The Blog

Women in Business Q&A: Lisa Kroese, Founder, Expert Estates LLC

Lisa Kroese has appraised and helped sell millions of dollars worth of art, antiques and personal property. She moved across the country from the East Coast in 2010 just before her first daughter was born. She is a wife and mother of three girls and a successful small business owner. She owns Expert Estates LLC, an estate liquidation and appraisal company in California. She also runs an estate sale business membership site. Lisa liquidates estates and consults for estate sale ups, momprenuers, and those branding their own estate and antique businesses. She is known as "The Estate Mama." Lisa combines her love of researching family heirlooms with her drive solve problems and help others. Lisa's company, Expert Estates, holds an estate sale each most weeks of the year and she appraises estates as well.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I've moved a lot when I was young and as an adult, from New Jersey where I was born, to Florida, Maryland and New York and now to California. So I had a lot of varied life experiences, and I have had a lot of different careers, from working for an auction house, to working as a District Director for a Congresswoman, to being self employed. I have learned to be adaptable and to communicate openly with all types of people. I have a great ability to pivot. Once a company nearby that had never had a web presence created a website. They copied and pasted all my web text on their site. In response, I came up with a better site and I wrote all new text rather than complaining to them or sending them threatening legal letters. I think being able to pivot and take all manner of craziness in stride is a sign of being a great leader.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Expert Estates?

One of my first jobs was a regional auction house where I learned how to appraise art and antiques. I also handled contract negotiations and learned a lot about marketing all kinds of estate inventory. After that, I worked as a private personal property appraiser where I got the hang of working for myself. Moving from Pennsylvania to California in 2010 was a key event that led to starting my liquidation business. When we arrived here, I was in my third trimester of pregnancy with my first daughter and I knew nobody here. When our movers delivered our furniture, I had a realization of how foolish we had been. We spent thousands of dollars moving our things, many of which were broken during the move. I realized then that it would have been best to have just sold our stuff in Pennsylvania. With the money we made from the sale, and with what we saved from hiring movers, we could have furnished our home and saved lots of stress. That's what really got me motivated.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Expert Estates?

Landing high end sales or celebrity sales like the Estate of Elaine and Jack Palance is always a highlight. It is also great whenever I find something special that I can send to auction, we have a painting consigned right now with a $20-30,000 estimate and I can't wait for the auction. I also love it when I can bring relief to people. Sometimes I have a client who has had a lot of emotional trouble with the task they have - emptying a home of its contents - it can be a huge burden. I have even helped families who have inherited hoarder homes with their liquidation. When they realize that they found a team that they can trust to handle it, that feels great. I love the moment when they see us in action and they know it is safe to let go and let us do our work.

As for challenges, running a business is full of them. My biggest is that people are seeking my services most often at a time of transition or perhaps even trauma, whether due to the loss of a loved one, or an illness, or sometimes due to a foreclosure or bankruptcy. At times it can be a hard task because the client is in a difficult time in their life and they need a lot of guidance. Their attachments to the objects in their homes have sentimental value that generally won't translate into fair market value, but they are hiring me to liquidate these personal assets. So communication is important and having the research to back up my information helps too. I work on commission, so of course I want to sell things for as much as possible!

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

I am blessed to be booked with estate sales for as many weekends as I want each year and I keep my team busy. That's because we followed our business plan. I would recommend writing one. I also recommend planning out your finances. I opened in 2011 on a very lean budget and I knew exactly how many sales I needed to book in order to recoup my investment.

The estate sale industry is competitive but I see a tremendous need for the services we provide. I launched to help people who are starting their own estate liquidation business. Having a mentor or coach is a great way to get into the industry. I also have books available on amazon The Estate Sale Business Kit, and Estate Sale DIY.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?

Get everything in writing. Having a strong contract with your client and all of your employment agreements and policies well thought out and signed. This will save you lots of headaches and stress later.

I also really like to under promise and over deliver. I set realistic expectations and then try to exceed them whenever possible.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Clients will ask for a lot of small business owners. When I first started, I tended to try to say "Yes, I can do that" all the time no matter the request. But now, if they ask me to do something that isn't standard in the course of our work - I say, "Yes, we can do that, but it requires that we hire an additional staff person for your job. So the cost for it will be X. Would you like us to add that in to your contract?" Usually they decline. But if not, I am not stuck pulling my hair out trying to do it all alone. I have my A team, and I am even making extra money for providing extra service.

I have had to remember that my husband does come ahead of my clients. So when I wake up and start my day, I think about what things my family needs and wants from me first and then what I need to do for my business instead of trying to squeeze in my family at the end of a busy day.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Women with families need flexibility and having a team to rely on is a great thing also. My industry allows for lots of that because I can book sales around a family vacation or visitors. As a wife and mom, I can't take it for granted that my husband and kids will not miss me if I am gone for too many hours in a day. I have learned to let my capable team do work that I once thought only I could do and if my husband wants a vacation day on a weekend that I have a sale, I make sure I do all the advance work that is needed so that my team can run the sale. I let them know to call me if there is an emergency but only if it really is an emergency. It works very well for my business and my family.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I really loved working for US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. When I met her she was running for her first political job. She was married and had one son and after winning her election, she became pregnant with her second child. Working for her and seeing her grow her family while tackling being a freshman congresswoman, running for reelection and then moving into Hillary Clinton's Senate seat was really inspiring. No matter what stage you are in life, there is no reason to let the things you aspire to remain out of reach - just go for it.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

JK Rowling author of the Harry Potter series. I really admire her dedication to her passion and sticking with it writing her first book as a single mother, struggling to make ends meet.

What do you want Expert Estates to accomplish in the next year?

As I expand into coaching and business to business services, I want to help other estate sale companies who are trying to increase revenues, improve their structure or just get started out on the right foot. There are estate sale franchises available for between $20,000-50,000 but for a very very tiny fraction of that price, I can help other people establish their own brand and achieve the same financial success I have had. If I can move across the country and succeed with a busy husband and three small kids at home, I know others can too. I want to make it simple for them so they can define their goals get on the path to success.