6/6/2011 1:19 PM ET|
The great American yard sale
For years, baby boomers have accumulated vast quantities of stuff, from the usual household furnishings to rare antiques and collectibles. With retirement, it's time to sell it off.
It's 8:55 a.m. on a crisp Thursday morning in the exclusive New Jersey suburb of Bernards Township, and at 34 Emily Road, more than 60 people are lined up impatiently outside the front door. Inside, owners Mark and Mary Tuller, who were up most of the night and feel like "zombies," are girding themselves for the onslaught: a three-day crush of strangers pouring into their home, pawing through their family's stuff. Attic to basement, nearly everything is tagged with a price, from the mahogany dining room breakfront ($5,000) to the half-used cans of spray starch (50 cents).
Mark, a 62-year-old former general counsel for Verizon Wireless, and Mary, a retired math teacher, say they couldn't be more excited about their imminent move to a smaller, Mediterranean-style place on the California coast. But with moving trucks arriving in exactly one week, they're more than a little anxious about whether this estate sale will be successful in unloading nearly three decades' worth of accumulated belongings, especially prized pieces like their antique, hand-knotted Persian rugs (the one in the living room originally cost $20,000).
"We wanted to sell these expensive items in a way that brought closure," says Mark, "and didn't want them to just walk out the door for almost nothing."
Indeed, to help facilitate the sale, they've chosen a company called the Grand Bazaar to run it; unlike some other mom-and-pop businesses they interviewed, it actually takes credit cards. But from the moment the doors open and sale-goers storm the 5,000-square-foot home like pirates rushing a ship, virtually no one bothers with plastic. Not the man with the white ponytail happily scoring a $1 jug of deer repellent or the woman in chunky diamonds and fur-tipped pumps snapping up old garden hose nozzles.
Some bargainers cart off books or clothes in bulk, but most arrive at the checkout table with small items: Christmas decorations, souvenir Parisian drink coasters, a board game from the downstairs toy closet. In fact, when the doors close on the Tuller family sale (final take: on the plus side of $30,000), there's still quite a bit of furniture left, most of which is destined for donation or -- cue Mary's nostalgic sighs -- the Dumpster. And those expensive rugs? At least $30,000 worth of fancy floor coverings are headed into storage.
"The sale was a huge success if you were in the market for unopened soap," says Mark.
Call it the great American sell-off. For years now, Americans have been gathering and collecting at an amazing pace, filling homes that over the past half-century have more than doubled in size, to an average of nearly 2,500 square feet. And even that hasn't been enough to contain our nation's overflow of stuff. These days nearly one in 10 U.S. households maintains at least one self-storage unit, 65% more than did so in 1995. Filling these spaces, of course, comes naturally to baby boomers. Born into the giddy postwar climate of conspicuous consumption and weaned on decades of easy credit, they're a generation accustomed to regularly leaving offerings at the altar of retail.
That is, until they hit the empty-nest, time-to-start-downsizing phase and begin wondering what to do with their mountains of accumulated stuff. With some 8,000 Americans turning 65 every day, on average, and the senior population expected to double by 2050, millions are facing a massive, multifaceted purge that's turning out to be much tougher than they thought it would be. And millions more find themselves in similar quandaries as they deal with the truckloads they've inherited from pack-rat relatives.
Indeed, whether they're leaving an heirloom china set at the local consignment store or packing a stately grandfather clock off to Sotheby's, many are discovering that the resale market is glutted with household goods. And oriental rugs are only the beginning. Got a home full of middle-market, traditional-style furniture to sell? Dealers say that stuff's plunged 50 to 75% in value. Elaborate silver tea sets are worth more melted than as decorative objects. And huge, heavy items like dining-room breakfronts and banker-style desks are often the toughest to unload.
"I once sold a piano for $11," says David Rago, a Lambertville, N.J., auctioneer.
For many of those in or near retirement, this is not unimportant income. Inspired by shows like "Antiques Roadshow" and "Pawn Stars," many hope that monetizing that painting over the mantel will help make up for ground lost in their battered retirement portfolios, says Julie Hall, a liquidator from Charlotte, N.C., and the author of "The Boomer Burden," a book about challenges like these.
