What To Ask When Selecting a Business To Clear a Home

In this first of a series, I explore the process to sort and distribute items in the home, what to be aware of plus some useful tips.

When the situation arises that you need to clear a home of its contents because a family member has moved elsewhere or passed away, there are many businesses offering these services.  But, the approach they take when sorting and distributing the items varies quite dramatically.

At Clear Space, 100% of the value of all items when sold are returned to the client. It really is the only justifiable outcome.

Some businesses, irrespective of their size or the time they have been operating are opportunistic and to win a job, will quote a low amount.  But in return, they will keep all the contents and therefore, the proceeds from whatever is sold.

Clients will often have little knowledge about the value of the contents and may be easily talked in to handing them over.  “There’s not much value here” is what they’ll be told.

What might look old, have some damage, seem incomplete or be buried somewhere, often will have significant value.  

Take for example the items pictured below. The sideboard is worth hundreds of dollars, despite the general condition and damage. 

This tiny sewing machine oil can sold for $200 and the small box of costume jewellery $165.

And this piece of artwork, that measured only 20cm x 9cm, sold for $700. The examples are endless.

But it’s not just the obvious, in sight, items that need to be considered.

Having been clearing homes since 2012, I regularly find significant amounts of cash, coin & stamp collections, jewellery, investment information, ingots, precious artwork and other valuable items.  That’s because older people prefer to use cash, have deliberately hidden items and sadly, because of dementia, have forgotten about these items.  And family never know.

If the contents of the home were surrendered, these found items, and their value, will be lost forever!

And should you have a role as Executor, you have a duty to ensure that all the financial assets are located, protected and then distributed to the beneficiaries.

Some of the best outcomes is also the sentimental or significant items I find that get returned – war medals, family history, Wills, authored books, financial paperwork, personal letters, family history and property titles are just some examples.

In every instance, these have been returned to the client, much to their relief and delight. 

So when selecting a business to clear a home, ask “who keeps the value of the items sold”?

Look out for the second article in the series “Donating Items Is Not What It Used To Be”

Sell or donate? Here’s how to decide.

You’ve done it. You’ve decided to de-own an item and say goodbye to it. What next?

Well, it’s another decision – sorry! You need to decide next on what you’re actually going to do with the stuff. There are a few options that can be simplified into:

  1. Sell
  2. Donate
  3. Recycle or landfill

If you’ve decided it’s too good to toss, you’re down to two options – give away or sell. Sometimes it’s an easy decision. If the item is worth thousands then yeah, you don’t have to agonise too much. But what if it’s maybe worth something but you aren’t completely sure and need to figure it out?

There are two things to consider when deciding whether to sell or donate. The first is how much time you have, the second is how much money you have (or need).

  1. If you have time but no money

    Selling stuff takes a lot of time and effort. There is research to be done, people to call, photographs to take, things to upload, people to message, space to find to put the stuff in the meantime … it’s a fair amount of work.

    However, if you have the time and need the money, selling privately via Facebook groups, special interest groups, specialty dealers etc WILL be worth it financially. You could also try a Garage Sale or a car-boot sale too.

  2. If you have money but no time

    Honestly – just donate it all. Call a charity and have them come and collect it in one go. It’s fast and it’s easy. Not to mention good for the charity that receives it!

  3. If you have money and time.

    Donate it, but go the extra mile and find small, specialty charities that the stuff goes directly to those in need. It’s very satisfying to know your stuff is going to be well used and appreciated. Ask your friends for their favourites and curate a list that suits you and your passions (and the stuff you have!).

  4. If you have no money and no time

    Try an auction house – you just have to pack it all up and get it there, and they do the rest (they take commission for their trouble but you still get around 75% into your bank account). Or you could hire someone (a student, family member, someone on Airtasker) to sell the items on your behalf for a cut.

If you’re still on the fence, ask yourself if the stress is worth it. Is losing $50 of potential sales worth it for the shorter to-do list on the weekend? Look at it like it’s an investment in your mental health. That’s like spending $50 on therapy!

