In this episode of Connecting the Community with Chris, hear professional downsizing expert, Marina Belfiore, walk us through the process of downsizing your home. Whether you are a senior, an empty nester, or a family member helping an aging loved one streamline their belongings, downsizing with the help of an estate planner can be a quick, and stress-free solution.
In this conversation, learn how a personal experience gave Marina the idea to start this important service for seniors in the community.
Watch the full podcast or read the transcript below (edited for clarity).
Chris: Hello everybody! Welcome to another episode of Connecting the Community with Chris. We have an exciting podcast today with a special guest – Marina Belfiore.
Miss Belfiore is an expert in professional downsizing and helping our seniors with that process. Now, with downsizing they can turn old treasures – from furniture to antiques, into cash.
Marina: Awesome. Thanks for having me, Chris.
Chris: Pleasure. So, tell us a little about how did you get into this industry.
Marina: So, my background is actually originally with Healthcare marketing, and about three years ago my husband and my in-laws, we were helping them downsize, and they were downsizing from a 3,000 square foot home to a 1,000 square foot home, and it was during Covid, and we could not get rid of their stuff.
So, they ended up taking 3 000 square foot household goods and furniture to their 1,000 square foot house and it really sparked this idea of, “okay, so how do people do this?” I know it’s Covid, but there has to be a way and it really sparked wanting to get into the estate sale business and help others go through this huge life change that our in-laws just went through and did not have a good time with. And we wanted to change that for people.
So, we actually had experience in the past as a family with franchising and that really sparked us finding Blue Moon Estate Sales and getting into the estate sale game.
Chris: Wow! That’s great. I mean obviously as entrepreneur you guys you had a personal experience; you just spill that out to your clients.
Now, when and if I’m planning on moving, say the next year, when should I begin the consultation? How do I go through that process and what are the benefits of actually downsizing for a senior?
Marina: Yeah, definitely. So, we always say, once you have a good idea of the stuff that you want to keep and the stuff you want to sell, that’s when to call us in. Because it’s hard if we come in and you know our clients are like, “Well, we’re not sure exactly what we want to keep or what we want to give away,” because, then we don’t have a good idea of, okay, is it a one-day sale or is it a two day or is it two weekends?
So, once you even have a general idea, that’s when we say, “hey, call us in!” and we’ll be able to really provide guidance from there.
Downsizing has a ton of benefits because a lot of the time, like our in-laws, there’s moving costs with taking a bunch of stuff, or there’s just the lack of space with it. You’re either paying for a storage unit, putting it all in your basement or in the attic and really forgetting about it and dealing with it later.
So, calling us in and helping kind of get rid of the stuff you no longer need and get it to a different home is a really good way to get your house ready for the market, so you can downsize efficiently and move on with the items and get them to better homes.
Chris: Yeah, and sometimes it could be a stressful situation, so, if you are really in distress and contact you early, so that way you can prepare. Probably a prepared estate plan is much better than just, “Hey listen, let’s wing it and see what happens in the next two or three days.”
Marina: We’ve seen a lot of situations where families are left to kind of pick up the pieces, whether someone has passed on, someone cannot do it themselves, and a lot of the time I wish they would have just gotten rid of this sooner, because now it’s you dealing with a lot of different items along with now I have to clear a house, now I have to get it ready for the market in a totally different way.
Chris: So, say, I want a consultation. What am I going to expect for our first meeting with you?
Marina: So, the first meeting we have we always request to come into the home, and it starts with us just getting a tour of the house. So, you walk us through each and every room, we see what items you are looking to sell, so we can really get a good grasp of how much stuff there is, the size of the home, kind of the logistics behind having a sale at that specific home – is there good parking, is there a really steep driveway, is there HOA – rules that we need to follow, all those little things.
Once we get a good idea of the size of home, the amount of stuff, that’s when we can really sit down with our client and talk about what dates they’re looking at, how soon are they wanting to have the sale, what are they expecting, what is their goal, are they hoping, “I just need everything cleared out or I want to just see kind of what sells and then I want to take the rest.”