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Done yard sales and estate sales for over 40 years. Here are some hints:
If you want more than a buck, price it!
Do not have boxes of un-priced items, like a dime box, and un-priced items on display - they WILL get mixed.
Have a pay table at the head of your sale so that people have to walk past you to go to their car.
Have your sale on a Saturday. Friday sales - most of the people there are dealers and they are looking for deals - they also haggle a ton more that anyone else. Think of what you are making as an hourly wage, adding a Friday rarely pays for the time from work and you lose that many more Saturday sales and profits. If you are a home worker - it may pay out, but I doubt it. Our Friday / Saturday estate sales average about 9,000 or Saturday only sales average about 9,500. Also, hang on till 2pm, lots of stragglers out there and almost everyone is done by Noon or 1pm.
Greet everyone as soon as you can - especially before they start looking.
Don't start offering deals - its a yard sale - the people that normally ask will, and those that don't will do so because you offered.
You can not advertise too much or have too many signs giving directions - after about an hour, send someone out to check your signs - it is amazing how many fall over or walk off for coffee...
If you have something you really WANT to get rid of, put it in a box - under a table - with something strange written on the side; people will be attracted to that box like rats to cheese. It sells every time.
Don't forget the guys! Pile every stray screw, nail, and piece of junk hardware into a big cookie tin - put $5 on it and it will be gone within the first hour.
Second to last but not least, if you have a bunch of dime toys, cool rocks or shells, and/or stuffed critters, think about giving them to the kids as they show up - this hooks the bigger kids - aka the parents. If they still get away, you are only out something that would probably not have sold anyway BUT the friendly feeling is there for next year. You have also helped create another generation of "yarders".
Last but NOT least, gather up the remainders and donate them - if you made the decision to get rid of it - do so, and get a donation receipt for your taxes or a nice pile of Karma points out of the deal.
I'm now 66 and planning on down sizing soon. I've been throwing out the junk and giving anything decent to the kids or charity. The process involves several passes maybe months apart and you will find yourself becoming more ruthless on each pass. Most of what you have is out of date, or won't fit in a smaller place and doesn't have any value today, even many antiques.
Clearing the clutter also clears the mind!.
I can attest to the truthfulness of the article. My mom, who died in May, lived in a large home and I was forced to transition her to an assisted living home last year. It took months of sorting and four "estate" sales to liquidate her belongings and I still have a storage unit full of her papers and collectibles. I let depression glass and lead crystal go for a few dollars each. And her beautiful cherry dining table, chairs and china cabinet (in mint condition) were sold for next to nothing. She had so much stuff (she loved china, glass, crystal in particular) that is was simply overwhelming. I've never collected like her, but it inspired me not to leave a mess for anyone to clean up after I leave this earth.
I then started on my own home, simplifying what I can. I recently sold a beautiful 19th century mahogany serpentine cabinet which was worth at least $1500.00 for $300.00; the market just isn't there any longer, especially for more formal antiques. I think primitives and the more casual things are still selling. I call it the "Pottery Barn" effect - people want casual living right now. It will change again.
I have a huge collection of rare recordings (my dad owned a recording company) from the 1950's but there is no longer a store in my area dealing in vinyl and Ebay is becoming an unpleasant place to sell stuff. I don't even know where to start with the vinyl - value and otherwise.
Hopefully younger people will start to appreciate the value of antiques and starting buying them and nice used furniture instead of the particle board junk at many furniture stores.
sorry, should have added this bit before - NEVER EVER EVER EVER - if doing an estate, throw any papers away. There was an instance where a lady was clearing out her husbands desk - they had only been married a few years and she did not know a lot of the things he had. In trying to "help" she started dumping the drawers to her husbands desk - for sure everything there was junk right??? Good thing the auction movers grabbed the trash bag. The estate cleared 16,000. However the "junk" contained 7 receipts from the US mint to the Dahlonega mint and were dated around 1850 - they sold for just under 5,000 EACH - those papers fetched almost double the rest of the estate.
Second - watch yourself on "costume" jewelry. Lots of "costume" jewelry ain't costume. Take anything you have to a local jeweler. They will help you figure out what is what. There is a trick to finding real pearls vs fake pearls - rub them on your teeth. Real uncultured pearls feel gritty. Also lots of costume jewelry is getting very expensive. If there is a name or a mark - look it up.
