Entrepreneurial estate brokers value their experiences
By MELODY JAMESON
SUN CITY CENTER – It’s probably not the shortest route to riches, but managing estate sales here as well as in other South County communities is a rewarding road to travel.
It’s a small business characterized by the warmth of long friendships, the camaraderie of regular customers, the glee of a startling bargain found, the opportunity to give genuine selfless service to another - and a window on the human condition like few others.
This is the picture painted with enthusiasm by three long-time brokers working here – Kim Boyett, a key figure in her family’s 14-year-old business, Anne’s Estate Sales, Beverly Parker, long established real estate sales professional heading Beverly’s Estate Sales for the last three years, and Nettie Phillips, proprietress of the brokerage that now is the oldest in the area at 15 years, Nettie’s Estate Sales. Each is a skilled hand at conducting successful sales in which weeks of labor-intensive effort behind the scenes have been invested. Not one of them wants to do anything else.
Estate sales, unlike yard , garage or tag sales, refers to liquidation of an entire house’s contents, from its furniture to the bed linens and kitchen utensils, from the patio barbecue to the yard tools, from the books and tapes to the personal jewelry and private scrapbook collections. Sales often are initiated by an elderly surviving spouse downsizing before moving to smaller quarters, by children headquartered in northern states whose Florida retired parents have passed on, by attorneys settling an estate with no living relatives, even by Realtors marketing a property for an out-of-state family.
The whole house sales are popular with casual shoppers and dealers alike because of the opportunity to buy quality items – often soon turning up on EBay and Craig’s List – at a fraction of the original cost.
Between them, Boyett, Parker and Phillips have 32 years of experience dealing with sellers and buyers who can have very different objectives, spouses grieving the loss of a mate after decades of marriage, long-distance children either totally disinterested or intensely suspicious, housefuls of accumulation mounting to overflowing, foreign or specialized antiques and collectibles with high market values.
In general, the estate brokers structure their businesses similarly. Each executes a contract with the official property representative, taking a commission of 25 % of the gross sale amount. Each schedules and pays for the necessary advertising. Each researches rigorously on the internet and in books the values of high ticket items.
Each has help in preparing a house for sale. Each can spend from a week or six weeks processing a home’s contents – gathering, cleaning, pricing – depending on the house size and amount of furnishings. Each usually conducts a two-day sale, Friday and Saturday, with full price expected the first day, half price the second. Each handles sales in Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, Riverview, Ruskin, Wimauma, Sundance, as well as Sun City Center, although SCC sales, accessible by golf cart, draw the largest crowds.
The differences are in the details. Boyett’s basic team of seven essentially is family, consisting of her brother, Keavin Bennett, his son, Ryan, along with her parents, the business founders, Gil and Anne Bennett, as well as close family friends Debbie Wheeler and Jim Hartford. Parker, on the other hand, operates with a crew of two long experienced in the business, Nancy Gologanoff, Jane Cianciolo, along with herself and a mover. Phillips is backed up by eight helpers, Joan Ambrose, Lou Barger, Mabel Fender, Annie Griffin, Andrey Hayghe, Janet Minnick and Lillie Wilson, along with her daughter, Amanda Phillips.
Some of the assistants are paid for their weekend efforts, others are strictly volunteers who enjoy the sales atmosphere.
And, while Friday and Saturdays sales are the norm, Phillips has been known to add in a Thursday to the schedule when she has run two sales in one weekend and Parker has done a three-day sale. Boyett and Phillips prefer 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. sales hours, while Parker sales usually run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The brokers also differ somewhat in their focuses. Parker, for example, stresses staging a house, placing goods for sale in their logical locations, striving for the furnished home look. “And, I don’t fool with garage sale stuff; nothing dirty or broken,” she emphasizes. Boyett points to the importance of accurate pricing. The objective is to sell at the highest price for the seller yet preserve the bargain for the shopper, she says, “Our job is to satisfy both.” And, Phillips says the day before a sale she alone inspects the showing. “I’m something of a perfectionist. If a home doesn’t please me, no one gets through the door until it does.”
They don’t agree, either, on what are hot sellers at the moment. Parker says she’s not seen much China moving, no matter how exquisite. Phillips, though, notes of late she’s seen grandmothers buying services for 12 for their granddaughters as “something to pass down to the younger generation in the family.” Boyett adds that linens, kitchen accessories and jewelry sell well while the one category that cannot be given away, other than during the holiday season, is Christmas décor. On the other hand, they all agree without hesitation, guys like the tools.
And, yes, sometimes a customer walks off with an outstanding bargain. Boyett tells of a woman who not long ago purchased for $2 to $3 a broach which bore no maker’s mark and therefore could not be researched. She took it to Bogg’s Jewelry for appraisal and returned to confide the jeweler valued the piece at $800. The sale, of course, was final. Boyett adds that her most expensive sale item to date has been a late model Lincoln Towncar going on bid for $12,000.
More often, though, the humanity of estate sales relates to the conviviality they induce. Boyett says that the same customers attend sale after sale; “they bring their coffee and their lawn chairs and sit in the yard. It’s a party.” Phillips echoes the sentiment, noting the sales are “social activities” for many followers “who meet and greet regularly.” Then, too, Parker points out, “there’s a whole life in that house” being opened for content liquidation.
They’ve also seen some sad situations, they say. Phillips thinks of the new widow who did not drive, could not handle a checkbook, was completely unprepared to survive without her late husband. Going beyond the role of estate broker, Phillips ultimately intervened with some matters to protect the woman’s interests, she recalls, adding “she was so stressed out, I was stressed out for her.”
Boyett is reminded of the house whose cupboards were littered with plates of uneaten food stashed by a disturbed resident who had lost touch with reality, and of another new widow who was trying to deal with liquidation of her home within days of her husband’s death. She could not stop sobbing. “We advise people to take the time to grieve” before trying to empty the home, Boyett adds.
Something else the brokers generally acknowledge is that the current recession has impacted their businesses. All of them have sales booked weeks, if not months, ahead, but there also have been necessary cut-backs.
Boyett notes they are not conducting sales the last weekend of the month “because people have run out of money.” Brokers know how much they need to break even on each sale, she adds, and it’s not always possible to meet just the breakeven point. “We’re seeing new faces learning to recycle useful goods, but not necessarily increased spending,” she adds. When asked if the business still is profitable, Phillips replies succinctly “not now. It used to be and I think it will be again, but not right now.” She’s lowered prices, she adds. Parker suggests it’s increasingly necessary to be smart about pricing sale items. At her sales, for instance, a sofa tagged $400 on the first day, which would reduce to $200 the second day, will be sold to the customer willing to pay $300 late in the first day, she says.
Yet, despite occasional people problems and a discouraging economy, the brokers insist they’re in the game for the long haul. “We’ve met some of the nicest people in the world” because of the sales, Boyett asserts as Phillips emphasizes “you leave part of yourself in these people’s homes. It’s a people thing with me. I would miss the people.” And Parker sums up “I have no regrets. The more you’re in it, the more you like it.”
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson