You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.
Estate Tips
Know your options. Auctions may be good for high-value items such as tools, vehicles and real estate, and they often can sell real and personal property in a single day. Estate sales generally span at least two days but can sell large household goods. Garage sales generally are better for clothes, shoes and smaller household items. Consignment shops are an option for furniture and décor and sometimes vintage clothing; online selling is a choice for unique items, antiques or items with a specific audience, such as motorcycle memorabilia.
R esist the urge to purge. Don’t throw away items until a professional looks at them. Jean Allen, owner of RePurpose Estate Sales in Fort Wayne, recalls a set of antique lawn darts that a seller was going to pitch – but she knew that even single darts were fetching up to $200 online.
Don’t cherry-pick too many items to sell privately. Says Melody Kolke, owner of Melody’s Estate Sales in Logansport: “You need everything in the sale to pull in all kinds of buyers. If you just have tools, you’ll have no women, and if you just have linens and costume jewelry, you’ll have nothing to pull in the men.”
Don’t try to clean out a house in a day – or even a weekend. Even with help from professionals without an emotional attachment to items, sorting and pricing can take days or weeks. Allen says it’s important to go through drawers and piles for items with monetary, sentimental or historical value for the family. “You never know. You have to open everything,” she says.
Make a family plan in advance. If there are several relatives involved, get together separately to decide how to handle the estate as well as specific items, especially if a will is not yet in play. You can’t expect professionals to delay working while siblings squabble. “It’s hard to be around confrontation,” Allen says. “You’ve got to cooperate with the dealer. I often tell people that is what (the relative) would have wanted.”
Expect some items to bring less than you expect. Some items – large china sets and dining room furniture, for example – “are a difficult sell,” says Kolke, because not as many families have formal dining rooms today. She adds: “We know that what you got 15 years ago, you don’t get today. There’s not as much disposable income.”
Decide whether you want to be present at the sale. It can be draining, but someone familiar with items also can provide history to buyers. “But if a family member is in tears, it’s hard for a customer to associate an item being in their home,” Kolke says. A compromise: Be introduced at the start but leave and carry a cellphone for questions.
An antique razor, with the original blades still in the case, is among treasures she’s seeking buyers for.

Helping lighten the load

Estate sellers aid clients ready for downsizing

Jean Allen of Monroeville turned the job of going through her parents’ possessions into a business – RePurpose Estate Sales and Services.
Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
An old chair gains new life under the care of Allen, who helps clients sell personal property. Sometimes she buys items to spruce up and resell herself.

Last October, Jean Allen faced a task dreaded by those who’ve reached middle age.

Her parents sold her childhood home in Rhinelander, Wis., and had 30 days to move themselves – and nearly 60 years’ worth of stuff they’d accumulated during their marriage – into smaller quarters.

“They had lived there for 38 years, so they had this huge accumulation of things,” says the Monroeville woman. “I told her, ‘I’ll be up,’ and I went through the whole house with my mother.”

It took about a month, but after a successful two-day sale, Allen, 54, a former corporate executive assistant, knew she’d found a new career – in a field that’s growing thanks to 21st-century demographic and lifestyle trends.

Families are living farther afield, the baby boomers’ parents’ generation is dying or moving into assisted-living or nursing homes, and the boomers themselves are busy with their own families and careers.

“They don’t have the time to go through stuff,” Allen says.

Enter Allen’s Fort Wayne affiliate of Re-Purpose Estate Services, as yet a one-woman company that organizes estate sales as an alternative for people faced with the prospect of disposing of excess household property.

Despite its name, an “estate” sale doesn’t necessarily require a death, Allen says. The sales are sometimes called “tag sales,” and the term “estate” simply refers to an individual’s personal property, she says.

Potential clients include those who are downsizing, selling a second home, getting a divorce, remarrying, facing bankruptcy or foreclosure or just moving.

The real distinction, Allen says, is between what she does and the time-honored public auction.

Unlike auctions, Allen explains, items at estate sales have been pre-priced. There’s no auctioneer’s patter or competitive bidding, although private haggling often comes into play, she says.

That aspect has its ups and downs, depending on whom you talk to.

Josh Lewis, 23, vice president of The Steffen Group, a real estate and personal property auction company in Fort Wayne, not surprisingly, sticks up for auctions.

“An auction, if it’s properly advertised, attracts buyers that really know what things are worth, and it will drive up prices if there is fierce competition in bidding that day,” he says.

“You’re not going to lose a lot of value. … At the end of the day, things will average out, and generally you’ll have a higher return.”

Allen disagrees.

“Auctions are great for the people who go because of the deals, but they’re not always great for the seller,” she says.

That’s because sellers often don’t know which items might fetch more money if sold another way, and auctioneers can’t negotiate price once they get a final bid.

She cites a German-made Hoffritz antique chrome razor, apparently never used and in its original case, that didn’t sell locally.

“I’ve seen them for $400 to $500 online,” she says, adding she’s willing to take the extra step of selling online to maximize value.

Melody Kolke, 59, owner of Melody’s Estate Sales, a Logansport company that has run many estate sales in the Fort Wayne area, says they’re becoming more popular.

Her company is already on pace to surpass its 35-sale mark from last year, having already completed 23 sales this year, she says.

Kolke says some buyers prefer estate sales because they don’t have to wait through multiple auctions to purchase an item – and they don’t have to buy unwanted items in a box-lot or pairing.

“We price things to sell,” she says. “We do sell between 95 (percent) and 98 percent. If (clients) tell me they want it gone, I’ll do our darnedest best to get it gone.”

If items don’t sell, they can be donated to charity if that’s what the owner wants, Allen and Kolke say.

Allen says the Internet has opened up a whole new level of marketing available to estate sellers. Not only does it let them reach both wider and more specific audiences, but it also helps them quickly find out what an item is and compare what the same or similar items are fetching elsewhere, she says.

Another aspect of her business, she adds, is her affiliation with Cari Cucksey of HGTV’s “Cash and Cari” reality-based estate sales series. The tie-in offers Allen the expertise of Cucksey’s family in Michigan and a network of price experts and business training, Allen says. Hers is the first Indiana affiliate.

For their services, estate sale professionals charge a percentage of the total sale, 15 percent to 30 percent, with extra fees for additional services such as cleanup or dumping.

Kathy Carrier, 52, of Fort Wayne, said the money was well spent. Not only did Allen stage a successful sale, but she also cleaned her parents’ home so it sold in a matter of days.

“She made it look like an entirely different house. She not only did a great job, but she took a hard thing for me emotionally and made it into a fun little project,” Carrier says.

Sometimes, Allen says, she can’t resist estate items, and she buys them herself to repurpose and resell from a workshop in her barn. She says she likes passing on possessions’ histories as well as the items themselves.

“I think respecting people’s possessions and their stories is the best thing about what I do,” she says. “Whether they’re worth a dollar or a thousand dollars, they need to be respected.”