So, we really work on getting the most for our clients based on their goals.
Chris: I think that’s extremely valuable. I’ve never done this before, but I know with the community, they want to know what is the cost for even just having a consultation, saying, “Hey, what if I want to do this process?” What would be the cost for someone just to meet with you?
Marina: The consultation is completely free. So, we want to come in and help you decide if an estate sale is even the best option for you, if there’s enough stuff for a really successful estate sale, if an estate sale is the right option or maybe something else, maybe there’s not enough stuff for an estate sale, but there is enough to do something else with those items. So, consults are always free with us and then depending on what the goal is and what kind of route we take from there, then there’s fees if we have an estate sale. But those again are dependent on the size of the home, the number of days the sale is, and kind of those logistics.
Chris: Walk me through, so that way I want to dive deeper into this. The process of the sale.
Now that I signed with you and would like to move forward, what’s the process after you say, “okay, that’s great, let’s start with step one.”
Marina: Perfect. So, we signed the contract, we pick a date. Typically, what happens is, a week or two weeks before the sale date, is when my team and I request access into the home. So, once we request access, that’s when we come in, we bring in tables, tablecloths, we stage everything, we really make it look very pop-up retail shop, so it’s a fun, shoppable experience. We take pictures of everything to market those items, and then we have the sale itself.
So, when we take pictures we’re marketing not just, “hey there’s an estate sale, come on by.” We’re really marketing based off the items they have. If they have really old antiques, we are marketing to antique collectors, we’re marketing to maybe antique resellers, people that are going to be looking for those.
Not just someone that just sees an estate sale sign is maybe not in the market for that. So, we really want to market based off the items you have and then of course kind of that general estate sales marketing.
Chris: How does this sale actually work? Someone comes in, they say, “I love that couch. That’s the one I want.” What’s the process?
Marina: When people come in to shop, they see price tags on everything. Again, very much like a retail shop, they see the price tag and if let’s say they wanted to buy this couch, they would take the price tag up to our register – we accept cash and card, again, much like any other retail shop. They give us the price tag and they pay for it whichever way they choose. And then from there, they are responsible for moving that piece out and taking it.
So, typically how it works is, if they’re buying large furniture, you have until the end of the sale to get it out of the home. Sometimes we have additional days for pickup for large furniture. But it’s a very simple process. We like to make it easy for both the client, the shoppers, kind of all around just making enjoyable and easy.
Chris: It really does sound really easy and at least give it a shot, give it a try and see what you can sell. It’s a bonus on top of the sale price too.
Marina: Exactly. When people are downsizing, we always say the Big Money Maker is going to be selling the house. Having the estate sale is a step you need to take to clear out the home so it’s ready to sell.
But a lot of the time we’re able to give our clients a great little chunk of change and then they’re able to sell their house faster. Again, everything’s very streamlined and it’s really the goal of getting the client to the point where they can sell their home to make sure they’re downsizing or moving where they need to move.
Chris: How do you decide what to keep and not to keep?
Marina: As the client deciding that is really based on … a lot of the time what we’re seeing with seniors is what they can fit into where they’re moving. A lot of the time they’re looking to take some clothing, some furniture, some family mementos that mean a lot to them and then sell the rest. A lot of the time we always say, if you’re even questioning it, let us try and then if it doesn’t sell and you want to kind of keep it after that, great. But a lot of the time we can sell it.
Chris: How many days typically does it take from the sale to actually go into the client’s pocket?
Marina: Once the sale is complete, we usually get a check into our client’s pockets within five to seven business days. After the sale ends, we’re able to pull a report, and they get a report of everything that’s sold during the sale, what it sold for, and so, it’s a very transparent process. It’s not just, “oh, here’s a check. Guess what we sold and what we sold it for, like have fun!”
We really get to provide that transparency for our clients which I think they think is more interesting than anything else. But they get that and the check within a week of the sale.
