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‘It’s just the principle of the matter:’ Consignment store fails to pay back families after estate sales

WEST ALLIS — Selling a lifetime's worth of belongings during an estate sale can be emotional and stressful. FOX6's Contact 6 has been getting complaints about a local company that put customers at ease, but ended up owing them money.

When Steve Kane's mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he and his siblings decided to sell their childhood home.

Steve Kane and his family

"It wasn't safe for her to stay at home and she wasn't getting the care she needed," Kane recalled.

After moving their mom into assisted living, the family arranged an estate sale with Uncle Ned's Consignment in West Allis.

"Everything went fine, you know, as far as we were concerned," Kane said about the sale.

Kane says after fees, the family made about $1,200 from the sale.

Portion of Steve Kane's contract with Uncle Ned's Consignment

A contract from Uncle Ned's said they would get that money within nine months. It has been two-and-a-half years.

Kane says the family is still owed around $800.

"It just kept dragging on and dragging on and dragging on, and now that we lost my mother, this is still hanging over our head," Kane said.

The family was also supposed to get a portion of the profits from any unsold items that went into Uncle Ned's consignment store, but Kane says they never got any updates on those items or any money.

"I think if the customers of his store knew what his business practices were, I think they would have a change of heart," Kane said.

Steve Kane explain the problems he's had getting estate sale money from Uncle Ned's Consignment to Contact 6's Jenna Sachs.

Angela Martin had a similar experience.

"We had kind of given up a long time ago," Martin said.

It's been two years and seven months since Martin's mother-in-law died and Uncle Ned's held an estate sale at her house.

"He said a few time he was going to set up a payment plan, but he hasn't followed through with that," Martin said.

Martin says her family received a portion of their money but is still owed more than $3,500.

"He's won several awards for being best antique shop or best thrift store. It kinda seems like business is booming but people aren't getting paid," Martin said.

The owner of Uncle Ned's, Steve Swetlik, gave a written statement to Contact 6 that read in part:

"I am heartbroken that my dream of having my own store/business has come to this…I found that I was losing money doing these type of sales and decided not to continue that aspect of the business.  Unfortunately I had gotten myself into a funding hole by the time I realized I needed to discontinue this service…It is my intention (as always has been) that all proceeds will be paid to these clients as soon as possible to be able to close these accounts and end this unfortunate part of the past business model…Unfortunately it is taking longer than I hoped to finish off these accounts, which is causing the negative comments and concerns from the clients.

All of these accounts are still active and Uncle Ned's is still showing and selling their items taken to the shop for consignment after their on site estate sale to continue to make them money.  These payments will be sent after the balance of their Estate Sale proceeds is paid off…I am dedicated to finally taking care of these prior accounts and making it right with the clients."

Angela Martin tells Contact 6's Jenna Sachs that she had "given up" on getting money from an estate sale through Uncle Ned's Consignment.

Kane says he's heard promises from Uncle Ned's before.

"It's not so much the money anymore, it's just the principle of the matter," Kane said. "It's always been in the back of your mind, you know? Like, well, you kinda got cheated."

Contact 6  will run an updated story if Uncle Ned's owner pays off the money he owes these families.

Currently, Uncle Ned's has an 'F' rating with the Better Business Bureau.

The BBB recommends following the tips below when dealing with a consignment shop or an estate sale.

Consumers should ask/tell businesses: 

  • If you see the statement “Licensed, Bonded and Insured” on an estate sale business’s website, advertisement or contract, ask the business to explain that statement.
  • When looking for an estate sale business to work with, ask questions about their appraisal services, how the items are priced and how they provide a final estimate of profits for a sale. Ask about the sources they review to determine current marketplace values.
  • Ask the business how long they’ve been working in the industry. A business claiming “30 years of combined experience,” for example, may not necessarily mean that the business is reputable or that each employee has been working in the industry for 30 years.
  • Be sure to ask the business when you can expect to receive the final check from the sale. Make sure all financial details are included in the contract.
  • Inquire about selling damaged or defected items at an estate sale. Be aware that the price of your items may be discounted or marked down if they have excessive wear and tear. 6. Many estate sale businesses offer a donation service for unsold items. Ask which charities they donate unsold items to, or if you are able to choose a charity for donation. If you want the business to haul unsold items to a charity or elsewhere, there may be an additional fee for this service.
  • Ask how the business manages and sets up for an estate sale. Specifically, how many days the sale will last, and any policies regarding discounts on items after the first day of the sale.

Questions consumers can expect from the business: 

  • Consumers should be prepared to provide documentation showing they have the legal right to sell the items before signing a contract to have an estate sale. This protects both the consumer and the business from potential litigation.
  • A business may ask the client if they would like an itemized inventory list of the items sold once the estate sale has concluded. This is a good idea, as it will help keep track of which items were sold and the price each item was sold at.
  • An estate seller may suggest not throwing away or donating anything before the value of the items has been verified. You may have a diamond in the rough!
  • Advertising and marketing services are a great way to get the word out about an estate sale. The business should explain any additional fees charged for this service.
  • An estate seller may offer consignment or auction services to their clients. If there are unsold items after an estate sale, they may ask the client about reselling or auctioning off their items.
  • Determine whether the home needs cleaning or housekeeping services after an estate sale has concluded. If these services are offered, make sure you understand how it will work and if there is an additional fee.