CLEVELAND — We will call her "Gloria". She is embarrassed and asked that we not use her real name. Her estate sale was simply too traumatic.
"My son said, 'You know Mom, you lost money. You lost a lot of money. All those things you had in the house? You got nothing for it, really," Gloria told us.
A sad tale about the items she amassed over 50 years. When it came time to move to a new, smaller home earlier this year, Gloria knew much of it couldn't come along.
"I had a garage full of things. Two lawnmowers, a snow blower. I had beautiful cabinets in the basement and lots of crystal from Slovakia, from Eastern Europe that my husband brought for me," she said.
When Gloria found an ad in the paper offering estate sale services, she called. The woman on the other end wanted $1500 up front, plus 30% of whatever sold. The two signed a contract.
They held the sale and then came the biggest surprise. The agent made more than Gloria -- and Gloria wasn't done paying.
Gloria said the agent wanted payment for her staff, plus $162 to haul away what didn't sell. Gloria said she shelled out close to $2,000 in all, while her cut, in the end, was just $700.
The agent did not provide a record or inventory of what sold, and for how much.
"It's done with. You have to move on," Gloria said.
As waves of baby boomers downsize, they are increasingly turning to estate sales for this transition. But there is little to no oversight of the industry, not just here in Ohio but nationwide.
The woman Gloria hired had a top grade from The Better Business Bureau. But attorneys say that does not mean what she did was right.
"It's not an area that is licensed and so there's a lot of bad conduct out there," said Mike Hackard, author of The Wolf at the Door, which deals with estate sale issues.
Hackard says estate liquidators can collect anywhere from 22 to 50 percent of total sales. But should not collect beyond that.
"A good one will do everything for the percentage fee. And I'd also point out to people, that they can negotiate this," Hackard explained.
"Don't just take it. If someone says it's 50%, just don't take that at face value," he added.
Hackard's advice to Gloria and others is to talk it out. And shop around, because clearly, not all estate sale liquidators are equal.
In hindsight, Gloria knows she could have just as easily called a charity and received a tax write-off and been $1300 better off.