Chris: That’s great, yeah that’s wonderful, that way everyone can move on.
Marina: Exactly. That’s our main goal. We want to create a stress-free, quick, and easy process for our clients. A lot of the time, whether it is themselves getting out of this house or it’s a family member helping a person downsize, they’re not looking for it to drag on, and we want to be able to help them with whatever they need. Sometimes clients do call us, and they say we need to be out in five months, can you – we’re trying to get a jump on this early, and we can definitely do that too. But more times than not, they’re on a fast timeline.
Chris: So, what happens to the client? Are they typically on-site or off-site?
Marina: We do much like open houses for realtors. We do request that the client is not on-site during the sale, and there’s a few reasons for that.
One, it can just be an emotional time, whether you’re ready to let go of those items or not, seeing people in your home, buying those items, can be emotional. So, we say, “Let the professionals handle it.” We’ll come in; we’ll do what we need to do, we’ll sell your items, and you’ll get that report and check after. Leave it to us.
A lot of other times shoppers can be looking around, making comments, things that you might not want to hear about your beloved couch you’ve had all your life or things like that.
Overall, we like to really just take that burden off of our clients completely. Again, for the same reasons Realtors don’t want the clients there during open houses. It helps streamline the process.
Chris: I understand, but now there’s professional staging and that’s something that I just learned actually recently. Can you explain to the public what they actually entails?
Marina: Yeah. We use professional staging as our term of when we come in to get the house ready for the home or for the sale itself. Again, we’re bringing in our own tables and black tablecloths, we’re pulling things out, we’re really making it look like a retail environment.
I always tell our employees and our clients – we’re really making it look almost like a Home Goods or Marshalls vibe, where there’s a lot of stuff on the tables, there’s a lot to see, but it’s aesthetically pleasing, and people like to shop in that environment.
We really treat every sale like its own event, and we really want to make that shoppable experience fun, so our shoppers keep coming back. We have loyalty programs, and we have loyal shoppers that come to every single one of our sales, because they like the way we set it up, they like the environment, even if there’s not something they saw maybe in the pictures they want, they know our sales are fun, so they keep coming back to them.
Chris: Absolutely. I would too.
I want to know if you offer any extra services, say for example, I didn’t sell my couch and that’s what we really wanted – the couch to sit. So, what other resources after that do you offer to your clients?
Marina: Depending on the client’s goals, sometimes they say I need everything cleared out, after the sale. It needs to be an empty home. The realtors coming in a couple of days later and we need it cleared out.
We’re able to provide our clients with different resources like removal companies, donation companies, possible like buyout companies that might come in and make an offer for a bulk amount of stuff, things. Any way that we can sustainably get the items out that don’t sell, we want to do, we want to eliminate waste. We don’t want things just going to the garbage or the junk. We really want to reuse and move things to where they can be loved by someone else.
Chris: That’s great. Well, I really think your service is valuable, especially in the senior community. I know this is something that’s a very emotional decision too. To be able to sell the personal products that they’ve been living with for all their life.
If someone were to contact you and connect with you, what’s the best way?
Marina: The best way is to call me or email me. That’s the best way to get us to hold. The first thing I’ll do is get that initial consult scheduled, so, always happy to answer questions like any that you have, kind of right off the bat. But a lot of those questions are answered during that initial consult. Everything kind of before that initial consult is very hypothetical, once we get to see those items, see the home, then we can really talk about, okay, for this amount of stuff we think it’s a two-day sale. You need to be out in eight weeks, this is the next available date – all those kinds of logistics.
So, calling or emailing me, we get that consult on the books and then we go from there.
Chris: What is the minimum time for you to connect to the lead and then actually start the process and also do you work with real estate agents?
Marina: To get a house ready, we usually do need at least a week or two weeks. Now, we do book our sales on a first come first serve basis, but we do have enough team members that we are able to double book or triple book sales. We really work with our client’s timeline. If they need to be out in six weeks, we’ll make it work, we’ll do what we need to, to make it work. And we really have those team members to make sure we can double book and triple book sales, so that our clients are getting their sales done by the timeline they’re working for.
