Estate Sale Guidelines

Do you own an estate filled with items you want to sell? The easiest and most efficient way is with an estate sale. Usually held over a weekend, an estate sale is open to the public, who are allowed to walk through the home and shop.

However, because estate sales are public events, they pose certain risks to homeowners, especially if they’re not conducted by a professional estate sale company. Here’s a closer look at estate sale safety, including how to avoid potentially dangerous (and litigious) situations.

The Benefits of Hiring an Estate Sale Company

The best way to protect yourself is by hiring an estate sale service. A professional company knows how to ensure the house and items are safe for the general public. Before opening the house for a sale, they’ll check for structural instability, mold, and other issues that could create a danger.

Additionally, holding an estate sale yourself puts you at risk of certain legal issues. While homeowners insurance will help protect you if an injury occurs on the premises, it won’t help if you sell an item that’s illegal or results in harm. Even if you sell the wrong type of item accidentally, you could still face fines, a lawsuit, or possibly even criminal charges!

Items Not Sold at Estate Sales

Here’s a rundown of potentially problematic items:


Including firearms in an estate sale gets tricky. Gun laws vary from state to state. Even if your state has minimal requirements for private sales, the process is usually too complicated and time-consuming for the fast pace of a typical estate sale.

Instead, most estate sale experts recommend that you contact a dealer with a Federal Firearms License. An FFL dealer can help you sell guns across state lines and otherwise help ensure all state and federal laws are followed. You can also sell your guns via a firearms auction, which is usually the easiest option if you have a large collection.

While guns often hold a steady value, very few are considered true collectibles. If your estate only has a few guns, you’re better off omitting them from the estate sale.

Along these same lines, the legality of selling edged instruments, such as knives and swords, varies by state. Many states have different requirements based on whether the blade is fixed or folds into the handle. If you’re selling any type of blade yourself, make sure you understand all relevant state laws to avoid accidentally committing a crime.

Food, Alcohol, and Drugs  

Never sell food at an estate sale. It’s impossible to verify how old the food is or if it’s been handled safely. Plus, most states require licenses to sell food to the public.

Liquor is another item you can’t sell at an estate sale. If you get caught selling alcohol without a liquor license, you can wind up in serious legal trouble. You want to remove all alcohol from the premises before the estate sale begins.

Do the same with any prescription medications, illegal drugs, and legal drugs. You’re legally prohibited from selling them, and you want them completely gone from the premises by sale day. Even if you live in a state with recreational marijuana, you can face criminal penalties for selling it privately.


In most states, you won’t find regulations prohibiting you from selling various toxic chemicals, such as lawn care treatments, pool supplies, or pesticides. However, if you decide to sell them, display them safely, away from accidental contact with the public.

Generally, people don’t like to buy anything that’s already opened. When considering the low potential for profit, plus the possible danger to the public, most estate sale professionals prefer to avoid selling any type of hazardous chemicals.

How to Run an Estate Sale Safely

An estate sale company will use several strategies to keep everyone safe and free from injury when on your property. Common techniques include:


Aside from placing promotional signs throughout the neighborhood, the estate company will also put signs throughout your property indicating ramps, steps, slick surfaces, and other potential dangers.


An estate sale doesn’t mean the public has free reign throughout your house. The estate sale professionals will block off access to ponds, pools, crawlspaces, and anywhere else the public doesn’t need to go. Not only does this help keep people safe, but it also helps direct the flow of traffic more efficiently through the estate.

How to Choose the Best Estate Sale Company

The company you choose makes a big difference in how well the sale is run and, ultimately, how much money you make. Look for an estate sale company with the following attributes:

  • Local Presence – Local companies have a local following. If the company has a well-established presence in the area, they’re more likely to have a network of interested buyers who will turn out for their sales.
  • Appraisal Experience – The company should have deep and vast knowledge about the types of items sold at estate sales. By understanding each item’s real-world value, they can set prices that will entice buyers while maximizing your profit.
  • Trustworthiness and Transparency – Estate sale companies typically charge a percentage based on the final sales, so you shouldn’t need to give them any money up-front. Other services, such as appraisals, are typically offered at a flat or hourly rate.

A professional estate sale is the easiest, most profitable, and safest way to sell a large collection of inherited items. Most sales typically include furniture, electronics, kitchenware, clothing, antiques, collectibles, and more.

If you’re interested in learning how an estate sale can help you, or if you’d like to schedule a free consultation, contact Prestige Estate Services for more information.