By Bill Ackerman

The first tag sale that I attended was in February of 1974 and it was held in a small town about 25 miles from Iowa City. In the past 46 years tag sales have become much more prevalent and an affordable alternative to cleaning out a house or an estate. A family or an estate has only one chance to liquidate an estate or downsizing situation and needs to do it the right way.

First of all, a tag sale is usually held at a home or estate residence and items are displayed in the “home setting” so it is appealing to the buyers and collectors who will attend the sale. Occasionally you will find a tag sale that has been transported from a home to an event venue which multiplies the work load for the tag sale conductor and the expenses would increase greatly.

When we do a tag sale, whether it be an estate or a downsizing situation, we tell every client several things. First of all, if there is something in the home that someone may want, do not put it in the sale. If it would happen to sell, it is gone forever. It is better to make sure that a family member gets to keep the item that was their family’s rather than sell it just to make a few bucks.

Secondly, I tell each tag sale situation that it is their sale, not mine. The client is the most important consideration when doing a tag sale and it is your goal to give them the best tag sale you can at the best possible price so that they get their fair share of the proceeds at the end. Yes, your customers are very important, but you would not be having a sale without a client.

Also please don’t make the mistake of taking too long to clean out a house in prepping for selling the property and preparing for the tag sale. I know families who have done this and it costs approximately $1,000 per month to maintain the property while you are going through items. Those items may be only worth a few thousand dollars. One family had more than $30,000 in property expense and there was less than $5,000 of total value of home contents.

The primary concern for the person or persons managing and conducting a tag sale for an estate or moving situation is garnering a large interested crowd through well placed and widespread advertising to reach as many people as possible to attend the tag sale who will hopefully come to buy what is available and to do it at a fair price.

Advice for families and estates considering a tag sale:


This is the most important aspect of considering who to get to do your tag sale.

Always choose a local tag sale promoter/conductor: A local promoter who does tag sales is easy to get good references on and will likely do a more thorough job than an “out of towner.” They will also be more readily available to deal with any situation that suddenly arises. The “out of towner” may not know your community and where to advertise. They may not know the local customers who may not attend the sale as they do not have recognition of the “out of towner” customer. Your local person will likely also have an e-mail list of local customers as well as perhaps a mailing list of contacts that have already attended their previous sales. You also will avoid the possibility that you will incur travel expenses from the “out of towner” who may charge extra for their travel to and from the sale.

Be sure that you are comfortable with who you choose for the sale. If you find yourself dealing with someone aggressive and is really jumping to do your sale, that could be a red flag that they are in it more for themselves than you. Also, when it comes to sale day, you will want the checks made out to the family or estate involved, not to the tag sale manager. It is cleaner bookkeeping at the end, and it is the responsibility of the tag sale manager to present their billing (total sales, advertising costs, any help that has been hired, and the commission owing.

I have heard of instances (and one I know personally) where a tag sale conductor did a sale, and never paid the family for several tens of thousands of dollars- worth of items involved. This is very rare, and that again, is why you want to hire someone who is local and reputable.

Again, always use a professional who is knowledgeable, particularly in antiques and the specialty items that are scheduled to be sold.


First of all, do not think that you can only just put an ad on Facebook or a similar website and get a crowd. It does not work. I know of a sale awhile back that was only advertised on Facebook and other “freebie” sites and lots of area people who knew the gentleman who the sale was for never were aware about the tag sale and would have attended if it had been more widely and properly advertised. Even I, who lived less than a mile away from this antique tag sale did not know about it. Internet advertising is advertising that needs to be used in addition to your mainstream advertising as outlined herewith.

Good advertising is your top priority when you are managing a tag sale and needs to include local and regional newspapers, ads posted in many gathering places and bulletin boards in the community as well as surrounding communities, as well as well-placed signage prior to the sale so that passersby will be aware of the sale in advance. Yes, you may get a few “early birds” approaching the door but that is a minor inconvenience compared to the better results and many additional buyers you will get by having those signs up early. Additionally, be sure that your e-mails are sent out in plenty of time for your buyers to know about the sale and be able to attend. A day or two before is not sufficient notice.


I often see ads for tag sales without an address with the note that address will be given out day before the sale. Basically, this is stupid. Some corporate websites will leave it out until the day before, despite the fact that it is important for your customers to know where the sale is in advance. You can opt in to getting the address listed if dealing with one of these websites. We always put the address in and our customers appreciate it and can plan their schedules around it for attending.

It is also good sense to put in the name of the family whose sale it is. I remember back about 20 years to a large tag sale in a nearby community that would have drawn a lot larger crowd than it did if the name of the family whom most every Iowan would recognize had been mentioned. Area people may see a name they know and attend the sale just because of that.

Ackerman’s Antiques and Estate Services, since 1969, is located in Iowa City, Iowa. Specializing in local estate tag sales/estate services. Always a free house call, (319) 430-3737.