And we work with real estate agents frequently. A lot of the time real estate agents will refer a client to us. We’ll meet with the client and the real estate agent sometimes. When the client isn’t living in the state, we’ll just work with the real estate agent to make sure that the house is sold, the estates items are sold, and ready to go on the market. And a lot of the time we’ll have real estate agents’ cards during the sale, so it’s drumming up interest on the house before it even hits the market. We’ve done joint estate sales with open houses.
Depending on what the real estate agent wants to, we’re able to kind of grow that visibility.
Chris: So even before the house is sold or anything like that, you could do the estate sale. Is that typical?
Marina: We do the estate sale whenever it is most convenient for the client and the real estate agent if the agent is involved. We’ve done houses before it even hits the market, we’ve done them while they are on the market, and we’ve done them during that 30-day time period after the house sells and before the new homeowners are moving on.
Chris: I know we touched on professional staging, but also, I know it’s important to, say, I have pictures of my kids going up and down the stairway, it’s private and I really want to make sure that information, that privacy is protected. How do you do that?
Marina: Really, the only things that we request before we come into a home to start staging is the items that they are taking are either marked not for sale or removed from the house already, so there’s no confusion and that personal photos, paper works, and medications are removed or locked somewhere else. We want to protect the client’s privacy, but we also don’t want to cause any confusion of what’s for sale and what’s not for sale.
People say, “oh well, I have all these frames of family photos, but I can’t take all these frames, but obviously I want the photos.” So, we say take the photos out of the frames, we’ll sell the frames, you keep the photos. But those are just the few things that we do ask that’s complete before we come in.
Of course, if we’re digging around, we’re still staging and we find personal effects, we’ll set them off to the side for the client, but it helps us tremendously when that part’s kind of done before we come in.
Chris: I know a lot of our clients are like I want all my items to be sold. So, what resources are you offering besides just the estate sale?
Marina: We’re able to coordinate to make sure the house is clear if that’s the client’s goal. We have different donation pickup resources and removal company resources. Our process usually is, let’s do the estate sale, see what we can make you, then donation, because that’s more of your stuff out for free. And then a removal company, we have great third-party removal companies, they do charge based on quantity, but we’re able to coordinate for our clients, so all the stuff’s cleared and it’s a minimal amount of stuff. So, it’s the least amount of cost for our client, but that’s definitely a request we get all the time is – I need a cleared home after this, and we’re able to provide that resource for them.
Chris: That’s great. Wonderful. That’s peace of mind. It could be really exciting to be able to move on to their next venture or their next home environment. So, trying to make that process easy is obviously the right choice to work with an estate planner.
Marina: Yeah, and that’s our main goal for all of our clients. We just want it to be easy for them, we want it to be a good experience for them. Letting go is hard to kind of start with, we don’t want this to be a bad experience, or we don’t want them to finish it and be like, “Oh, should I have done that?” We want them to be happy, we want them to be excited, we want them to be able to move on with peace of mind.
Chris: Do you typically have to sell your home to have an estate sale? What if they’re like I want to get new furniture, but I want to sell the stuff in my home.
Marina: We’ve done that plenty. We’ve done that so much where they’re empty nesters now, they have all this space, they have all this stuff they no longer need, and they’ll have us come in, they’re still living there, they have no intentions of selling their house anytime soon, but they want a fresh start in their space.
So, same process, it’s just they don’t move after.
Chris: That’s great. Thank you for joining us on our show. We appreciate you. We know this service is so valuable in the senior community. There is a phone number, I know, to contact you. What is it?
Marina: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great and anyone that’s interested can contact me at 517-245-9103. We can get a consult booked as soon as they’re ready, usually within 24-hours of their call, if not longer, if that’s what they want. But it’s easy, it’s quick, so give me a call.
Marina: Thanks a lot.
Chris: You’re welcome.