Selling all or part of the contents of a home tends to follow one of the three Ds: divorce, downsizing or death.
Professional estate sale companies are often called in, but many no longer operate like the ones that dispensed with your grandparents' belongings. As shopping continues to migrate to the Internet, so too have estate sales, with all or part of them now taking place online.
"If you don't have an online presence to advertise your sales, it's going to be difficult to get much reach," said Boni Wish, who operates Grasons Co. City of Angels, a full-service estate sale planning firm.
Michael Judkins, founder of EstateSales.org estimates that 60% of estate sales are traditional in-person sales, and 40% have some form of online auction format.
Although online sales require more upfront work to photograph and post items, they offer advantages. It's more convenient, out-of-town shoppers can participate and hurdles posed by gated communities and restrictive HOA policies can be avoided.
In 2007, Jacquie Denny and Brian Graves founded Everything but the House as an online estate sale company that liquidates estates with a blend of e-commerce and online bidding. The site, with detailed photos and modern typography, mirrors the look of upscale fashion and decor sites.
After running in-person vintage and estate sales in Cincinnati for 20 years, Denny saw changes in the buying habits and lifestyles of a new generation of estate sale clients and shoppers.
"We were finding fewer people wanted to be out at 6 a.m., even if they loved vintage," Denny said. "We also saw that more and more moms and dads were living in a place where their children were not. The support that moms and dads in past generations got through their transitions were often no longer available."
Local Everything but the House teams sort and photograph sale items. Sales run online for five to 10 days, with each bid starting at $1. Shoppers can filter the site for nearby sales, which take place in 23 cities, including Los Angeles, where the company has headquarters and a warehouse.
Depending on how the sale is structured, winning bidders can choose to pay for shipping or local delivery or pick up items for no extra charge on a set date.
Clicking through a computer screen removes a lot of the personality that comes with walking through a person's home during an estate sale, but the search for great finds doesn't change, Wish said. "It's always a treasure hunt."