Hope this helps - and if those thieves from "Am Pick" show up; run them off. Do not let them near anything you or your folks have.
A 7-piece patio set for $1? Cripes, I could use that! I would have bid $2
But this article seems to suggest there's hardly any need to buy anything new these days. You can quite literally live off the castaways of society, by reusing what the previous generation couldn't.
Except for food. Not sure I'd want to buy used food at an estate sale.
Some of the clients may be upset over how little they got, but then, people tend to artifically inflate the monetary value of stuff. And really, if you NEED to get rid of it, would you rather take a bit less cash, or have to pay to have it stored? That should be a no brainer.
If you think something is worth serious money--thousands of dollars--then at least get it appraised rather than just expect that it'll sell for that. If an appraisal from a reputable source tells you it isn't worth what you thought...maybe you should concede you overvalued it?
I don't know how old you are or how large your house is but the article is true and apparently you don't get it or have yet to experience the need to "downsize". My mother's belonging simply wouldn't fit from a 2,000 sf home into a 650 sf apartment. Sometimes we cannot stay in large homes with stairs and large yards any longer. Yes, in some regards it is tied to death (in my mother's case she was 86) as a natural progression of life but in my case (56) I'm simply tired of being owned by things and trying to care for, clean, dust and store these "things". I prefer a simpler but still lovely home with only the things I really love and not just fifty years of accumulated useless things. I'm not preparing for death or being brainwashed: I'm ready to start a new phase where I can travel more, not have any debt and generally be more in touch with life instead of "stuff". My mom's most treasured belongings stayed in the family and rest found new homes where they will be appreciated and loved.
The correct terminology is "liquidating"...converting assets to cash.
Obviously, the baby boomers will experience difficulty liquidating ANYTHING in this economically-challenged era. First came the boom...and now comes the BUST!
Never understood why people buy so much junk just to sell off later. I save my pennies until I can afford the best then keep it for ever. After I'm gone who does not want the best.
Why pay $1,500+/mo plus taxes for a mortgage when I can rent for much less and let the landlord deal with repairs, taxes, landscaping, etc.
Where I live it is the other way around. Here we have lots of people renting who pay $1000 to $1500 per month or even more, while people who have bought homes or refinanced mortgages recently are paying somewhat to considerably less. There is plenty of decent housing around here for the low to mid six-figure range asking. Figure 20% down and your payment will be $500 to $700 per month, (including property taxes and insurance) which will leave some dough left over for a home warranty or a monthly-paid maintenance outfit, and if you dislike yard work you can pay some kid from down the street to do it for you. If you can afford the little extra monthly out-of-pocket cost, a 15-year fixed rate mortgage is an even better bet, and you can even shorten that paying weekly or bi-weekly too, which subtracts an extra principal payment each year. Plus homeowners generally get enough benefit from their interest and property tax deductions to receive a better tax return than renters get too.
Unless you are worried sick about having to move well away from your current neighborhood or about having to change jobs in the next few years, owning a home makes a lot more sense than renting does. You can always get a condo or patio home where the association does all of your outside maintenance too. And, when it becomes time to sell, downsize, or retire, you will have equity built-up which will enable you to pursue a much wider range of options too. How about a reverse mortgage? You can't get that renting. How about down-sizing and buying your next house outright without a mortgage? You can't do that renting either. And while you can't get foreclosed- on renting, you can sure as heck get evicted for non-payment of rent too.
Someone, a knowledgable friend years ago, told me to think twice before ever giving valuables to museums. The owner or owners of the museums, will wait, sometimes not, for the person giving the items to pass away, and they will be sold, to enrich the owner of the museum. Better idea, might be to sell the items yourself, and donate the proceeds to a worthwhile charity.
Then there is the starting, a museum scam. Large factory in the area, that had been operating for over a hundred years, closed its doors. One unscrupulous person was going to start a museum, with relics and artifacts, from the many years that the factory was in operation. He received hundreds of items. Estimating over a 100K worth of antiques and collectibles were donated to the future museum. Of course the guy never opened a museum, and the items were eventually sold on ebay, many bringing huge prices.
Bottom line, be careful, about donating antiques, to these scam artists.
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