A privilege honoured with transparency

This business is so much more about people than stuff. And anyone who tries to tell you differently either hasn’t done what we do, or does it very differently to how we do it!

Helping people move from one stage of their lives to another is a privilege to be a part of, and we always do our best to honour that privilege.

Other businesses “clear out” homes – we transition homes from one stage in their history to the next.

Other businesses “buy your stuff” – we help you re-home your treasures, treating them and your relationship with them with the respect they deserve.

Other businesses “move people” – we take the weight of people’s shoulders.

We really love it when we find treasures for our clients, things they didn’t know they had hidden away, or things they didn’t know had value.

Not too long ago we found a hidden, genuine Japanese sword from World War 2, a set of dog tags and a photo of our client’s father from the war holding the sword.  Our client thought this was lost many years ago.  The delight she had when we returned these items was so rewarding for us.

We pride ourselves on our transparency – all of the items we find that have value are always returned to the client or sold with the full proceeds going directly to the client.

Did you know that there are businesses that advertise a similar service, but they instead offer an amount money in return for clearing out the home, and in the process keep everything they find? In these cases, there could be some real treasures you may never even know you or your family members had.

At another home recently, we found four pure silver ingots hidden away.  Again, we returned the proceeds to our client – these other businesses would have kept this for their own benefit.

Again, it’s a privilege to help people in this transitional phase of their lives, and we pride ourselves on making sure we honour that with transparency and honesty at all times.

If you ever get quotes from an auctioneer, estate clearer or other similar downsizing service, make sure you ask all about their policies regarding sale and disposal of items so that you can be sure you don’t fall victim to any of these methods.

Leaving room for the warm fuzzies

When you declutter or downsize, there will be items that are challenging to make decisions on. There are various reasons, but one reason is definitely that there is a sentimental connection somewhere.

Sometimes it’s an item that reminds you of a past event, or even just a past feeling. It could remind you of blood, sweat and tears that you put into it. It could have been given to you by a loved one, or someone who has passed. It gives you a good feeling that you don’t want to lose.

When you have more stuff than space, it’s important to reduce your belongings – it’s actually necessary. However, you don’t need to give up on off of the things that fill your heart and soul.

When you are decluttering and downsizing, it’s fine if you want to set aside some space for your memorabilia. For some people, it’s a really important piece of who they are.  They key is to be intentional about how much space it can take up. If you’re moving into a smaller home, designate a certain storage area in the new home for your warm fuzzies.  Ideally, you’ll use them and they’ll be in the daily cycle.  Second priority would be to display them. But even if there’s no room to do either (or it’s not appropriate to display Great Grandpa’s love letters or your school reports), you can set aside a space somewhere out of the way to keep them safe.  Sometimes just a few items can meet the same emotional needs as the whole lot.

It’s okay to make space for your heart, just as long as you do it intentionally and it takes up only a helpful amount of your living space.

Being able to keep some things that give you the warm fuzzies is important.

The “zone” method of decluttering

When we help clients downsize their homes, or help with an estate clearance, one method we advocate of cluttering and sorting the home is to use zones.

When it’s us that’s clearing the home, we help the client create an “unwanted” zone, where they put everything they don’t want.  Given that we are experienced at knowing what is sell-able, donate-able or just recyclable, we encourage them to not throw anything away, but just to put it in the Unwanted Zone. Then we go through it and sort it into where it will ultimately end up.

But you don’t need us to do this. If you have a large clearance to do, you, too, can also use the zone method. When your Unwanted Zone is full, you then ferry things off to the charities, or the auction house, or other family members and then you go back and start filling it again.

If you work systematically through each room in the home, leaving the wanted items where they are and putting the unwanted items into the Unwanted Zone, you also eliminate a lot of double-handling that can come from shifting items from room to room, or re-sorting something you’ve already gone through.