deceased.
To help prevent that or the sale of treasured items meant to be passed down to a grandchild, Ronald Fatoullah, principal and founder of Ronald Fatoullah & Associates, an elder law firm in Great Neck, advised having clear instructions in your will. If everything is to be divided equally, even a straightforward will takes time to go through probate.
So if you want to avoid any delays, you can also make directives in a living trust.
“Everyone should have a will, but it doesn't take effect until the court receives it and approves of it, which can take several months or more if it’s contested,” Fatoullah said. “Courts are still experiencing delays due to COVID, so the process can be delayed even further. A living trust would avoid the probate process for assets held by the trust and can be established when you create your will.”
These issues matter if your family has to sell your home and the contents quickly.
But Fatoullah cautioned, “The executor or trustee should not go ahead and distribute proceeds from the sale until debts of the estate have been satisfied, as the executor or trustee can be personally liable.”