The estate sale business often brings Carol Holmes into contact with families who are still emotional about a member’s death or move.
It can on occasion get even a little crazy, as with the daughter who threatened to slit Holmes’ throat if items she thought were hers were sold.
But in most cases, families are just sad about saying goodbye not only to loved ones, but also to the material things that belonged to them.
“I try to emphasize that we’re celebrating these persons’ lives,” Holmes, owner of H and H Estate Sales, said. “We always play music. I try to make it a fun experience. And it’s a great way to recycle and pass along joy to other people.”
Holmes, who was born in Winfield and has lived most of her life in Wichita, said she’s been fascinated by old things for as long as she can remember. She’s had the entrepreneurial bug nearly as long, starting her first business painting house numbers on curbs with her brother when she was 6 years old. She’s also worked 25 years as an accountant, ran an antique shop in Kechi for two years and had booths at antique shows in Texas and Colorado.
Holmes and a partner who’s no longer involved started H and H Estate Sales eight years ago.
She averages one or two sales a month and hires from two to seven people to help with the work. In addition to families, Holmes often gets jobs from bank officers, probate attorneys and Realtors.
The typical sale takes nearly two weeks of preparation time, she said, and usually requires cleaning or throwing away items before she ever gets around to pricing them and marketing the sale.
Her biggest sale to date emptied the contents of an east Wichita home with three buildings and a semi trailer – all stuffed with objects.
"I even sold the semi trailer," Holmes said.
Furniture, china, pottery, jewelry and books are the mainstays of her business, but there are oddities – like the VIBE “energy machine” she recently sold from the home of a holistic healing enthusiast, or the church organ that brought $3,500.
Fine jewelry and books from the mid-1800s are items that bring some of the highest prices.
Holmes also sells a lot of items that can be repurposed to women who have their own cottage-industry businesses doing just that.
Holmes said she’s one of about eight estate sales businesses in Wichita that operate steadily. She sends out emails to antique dealers and other regulars.
“I call them my groupies. They go to everyone’s sales,” she said. “That’s part of the fun of being in this business.”
One change she’s noticed is that, because of tight economic times, more families are holding estate sales themselves. Holmes said most underestimate how much work goes into a successful sale. She takes 30 percent of the proceeds from sales she handles, which she said is typical in her line of work.
Holmes said she records every sale. “A lot of (estate sale) companies don’t do that. It’s just a better way to track the money.”
She said it’s a mistake to think that all the great buys are gone early in a sale. Half the fun for regular estate sale shoppers is waiting until prices are discounted on subsequent days of the sale.
“It’s kind of a mental game, if you will,” she said. “That’s what makes it a challenge.”