It pays to read your policy. You should have General Liability Insurance to cover injury, damage or theft during your estate sales, but do you know exactly what is covered? An incident at one of our sales lead me to take a closer look at our policy, and revealed some interesting details.
Guidelines for a “Partial” Sale
We were contracted to perform an estate sale for an elderly couple moving to assisted living. They were selling most, but not all, of their belongings, and they were still living in the house. Some companies don’t accept sales under these circumstances, but we do. And we have very specific rules that we clearly communicate to the client, both in our conversations and in our contract.
- Any items that are not to be sold must be either secured by the client, or removed from the home prior to the start of the sale.
- All jewelry and other valuables must be removed from the home.
- We are not responsible for any items left in the home that are not part of the sale.
An Unfortunate Occurrence
The husband showed early signs of dementia, which was confirmed by the wife. Apparently he didn’t remember our instructions about securing valuables and jewelry. He removed two rings from his fingers and left them on the bedroom dresser before the sale. Despite having workers throughout the house who are trained to watch for theft, within ten minutes of opening the sale both rings had been stolen. It only takes a moment to slip something like a ring into a pocket, and it’s gone. Naturally, both the husband and wife were distraught, and asked us to check if our insurance would cover the loss.
Check with Your Agent
- I’m familiar with our policy and was sure the theft (also called a “mysterious disappearance”) would not be covered. But when I called our insurance carrier and talked to them, I was surprised to learn a few things about our policy.
- If the rings had been included as part of the sale and were stolen, they probably would have been covered by our policy.
- If the home had been broken into and the rings (or other items included in the sale) were stolen, they would have been covered as long as there was evidence of the theft (broken door, window, etc.).
- If we broke or damaged an item in the home, it would have been covered by our policy.
A Thorough Inventory
Our insurance representative emphasized the importance of having a complete inventory of all items contracted to be sold, including photos and descriptions. You’ll have photos of larger items you use to advertise your sale, but do you have photos and descriptions of smaller, valuable items such as jewelry, coins, sterling, gold, and art? You should include photos as part of your inventory (attached to your contract), along with copies of any appraisals. This is particularly important in the case of vacant homes, since the chance of an overnight break-in is higher.
Check Your Policy and Contract
Even if you’re sure you know what your policy covers and what is in your standard contract, it’s always a good idea to review both from time to time. Have specific language in your contract stating that non-sale items must be removed or secured by the client, and that you are not responsible for any non-sale items left in the house. You may also want to point out to your client that a theft of this nature may not be covered by their homeowner’s policy.
Donna Davis has over twenty years of experience in the antiques and estate sale business, and conducts sales every weekend in the Greater Atlanta Area. She is also the Founder and Director of the National Association of Estate Liquidators, and Lead Instructor of NAOEL’s online school. You can contact Donna by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 800-521-8820.
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