No white-glove treatment here: Porters drag heavy wood antiques roughly along the concrete, and more than a few times during the day, glass can be heard crashing to the ground. Dealers park their U-Hauls in a tight row alongside the outside dock, quickly loading antiques that, on average, says Dutch CEO Bob Selmon, are running 50% below 2005 prices. (Rugs, he says, are down even more.)
According to Rich Holleny, an antiques dealer from Maryland's Eastern Shore, one elegant mahogany dining set that gavels for $400 would have fetched between $1,000 and $1,200 five years ago. A carved-oak Victorian fainting couch worthy of a Betty Draper swoon goes for $85. Back at his shop, Holleny laments, traditional furniture is languishing, and even at these prices, it's harder to make margins. "A lot of people have been driven from the business," Selmon says.
While auctions themselves are coping with a surfeit of sellers and cash-strapped buyers, driving down both prices and sell-through rates, they're still big-time liquidation players. But the liquidation universe, which has many tiers, can be confusing for downsizers looking for the best outlet for a fine or unusual estate item. Sellers may assume the holy grail is a high-end auction house like Sotheby's or Christie's, which rarely take on consignments worth less than $5,000, but experts say the best choice comes down to who can drum up the most serious bidders. Niche outfits, for example, reach targeted collector markets, whether for antique duck decoys (Guyette & Schmidt in Maryland), midcentury-modern furniture (Wright in Chicago) or art pottery (Rago's in New Jersey).
Of course, for boomers who don't have the stomach to see the stuff of their lives sold off and aren't driven by a financial imperative to do so, there's always the option of just passing on to the great beyond and letting the heirs duke it out. Billy Campsey, an Amarillo, Texas, accountant who often acts as a fiduciary on disputed estates, says he recently experienced it all firsthand when his aunt left $150,000 worth of jewels to be split among six family members who all wanted the same pieces.
"Put all six of them in a room and they'd have a fistfight," he says. After hearing from an estate lawyer about a Web-based tool called eDivvyup, he persuaded the heirs to try the closed online auction system (think eBay, only private) that lets an estate executor post photos and information about each piece and assign point shares to heirs based on his or her percentage of the estate.
In the end, he says, competitive bidding worked a lot better and faster than gambling on a retail consignment. Not only did it squash the squabbling, Campsey says, but it took one year of administration off the total estate.
If there was ever a good time for a wealthy aunt to die, 2010 was it -- from a tax perspective, that is. With the estate-tax exemption at $3.5 million in 2009, 34,000 U.S. estates paid taxes to the Internal Revenue Service that year, a decrease from 108,000 in 2001. Although the tax was zero in 2010, it returns this year, at a rate of 35% for estates over $5 million.
Making distributions before death can help lower the tax hit and eliminate a lot of disputes, says Kathleen Sherby, a St. Louis tax attorney and fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. The problem, she says, is that "a lot of people just don't want to deal with it."
When Tom Tuchmann's father died last summer, who got what was not a big issue. After all, he and his siblings had long since feathered their own nests, and their dad's stuff was, he says, pretty worn out. (They each took a few sentimental items.) The harder part, says the Portland, Ore., forestry engineer, was having to process the reality that the Winnetka, Ill., home his dad had lived in for 50 years, a reassuring time capsule of their childhood, would no longer be there.
But while his brother waxed nostalgic about the old ceramic rabbit cookie jar and his well-played 45 of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," Tuchmann hadn't looked closely at the contents of his childhood home in 32 years and felt little compunction to start, he says. "Now that it's done, I'm moving on."
No wonder Americans have so much stuff to sell off. Over the past decade or so, we've spent nearly $2 trillion annually (much more than we're likely to get back) on things like these.
Homes: $747 billion
U.S. mortgage activity peaked (no surprise) in 2006, when Americans snapped up nearly a trillion dollars' worth of homes.
Difficulty to dump: Home prices are down 22% from their peak in 2006.
Motor vehicles: $407 billion
Green, schmeen -- America likes 'em big. Even though large-truck sales have dropped by more than a third since 2005, they still outsold every other category of vehicle but one in 2010.
Difficulty to dump: Used-car values rose during the recession, but experts say the rebound in new-car sales will dampen that trend.
Apparel: $251 billion
Blame our full closets? In 2009, for the first time in U.S. history, spending on clothing and footwear fell below 3% of Americans' disposable income.
Difficulty to dump: Even Goodwill's got a glut: Donations jumped 12% last year, more than triple the rise in 2009.
Electronics: $158 billion
The typical U.S. household spends $1,350 annually on electronics, more than the average person in Nepal makes in a year.
Difficulty to dump: Some half a billion old gadgets now languish in our homes, more than twice as many as did so in 2007.
Furniture: $87 billion
From 1999 to 2007, U.S. imports of household furniture more than doubled, with more than half coming from China.
Difficulty to dump: Traditional stuff (think middle-class mahogany) is down more than 50% from pre-crash prices.
Household goods: $68 billion
These purchases encompass everything from small kitchen appliances and dinnerware to cleaning materials and, yes, bathroom accessories.
Difficulty to dump: Forget resale. The federal Environmental Protection Agency reports a 23% jump since 2000 in household goods being simply junked.
Jewelry: $55 billion
Diamonds are still a girl's best friend, making up at least 30% of all jewelry purchases in any given year.
Difficulty to dump: The average sale price of used wristwatches on eBay dropped 28% from 2008 to 2010.
Fine art: $2.4 billion
Call it a renaissance: Art sales at major auction houses exploded in the early '90s, growing tenfold to peak at $4.8 billion in 2007.
Difficulty to dump: Based on lot prices, the average amount fetched at auction for fine art fell 43% from 2008 to 2010.
Sources: American Apparel & Footwear Association; American Home Furnishings Alliance; Artnet; CIA World Factbook; Consumer Electronics Association; CoreLogic; eBay; Edmunds.com; Goodwill Industries; International Housewares Association; Jewelers of America; Kelley Blue Book; Pike Research; U.S. Department of Commerce; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This article was reported by Missy Sullivan for SmartMoney.
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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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