The following is the third in a series of articles designed to assist those who are planning a move with a particular focus on moves that involve downsizing. The series is written by Janan Archibald, owner of Mind Your Manors, who is a certified move manager working with seniors and other clients with specialized moving needs. Janan is also a certified appraiser of arts and antiques.
If you have been following along in the blog series, perhaps you will remember my first article where my husband accused me of being a hoarder. While it’s true, I do have a lot of stuff that I do not need or use, most of these items have been passed down from my grandmother, mother and other loved ones that have passed. Like most people, the love I have for these items comes from the origin of the item and not actual the item itself. For example, I have a beautiful silver hard boiled egg server – I have never eaten a hard boiled egg, nor do I ever anticipate eating a hard boiled egg. But I do love the thought of my godmother setting a full silver service table and entertaining her friends, it’s a lovely memory that the egg holder triggers. So, when my husband started in on how messy our basement is, I decided it was time to take my own advice and part with some of these treasures. After all – I’ve said it 1000 times, the memory of my godmother is mine and it will stay with me, I don’t need an egg holder occupying space in my closet to remember this. What I thought was funny during my recent clean out session was my husband, as we were sorting through all of the possessions, he would instinctively say “this has got to be worth something” or “why are you donating that, we can sell it” whenever we encountered one of his family’s treasures. Of course, everything from my side was worthy of donation or garbage.
Our experience is certainly not unique, I encounter this same situation over and over again. What is valuable to us, doesn’t necessarily hold true when we offer our treasures to the marketplace. You’ve probably heard people saying, big brown furniture is “out”, anything that can’t go in a dishwasher is “out”, if it needs to be polished “forget it”. While I discourage anyone from generalizing to this degree, the market has changed from when we were growing up and building our households. To understand what items inside your home have a good market value, it’s very important to either research or contact a professional who can guide you. One of my favorite moments came cleaning out my in-laws house. My mother in law was putting her Limoges china in a pile of things that we were going to sell and then she put the boys old Atari video games in a pile to dump. “No, no, no , I cried – if anything put the limoge in the dump pile instead of the video games!” When you think of all the things inside a home, china, crystal, silver, furniture, rugs, old games, coins, stamps, records, jewelry, art, the list goes on and on – it’s almost impossible to know what’s “hot” in the market and just when you figure it out – it all changes!
My first recommendation before selling anything is to solicit the help of a professional. If you feel you have a lot of valuable items in your home, it may be in your best interest to use a certified Appraiser. The Appraiser should be a neutral party that just helps you identify items of value in your home. Often times, you can pay them to do a visual walk through. If you want a legal document with values, you can pay them additional to do a full appraisal. I recommend checking out the American Society of Appraisers website or the International Society of Appraisers to find an Appraiser near you. Many antique dealers and auctioneers also offer this service but remember, most of them are in the market to resell belongings. I highly discourage anyone from allowing “cherry picking” of property inside the home until you have identified everything that you want to sell and can make an informed decision on how to handle the entire estate (not just one or two pieces).
Once you have a handle of the approximate value of your property, I encourage all my clients to offer what they can to family members. It’s always surprising to me the items that family members choose out of an estate. Most often, it’s not the most valuable item but rather something small that holds big memories. It could be a Christmas ornament, or a tea cup or a simple throw pillow. The point is, the gesture goes a long, long way with family members.
Once you are ready to sell, there are several options available and I will try to outline the pro’s and con’s as I see them below.
Self Sale – Craigslist/eBay/Yard Sale – This is a good option if you know the market price for your items and want to control the selling terms and price. Since there is no middleman, you can have more control over the bottom line. I often use this option for items such as treadmills, weight benches, dining room sets – items that auctioneers and resellers don’t want to handle. The downside is it can be time consuming, items often take a while to sell and you are subject to scamming and false interest in your items. Many times, I answer numerous inquiries about the property only to have the person walk away. To make this process a little easier for you, make sure to include as much information in the listing as you can – measurements, age, color, condition and include plenty of photos. Also, make sure that if you setup an appointment with someone, it’s in a neutral place (such as a Walmart parking lot) or if that’s not possible, do not be home alone when someone comes to pickup or inspect the property.
Consignment – I like to use consignment when I have a handful of good quality items to sell (not enough for auction or estate sale but too much for self sale). There are a number of good places in the area and they come and go with some frequency. Consignment shops are generally limited by space constraints so timing plays a big part on what they can accept. They also tend to rotate their merchandise by season so you will need to plan what is being dropped off in advance. Commission usually runs around 40%-50% and they have a deadline, if property doesn’t sell within 60 or 90 days you must pick it up or abandon the property. Make sure to review and understand the consignment agreement before proceeding.
Auction – Auctions are a great choice for estates or for property that has a market outside of our local area. Auctions are tiered, meaning there are high end auction houses that have high minimum consignment requirements, there is mid range and local. It’s important to identify where your property fits in the tiers. My advice is to send pictures to the auction houses and ask if they are interested in handling your estate. They will call you back and are happy to discuss your property. Of course, the Auctioneers are interested in the highest priced items so you need to have some understanding of the market, It may be in your best interest to remove some items and place them in different auction houses. For example, if you have a great piece of Asian art, you will want to make sure the auction house has an Asian department and offers online and international bidding so your piece is featured in the best market possible. I recently handled an estate that had a large amount of Southwestern Art and décor. Since New England is not the greatest market for these types of items, we had them shipped to Arizona where they ended up doing quite well. Auction houses charge commission which can range from 10%-60%, often there are transport charges and sometimes marketing charges. Make sure to read the contract, especially for items that do not sell and for the terms surrounding reserves (a reserve is a minimum price you choose for the sale of your item), if you choose to set one. It’s important to remember that auctions are subject to market conditions so there’s an element of risk involved. Communicate your concerns with your auctioneer and choose one that is professional and makes you feel comfortable.
Estate Sale – Estate sales are a great option when you have a lot of property to sell in a short amount of time and if you don’t mind people coming into your home. I like to use this option when I have a client with a large home with great curb appeal, I feel this brings in not only the estate sales company clientele but the local neighbors who don’t think twice about buying bedding, sofa’s and other items that can be difficult to sell because they know who it came from. There are a number of estate sale companies around and each one operates a little differently, commission runs around 40% but can vary by company. My first advice is to interview a couple of them. You will be able to tell immediately if their style is a match for you. The estate sale company usually takes “ownership” of the property inside the home a couple weeks before the sale. Once you sign with an estate sale company, no more property can be removed from the house, otherwise you may risk voiding the contract. The employees will come in and stage the house as a retail establishment. They organize, clean up and price everything. The sales lasts a day or two and prices go down incrementally throughout the day. At the end, you are usually left with some items to donate. Remember, there are a lot of people coming through your home during an estate sale (sometimes in bad weather) and because of this, I like to use this option once my client and all of the property they are keeping are completely out of the house. Most estate sales companies know their customers, they know who is buying and looking for special property. If you have an unusual piece, don’t hesitate to ask the estate sale person about potential buyers and setting a fixed price. They may even arrange for a private sale outside of the estate sale for certain items.
I know this sounds like a lot, and it is! But as long as you plan in advance, the process can be quite simple. Of course, don’t hesitate to contact your favorite Downsizing Expert for advice and guidance through it all!