Auctions vs Estate Sales: Understanding the Differences and Making Informed Decisions

Auctions vs Estate Sales: Understanding the Differences and Making Informed Decisions photo

When it comes to selling personal property involved in an estate, there are two predominant methods of doing so: auctions and estate sales. Frequently, when we receive calls from clients they are not aware that there is a difference between auctions and estate sales. Understanding the distinction between these two approaches is very important to ensure that sellers find the right solution for their unique situation. Let’s take a look at the differences between these two methods, so you can make informed decisions surrounding the sale of your estate assets.

Estate Sales: A Closer Look

Purpose: Estate sales typically involve selling the contents of a home. They are commonly held when someone passes away, downsizes, or relocates. The primary aim is to clear the household of unwanted personal belongings.

Format: Estate sales are usually conducted over several days. Buyers attend in person to view and purchase items. Prices are generally tagged on items, buyers often negotiate the price down from there. 

Management: Estate sales can be managed by estate sale companies, family members, or the executor of the estate. They are responsible for handling pricing, organizing items, and overseeing the sales process. Estate sales do not require licensing and are not regulating by a licensing agency. 

Scope: Estate sales are typically well suited for household goods such as furniture, decor, collectibles, jewelry, and other personal possessions. Estate sales are often considered large-scale garage sales, allowing buyers to negotiate pre-established prices. 

Auctions: An Overview

Purpose: Similarly to estate sales, auctions are effective for selling assets in various situations including estates, downsizing, & relocation. 

Format: Auctions are time limited events that can occur online or in person. Auctions rely on competitive bidding between buyers to drive prices up.

Management: Auctions are conducted by professional auction companies. These companies handle cataloging, marketing, and overseeing the bidding process. In most states, auction companies must be licensed and are governed by their respective state licensing board. 

Scope: Auctions can encompass a wide range of items including real estate, vehicles, equipment & machinery. They often focus on higher value items than estate sales. 

Key Differences & Considerations

Sales Approach: Estate sales use fixed pricing & negotiate down from there, while auctions employ competitive bidding.

Management: Estate Sales can be handled by companies or individuals, they are not required to be licensed. Auctions are conducted by auction companies, these companies are required to be licensed and are governed by licensing boards. 

Common Items: Estates sales commonly focus on household items, while auctions typically focus on more valuable items within an estate like car collections, business assets, firearm collections, & real estate. 


Auctions and estate sales are both commonly utilized methods of selling estate assets. Understanding the differences between the two approaches is vital to ensuring that you choose the method that best suits your situation. Hopefully this article has provided insightful information into the differences in purpose, management, process, & scope of these two avenues. Use this information to pursue the method that will best align with your objectives to increase the chances of a successful selling experience. 

Written by: Alex Bourland, MBA, CAI

Auctioneer, Pearce & Associates

Pearce & Associates Auction Company is a family based company founded in Birmingham, AL nearly 40 years ago. We opened an office in Charleston, SC in 2019. Our firm specializes in online auctions of estates, business liquidations, collector cars, and real estate. We are a part of MarkNet Alliance, ones of the nations largest auction groups. If you are interested in our services, or know of someone that could use our services, please reach out to us at [email protected] or 843-860-7141.