The couple used to buy abandoned storage units for sorting and reselling. Sometimes it was great - they were once able to fund a family trip - and other times it was dismal. After an experience where everything had to be taken to the dump, they sat down, brainstormed, and decided to do estate sales instead.
Thunder Bay Estate Sales was established in 2019. People who are downsizing, or relatives of elderly people who have moved or passed away call the Halls, who come to the home and do an inventory. Both Jennifer and Sean are certified personal property appraisers accredited with the Canadian Personal Property Appraisers Group, and they put a value on the home’s contents. The clients are offered a percentage of the value in exchange for everything being taken away.
“A lot of the value for the family is, we’re going to remove all the items from the home,” Sean explains.
“We take the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Jennifer says. Sometimes the family will give them a list of things that they’re looking for, such as war medals, and if found, the Halls will give them back to the family.
The couple try to take as little to the dump as possible. Old or damaged bedding is given to the dog rescue Paws for Love, and a lot of items are donated to Shelter House. Since Sean does not have time to upcycle furniture himself, he passes them on to people who want to refinish them.
“People have many ideas from Pinterest and they have good imaginations,” Jennifer says. “Everyone’s looking for a project these days.”
Sean says it is “very rewarding” to be able to pass on items to collectors and people who appreciate old furniture. Housewares such as pots and pans, dishes and microwaves are great for people who are getting a place of their own for the first time, such as students and newcomers to Canada.
Since the pandemic started, most of the reselling has moved online. They list items on Facebook Marketplace for local sale, and also put things up on their website. For some collectibles, eBay is the way to go. Sean has shipped vintage computers to places as far away as Japan and Australia.
Sean says going into a house full of stuff is sometimes like Christmas. “People collect such interesting things, and sometimes it’s 80 years’ worth of stuff,” he says. It’s also nice when he is able to use his expertise to pick out items that people might have otherwise sent to the dump, not knowing they are valuable.
Odd things like figurines and running shoes can be worth a surprising amount of money. Contrary to expectation, fine china sets and champagne flutes aren’t valuable because people don’t want them, and dining room furniture sets take up too much space.
So far, starting their own business has been fulfilling for the pair. “We’re really happy with the size of our business; we have one or two helpers sometimes and a bookkeeper. We’re happy that we can take care of our family,” Sean says.
“We both quit our jobs, him as a renovator and me with the school board, and here we are, full-time doing what we love,” Jennifer says. “Sometimes we work all night and all day, but it’s worth it.”