After years - or even a lifetime - of serving as a family home there comes a time in the history of just about every house when the assorted furniture, housewares, collectibles and other belongings that reside within must be removed. Sometimes this occurs because whoever lived there moved to an apartment, retirement home or some other smaller venue. In many cases a death means the dwelling must be readied for sale.
Sometimes selling directly to various vendors who deal in used furniture and appliances, antiques or collectibles is viable option. In other cases working with an auction house makes sense.
For nearly a decade, Helping Hands Estate and Tag Sales and Services has offered another alternative that appeals to many people who find themselves responsible for disposing of the contents of a house.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Melissa Cook, with Helping Hands Estate and Tag Sales, sits down at the keyboard of a baby grand piano that was among the many items at a recent estate the company handled.
The company was founded by Linda Dencklau, Mary Moore and Linda Cloud. In January, Melissa Cook and April Tyre became its new owners. The previous proprietors are still available as advisers to Cook and Tyre and sometimes help out in other ways, Cook said.
The Helping Hands website summarizes succinctly the mission of the enterprise: "Our job is to make these life-changing events easier on you."
Cook said the process often starts with a phone call from a family member or the executor of an estate.
"They want to get rid of pretty much a lifetime of belongings," she explained. "We look at the estate and if it is something we can do, we set up a date for an open house."
The sales events Helping Hands orchestrates usually run for three or four days.
Tyre said the first step is for whoever is selling the house's contents to decide if anything will not be sold.
"They take whatever they want to take," she said. "Especially if it is an estate they will go through and take what they want and leave us what's left."
Then the Cook and Tyre begin the process at the heart of the business they own.
"We'll go in and go through the entire house, clean the items, organize the items, display the items," Cook said. "Everything gets a price on it."
Prior to the open house, an extensive marketing effort takes place.
"We take pictures ahead of time and put them on the website," Tyre said. "We send out the sale listing at least a week ahead of time so people can look through it and see if there is something they collect or whatever. We are on Facebook and we have an email list that we send. We put it all up on the website and advertise."
The sales event usually takes place on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Cook said, adding that if the estate is large Sunday might also be included.
"Depending on the size of the house, we might only let 50 to 100 people in at a time, which really is only an issue on Thursdays when it first opens," she said.
Part of the service Helping Hands provides is to clear out everything in the house so it is ready for sale or a new occupant. In the last stages of the open house, prices are reduced. Things that aren't sold are donated to charities or other nonprofits.
"We get rid of everything that does not sell," Cook said.
She said there are only two categories of things one might find in a house that they don't market.
"We don't sell alcohol and we don't sell firearms," Cook said.
Helping Hands advantage
The new owners of Helping Hands said the service they offer can be an attractive choice when the other possibilities aren't quite the right fit.
"Say you have a lot of nice quality things, but they are not super antiquey - nice dishes, nice pots and pans, functional furniture," Cook said. "On any given day, if you were to take that stuff to an auction house, it's whoever is at that auction that day. A lot of housewares get put in a box that might go for $3. We put an individual price on everything. ... For an average household you would probably do better with us."
Also some potential customers find the more leisurely sales approach of a multi-day open house more appealing.
"Auctions are intimidating to some people," Tyre said. "They don't want to sit there and do the bidding. You can meander through and you can come back the next day. It's very low-key, low-pressure."
If the owners of the house are readying it for sale, having Helping Hands hold an open house there can have another benefit.
"It's not bad advertising to have 200 people walk through your house," Cook said.
Tyre said Helping Hands can be a tremendous resource for a wide assortment of potential clients. The far-flung nature of family life in the 21st century is just one of the reasons the company has attracted clients.
"If your parents lived here and you live in Utah or California and you can't get back to empty out their house, it's a relief to have somebody who is trustworthy," Tyre said. "Who is going to lock the house every time they leave? Who is going to make sure everything is in running order? You don't have to think about that anymore. It will get sold. It will be done well."
Meet the owners
April Johnson Tyre is a lifelong Fort Dodger. She graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High in 1994 and from Northwestern College in Orange City in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in biology. She and husband Fred Tyre have three children.
Melissa Taylor Cook graduated from Valley High School in West Des Moines in 1997. She has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Iowa State University. Cook and husband David Cook have four children.
Melissa Cook said she finds it great fun to work with the array of items Helping Hands is called upon to sell and sometimes finds a personal purchase irresistible.
"I just love chairs," she said reflecting on her own acquisition passion.