The Auction Block

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Number 4 – Willy-Nilly Uninformed Disposal” a common offense against personal property.   This one applies to all types of personal property. Today’s fast paced world, where less is more, often drives the need to clear clutter now or to deal in an expedient way with a loved one’s personal property. Become informed, consult with professionals, as needed, and you can still quickly and often more efficiently take care of personal property disposal.  You wouldn’t sell your home without consulting with an expert!

Estates: The first decision when dealing with an estate is to decide if there is enough to do an estate sale and if you are going to do one yourself or hire a professional.  If you believe you wish to hire a professional, I suggest not going  far past basic trash removal, before the professional gets a chance to view the stuff.  You would be surprised what people buy at estates sales.  Leftovers can always be discarded or donated at the end of a sale.  Words of warning: not all estate sale conductors are equal.  If your family has good stuff, call in an appraiser first.  Some items are best excluded from an estate sale as  more profitable venues exist for the sale of high-end collectibles, fine art, and certain antiques.

Below are  my 12 recommendations for disposing of stuff:

1)  First, clear clutter. I am speaking of the pure trash here – junk, contemporary magazines or papers, broken appliances,  contemporary mass-produced items that are no longer working.  Obsolete technology is collectible:  Old slide rulers, cameras,  1st generation computers and video games have value.  Sell these modern technology collectibles at the entry-level of the market.  Entry level includes: tag sales, eBay, or consignment stores.

Tip: A hot area of collecting today is mid-century modern.  Items belonging to this genre turn up often in the market as the generation who owned these items downsize or their belongings enter the estate market.  Hot equals easy to find eager buyers with cash.  However, you still need to know what you have.  Mid-century mod, often referred to as Danish modern, examples of art and decorative items often get dismissed as ugly or out-dated by an undiscerning eye.  Small can mean big bucks in this collecting area.

2)  Clothes are okay to give away, unless they are vintage designer clothes or purses.

3)  Be careful with costume jewelry.  Costume jewelry has value.  Often people can’t tell what is a period piece(i.e. Victorian or Deco) of real jewelry vs. costume.

4)  If you are considering selling via a classified ad, read the warnings on popular websites like Craigslist and adhere to them.  Description is important here, as is research. Some professionals will write descriptions,  help you set values, and formulate a selling strategy.

5)  Selling items at a garage sale. Often I see people pricing items based on ” a look” on eBay.  Mistakes here include:  value data not taken from completed sales, misunderstanding that collectors in the entire universe vs. the handful of people coming to your sale makes for a limited market, not comparing the item apple for apple on factors like condition, age,  or desirability.  If you find something in your research that warrants further investigation, leave that item out of the sale and research later. Better yet get in touch with an expert.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I would share a story where I turned $50 into big bucks. Hired a few years ago to check a sale already setup in the garage with most items priced;  I ended up pulling and brokering over $45,000 worth of items.  One was a Tiffany peacock mirror with a price sticker of $50, ca. 1900, which we sold for $31,500.  One call saved this person a lot of money.  The morale to this story:  This time DO believe that little voice in your head.  The client’s family came from NYC, NY and had some money.  She knew this and paid close attention to her gut instinct –  she was about to sell items for much less than they were possibly worth. In this case, THOUSANDS!

6)  When selling to a dealer, only consult with dealers who are reputable and will pay a fair price.  Expect to get 1/3-1/2 of the fair market value.  Dealers have expenses and are in business to earn a living.  If you don’t feel like you are being treated fairly or with respect, it is okay to back away. Quickly!

7)  An appraiser should never buy from  a client.  Big conflict of interest and a USPAP violation for professionals certified in this standard.  Tip: Look for appraisers who do the work full-time, have USPAP certification,  and current membership in a professional organization. You will pay more –  but in the long run it will save you money.  If you can’t find an appraiser in your area, feel free to contact me.  I will help.

8)  Donations –  document with photos, list items using a brief description and use a guideline for donated goods as published on the internet by leading charities.  Ask your recipient if they have a suggested value list.  You may have to break it up into several donations or get an appraisal if your donation is large or valuable.  Value used goods as depreciated goods, it doesn’t matter what you paid for the item.  Consult with a tax professional or an estate attorney to get guidance here as rules change yearly and the IRS is getting tough.  If you are considering donating fine art or antiques, consult with the recipient and a appraiser.

9)  If you don’t know style and construction techniques used in furniture then either learn them or ask for help.  While few, recently there have been some fine examples of period Federal furniture sold or donated for a song that are worth big bucks. Same thing applies to ceramics, glass, and art.  Small items become the victim more often of an uninformed seller’s zeal.   Cash lost here can range from the hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars.  In this economy, no one can afford to potentially make this sort of blunder.

10)  If there is a large collection of one type of item, assume that there could be some valuable examples.  Statistics!

11)  Equitable distribution. Rule number one here:   Make sure it is fair.  Call in an expert to consult, like the author who performs this task for an hourly fee, and place values on items.  This form of willy- nilly disposition can cause problems down the line and destroy family relationships and bonds.

12)  Working with auction houses often proves tricky.  Make sure you have a contract and you understand all the terms.  Ask for references.  Be sure that you are selecting the right level of auction house for your treasures.  Selling a piece of art in a local auction house when it belongs in a regional or national auction house with international exposure can cost you big time.  Broker’s, like our professional team, can help make sure your piece gets matched to the most appropriate market.

Have questions about getting rid of stuff? Please call before you dispose for a free phone consultation.

Hint for tomorrow’s offense(#3): Green is the new black.

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