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Big ticket estate sale service
By Jean Murphy | Daily Herald Correspondent

Old watches and tin photographs were priced from $20 at an estate sale in Wayne.


Marcelle Bright | Staff Photographer

Christine Acosta, left, shows Carolyn Hicks of Wheaton some of her antique doll clothes during an estate sale in Wayne.


Marcelle Bright | Staff Photographer

Opera glasses sold for $40.


courtesy Key Estate Sales

This antique armoire was priced at $750.


Marcelle Bright | Staff Photographer

Punch bowl set, $220.


courtesy Key Estate Sales

Sofa, $1000


courtesy Key Estate Sales

Eileen and Jim Valek of Roselle pick up this decorative centerpiece during an estate sale in Wayne.


Marcelle Bright | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/6/2008 1:30 AM

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You have decided to move into a smaller home and your children have no need or desire for your excess furniture and knickknacks. What do you do with all of it?

Or your parents have died and left a house full of furniture and other items that no one in the family wants. What do you do in order to maximize the worth of the estate?

Or you are tired of your décor and feel it is time for a total redo. How do you dispose of the furniture and accessories you no longer want without just giving it all away?

All of the aforementioned situations are perfect opportunities for an estate sale, said Christine Acosta, owner with her husband, Cesilio, of Key Estate Sales in St. Charles.

And recently, Acosta said, another scenario has been added to the mix. People who are facing financial difficulties also are contacting Key for help in liquidating items.

"Five years ago, we never even thought about getting business from foreclosures but now it is 25 percent of our business," Acosta admitted.

In fact, late last year they were contacted by representatives of The Oprah Show, asking them to conduct an estate sale for a woman in financial need. They did so, netting close to $13,000 for the woman who could then use it to get a fresh start by renting an apartment and paying for the security deposit, the first and last month's rent and some utilities, Acosta noted.

A 30-second clip about the sale aired on Oprah's Feb. 13 show.

"My husband and I have been conducting estate sales for the past 11 years," Acosta said.

"We have conducted $5,000 sales and we have conducted $100,000 sales and everything in between," she explained. "We have sold everything from Mark Chagall prints and Steinway grand pianos to sets of false teeth.

"For our clients, we offer a way to liquidate items that they no longer want or need -- quickly and allow them to benefit financially," Acosta said.

The benefits are great for those attending the sale, she added.

"Our customers are of every age, income bracket and walk of life," Acosta explained. "In this time of economic instability, customers can purchase a new dining room set or bedroom set for a fraction of the retail cost. Many of these customers cannot afford a $10,000 dining room set, but this is a way for them to purchase one for $3,000 to $4,000 -- sometimes less. Homeowners feel good when they can buy something beautiful for their home that they otherwise may not have been able to afford."

Lisa Riley of Batavia attends estate sales at least once a month, buying vintage and one-of-a-kind clothing, accessories, purses and jewelry to resell on eBay.

Occasionally, she said, she also picks up furniture and decorative items for her own home at the sales.

"Everything I buy and sell is a reusable good so mine is an almost entirely green business, which makes me feel good," Riley added.

The Acostas agreed, noting that an estate sale is possibly the greatest recycling method around. There is a buyer for everything, they said, so why not sell these items to those looking for them instead of putting them out at the curb and adding to the landfills?

The Acostas estimate that they conduct 50 sales each year -- virtually one each weekend. The average sale runs Friday and Saturday but particularly large sales often start on Thursday.

Acosta said it takes six to eight weeks to organize the average sale. They run numerous ads and notices in newspapers, on Craig's List, on their own Web site ( and on They also send weekly notices to their 3,000-person mailing list.

Approximately a week before the sale, Acosta and her staff go to the home to organize sale items and price them. If the homeowners are still living in the house, items not to be sold are segregated in locked rooms.

"We price things based on our experience and knowledge of what items sell for," Acosta said. "If we aren't familiar with the fair market price on an item like a collectible, we research it before setting a price."

During the set-up, Key brings in display cases, tables, linens, credit card machines and cash registers. They provide everything that is needed to display items to the best advantage and to execute the sale.

In return, they take 30 percent of the income from the sale, but don't charge any upfront fees, Acosta said.

Particularly valuable items are usually sold in a silent auction format in order to get the best price. Sometimes Acosta even lists special items directly on eBay for the seller.

"Unlike a garage sale that is put together by the homeowner in a yard or garage, we work to showcase items within the correct environment in the home," she explained. "We set the china on the dining room table, for instance, and because we work to display things like they would in a store, they sell for more than they would in a garage."

The most popular items with buyers are collectibles like Waterford, sterling silver, gold, good china, trains, vintage linens, furs, antique toys, musical instruments, tools, grandfather clocks, pool tables and pinball machines, Acosta said. Rare books, comics, record albums, yearbooks and old religious materials also are prized, as are seasonal items like sporting goods in the spring and snow blowers in the fall and winter.

But unusual things also sell. Acosta recalled that she has peddled some unique things like a set of false teeth that sold to an artist for a few dollars, a throne once used as a prop, a claw foot tub that was seen in the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and a suit of armor.

Any items left after the sale remain with the seller or Acosta has contacts with a charity that will come, box up the items and haul them away, leaving the seller with only a tax receipt to deal with.

"I used Key in the summer of 2003 to help me sell things in advance of a move due to a divorce," said Dori Cotrone of Buffalo Grove. "I did not have the time to sell things on eBay and holding a garage sale was not something I wanted to do because I had a lot of nice pieces that warranted more than a garage sale could bring in."

"My sale went very smoothly. Key is very organized and knowledgeable on pricing items. I sold most of my things and made a good amount of money to help me move and create a new home," she added.

Raija Casey of Elmhurst agreed. She used the Acostas to stage an estate sale in the Mount Prospect home she had sold in order to move into a smaller place.

"I had so much stuff to sell that they had to hold a three-day sale instead of the usual two-day sale," Casey admitted. "It would have taken me years to sell all of that on eBay."

But Casey was wary about trusting her items to the Acostas after hearing horror stories about other dealers skimming extra money from sales. So unbeknownst to the Acostas, she quietly took an inventory of her items after Key had priced them and compared her list to the accounting they gave her after the sale.

"They did not cheat me out of a penny," Casey said. "They were so honest and I was thrilled. They sold almost everything I had, even things I would have never expected anyone to buy and they were a pleasure to work with."

Gated communities and condominiums present special difficulties when it comes to disposing of unwanted items because estate sales are usually not permitted in these situations, Acosta said. So they are currently negotiating for a showroom where consigned pieces and items from these types of homes can be sold.

How an estate sale works for the buyer:

The day before the sale (usually Thursday) a sign-up list goes up on the front door of the house where the sale will take place. Buyers stop by and put their names on the list.

At 9:30 a.m. on the first day of the sale, numbers are issued to people based on their place on the list.

When the doors open only 10 to 20 people are allowed in at a time for security purposes. People enter in order, based on their numbers. When someone leaves, another person is allowed in.

On the first day, prices remain firm and competition between buyers is fierce. Prices are more negotiable on the second day.

Upcoming sales

April 11-12 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 3541 Emerson St. Franklin Park

April 18-19 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 1657 Stonebridge Trail Wheaton

April 25-26 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 3404 Royal Fox Drive St. Charles

May 2-3 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 36W948 Walnut Ridge St. Charles

June 5-7 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday 3N850 Emily Dickinson Lane St. Charles