Estate Sales: No Funeral Necessary

So you're driving along and see a sign: "Estate Sale." I can't help wondering who died. What stuff did they leave behind? But these days, dying is not a prerequisite to bargains.

Tricia Benitez Beanumis is the owner of a small company called L.A. Estate Sales. They go into homes—often high-end celebrity mansions—and inventory, photograph, set prices, and market countless items. Tricia tells me she has seen a distinct change in business. More of her clients are among the living. They may be laid off executives who have to downsize and turn their stuff into cash. Or people who can't handle California's cost of living and are moving to Washington or Nevada. It's also people who have bought foreclosed or abandoned property full of stuff that has to go.

And get this. Say you buy a foreclosed home full of furniture, appliances and countless other personal items. You bought the house—but NOT the contents. And the law requires that you give the former owner 18 days to come collect it. If they don't, then you have to try to sell it. That's where Tricia's company comes in. And even after selling the stuff, you have to give any proceeds (minus expenses) to the city. Jeez! All that trouble and not even lunch money.

Tricia tells me one abandoned property was owned by a hoarder. It was filthy. Her people had to wear masks while they cataloged and photographed thousands of items. They'd open a closet and stuff would come spilling out. They still had to give the hoarder 18 days to come get it all. I suspect the compulsive collector just started again in a new place.

So what conclusion has Tricia come to after four years of estate sale organizing? First, she's a clutter cop. Second—no surprise—we Americans have TOO MUCH STUFF! And these days it's the grim economy and not the grim reaper that is driving that lesson home.

Then again, if you haven't learned your lesson yet, and want to get some GREAT bargains, check out Tricia's website for a preview of upcoming estate sales. I admit I love browsing.

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