Estate Clean Out

1. Assess the magnitude of your project

This begins with some basic volumetric equations.
How many square feet of “stuff” is in the house, including all the furniture, everything in closets and drawers, and all of the boxes in the attic, basement and garage?
It takes between 0.8 and 1.5 man-hours per cubic yard of material to complete a house clean out..

Consider this example: If the house left in an estate has 3,000 square feet total, and the average height of all the stuff (furniture, boxes, etc.) is about 2 feet, then you are working with 6,000 cubic feet of material.
There are 27 cubic feet per cubic yard. Do that math and you are left with just over 222 cubic yards.
That means that going through everything, removing it from the estate and selling or distributing it properly could easily take more than 200 man hours and possibly more.

The more sorting and cleaning that needs to be done the longer it’s going to take.
Too often, DIY estate managers seriously underestimate the amount of work that goes into a house cleanout.
When that happens, the project can drag on for months or even years.

2. Define success

What’s your endgame?
Are you cleaning out the house to sell?
Then you need to empty it out as quickly as possible without spending much time on evaluating the contents.
The sooner you can get the house cleaned out and on the market, the lower the overall cost of carrying the property will be.
Start by determining what’s realistic in terms of delivering the man-hours necessary to complete the project.


Or, is your priority to maximize the value of the house’s contents?
If so, that could take a lot longer because to get the best price, you’ll have to sell items individually.
For example, if there are valuable antiques, you’ll want to find the best market for each. Of course, that extra time will increase your carrying costs for the house, so you need to factor that in when determining the net return.
Sometimes hiring a Content Packout service is more cost effective than doing it yourself.

3. Conduct a complete house inventory

Every item should be assigned to one of four categories:

  • Things going to family members
  • Things to keep yourself
  • Things to donate
  • Things to sell.

Then you have to think through the logistics of getting everything where it’s supposed to go.
If Cousin Tom is supposed to get the living room furniture, then he should come pick it up (at no charge to the estate) or pay for its delivery.
If the symphony is going to get the antique violins, then they should arrange for pickup.

When it’s necessary to remove contents, we leverage our proven process for inventorying, packing and safely transporting your contents and furniture to a climate-controlled location.

Our on-site automated inventory process records each inventory item and tracks the status of your belongings from removal to return.

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Fire Prevention

Practicing Good Preparedness

Protecting Yourself and Your Family

In the event of a fire, there is usually limited time to react. One of the best things you can do to prepare for a fire is to develop an evacuation plan and make sure everyone in your household knows exactly what that is.

  • Practice fire evacuation drills once every six months with all members of your household, including pets. Make sure your family is familiar with “Stop, Drop and Roll” in case their clothes catch fire.
  • Identify two ways out of each room in your home and make sure the fire exits are always free of furniture or clutter.
  • Pinpoint a meeting location near the front of your home, so firefighters know you are out. Once you’re out, stay out.

Make copies of important documents and store them in a fireproof container, including your and your family’s and pet’s medical records, insurance policies and bank information.

Protecting Your Home

Ongoing Maintenance

    • Make sure there is a smoke alarm on every level of your home, as well as in every bedroom.
    • Frequently test smoke alarms and change batteries. Smoke alarms should be less than 10 years old to be fully effective.
    • Schedule annual furnace and heating system inspections.

Developing Smart Safety Habits

  • Never leave utensils unattended on the stove while cooking; move anything that can catch fire — like pot holders, towels, plastic, clothing and oil — away from the stovetop.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen at all times. Never use water to douse a kitchen fire.
  • Ensure electrical outlets are not overloaded with plugs, and that cords are not frayed or cracked.
  • Turn off portable space heaters when you leave the room for an extended period or before going to bed.
  • Extinguish candles before leaving the room.
  • If smoking inside the home, designate an area for smoking, complete with a deep ashtray; never smoke in an area where you are likely to fall asleep (such as the living room or bedroom).
  • If smoking outside, don’t throw your lit cigarettes on the ground.

Protecting Your Investment

Practicing preparedness year-round is critically important from an investment standpoint. Make it a habit to review insurance policies, ensuring that your home is insured to its full value. Have several copies of these important documents, including electronic versions.

  • Familiarize yourself with your insurance policies to make sure you are covered against house fires.
  • Email digital records of all important documents to yourself, in case you lose them in the fire.
  • If you’re working with a company like ServiceMaster Restore, lean on the experts for best practices, like taking a record of damage to the home and personal property. ServiceMaster Restore works with insurance companies all the time and helps many of its customers with insurance claims.
  • Photograph the interior and exterior of your home once a year, so you can provide your insurance company with a record of all valuables.

During a Fire

Putting Safety First

In the event of a fire, put safety, not your possessions, first. Assess your surroundings to judge whether to evacuate. If possible and safe, evacuate immediately, even if it requires leaving behind important belongings.

  • Feel door handles. If they are warm, do not open them. Find another way out of your room. If you can’t get out, signal for help.
  • Take all fire alarms seriously, even if your smoke detectors are sensitive; leave the building immediately if it’s safe to do so.
  • Evacuate and call firefighters once in a safe location.
  • Never try to extinguish a fire alone, unless contained in a very small area.
  • If your clothes catch fire, remember the rules: “Stop, Drop and Roll.” Once outside, seek immediate medical attention for burns.
  • Make sure to use the stairs to exit your building. Never use an elevator during a fire.
  • After exiting the building, do not reenter.

After a Fire

Assessing the Damage

In most cases, the occurrence of a fire is sudden. Be sure to take every fire alarm seriously and prepare yourself to the best of your ability beforehand. If you have to evacuate, do it. If you need help cleaning up the aftermath, call a professional restoration company like ServiceMaster Restore, which has the experience, training and resources to work with you and your insurance company to help restore your home. Remember that sometimes the “D-I-Y” cleanup approach following a fire can worsen the damage and lead to unnecessary expenses.


  • Assess the situation. If utilities have been turned off by the fire department or are otherwise out due to the fire, don’t turn them back on without consulting a professional. The same goes for appliances.
  • Refrain from entering a damaged home or apartment until the fire department deems it safe to enter. Damaged roofs and floors may collapse.
  • If water hoses were used to put out the fire, drying your home is a very important first step in the recovery process. Outside temperatures and conditions dictate the process used to dry out a house, so don’t take this project on yourself.
  • Smoke can continue causing damage to the home even after a fire is out. Keep in mind that the first 72 hours are critical when it comes to preventing further damage to the home and personal possessions.
  • Call a professional restoration company, like ServiceMaster Restore, to assist with cleanup, restoration and insurance processes. Delaying the cleanup process can lead to further damage and expenses.
  • Many of the materials found in furniture and flooring are synthetic and, when burned, create a variety of complex chemical reactions. After only a few days, many items go from cleanable to unsalvageable. To prevent greater losses, consult a restoration company, like ServiceMaster Restore, which has teams expertly trained in preserving possessions.
  • Avoid washing walls yourself, as incorrect cleaning could compound soot residue.
  • Refrain from eating or drinking anything that’s been near smoke.

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