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Antiques Considered - May 15, 2013

As we are in the middle of spring, we have been getting more inquiries about estate sales, how to arrange them, how to conduct them, what to do with the residue, and whether to hire a professional or to “do-it-yourself?” Periodically, I have treated this subject, and today’s column is an update in the hope that it will answer many of the questions.
First, in disposing of an estate, or even in simply downsizing, people have a variety of means avaIlable to accomplish their goals. An auction is one way to dispose of everything in one fell swoop, but in most cases unless the items are of great value, auctioneers will not accept reserves. Consequently, be prepared for potential disappointments with the results. An estate sale offers more control over the price, but is not a guarantee that everything will be gone.

The next decision is whether to conduct the sale yourself or to hire a professional to do it. Doing it yourself saves the commission, but also means that you will be denied the benefits and following of the professional. Among the latter is the use of the contact list, familiarity with pricing, and the knowledge of where to advertise and promote the sale. The professional also offers insulation from the buying public. As a broker, he or she, stands between you and the purchasers. Sometimes people do not want to hear criticism of their family’s belongings, nor to haggle with buyers. The matter of proper pricing is also important. The professional likely will be better able to set realistic prices that can be achieved, devoid of the sentimentality that often is associated with personal items.

Reserves are another advantage of an estate sale. If you would rather keep an object than sell it for a lower price, you can do so simply by telling the professional that if it does not bring the amount you want, you will opt to hold on to it.

From the standpoint of the public, the estate sale offers time to think about a purchase and be more deliberate than one can be at an auction where the item comes up, is bid upon, and sold usually in less than one minute. At an estate sale, time is less pressed, and the buyer can consider his or her decision more resolutely. As most estate sales run for two or three days, the possibility of returning on the following day means that the buyer might be able to get the piece for less by waiting.

If you decide to conduct the sale yourself, be prepared for potential aggressive behavior on the part of some members of the public. A friend of mine tried running one herself, and found people banging on her door at 5 a.m., despite her having advertised that the sale would begin at 8. She also was barraged with people dickering, and when the sale was over, she realized that inadvertently she had sold many pieces for less than she had intended to do. The professional becomes the barrier for that type of behavior taking place.

Unsold items can pose a problem. Most professionals have contacts with charities that will come and remove the unsold pieces, and offer the donor/owner a receipt for tax purposes. They also normally have the ability to arrange a clean-out of the remaining debris, but this service almost always is at an additional charge beyond the commission.
Finally, if you decide to conduct the sale yourself, determine first that you are going to enjoy the experience. Most patrons are delightful folks, who enjoy the camraderie of the sale, and become regulars in attendance. We have found that they come early, and patiently wait outside, often sharing coffee or tasty-looking treats, enjoying each other’s company.

 Henry Lane Hull and his wife, Lisa, own Commonwealth Antiques & Appraisals, Inc., P.O. Box 35, Wicomico Church, VA 22579. You may reach them at 804.580.3301 or email them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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