Let’s say you’ve just inherited a large estate and you find yourself the proud owner of a whole bunch of stuff. Either that, or perhaps you’ve finally decided to downsize.
The solution? Read on.
The News Tribune recently spoke with three people — an auctioneer, an organizer of estate sales and a gemologist — who can offer solutions for people forced to deal with a mass of miscellaneous.
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Alan Gorsuch owns Sanford & Son Antiques in downtown Tacoma’s Antique Row.
“There’s categories the kids do want,” he said recently. “They want chrome and vinyl. They don’t want antiques. They want what they can put in smaller houses. People don’t eat in dining rooms. They don’t want that service for 12. They don’t want the big bedroom sets.”
He recalls the people who have come into the store with albums filled with historical photos.
“I’ve explained how rare they are, how important they are to family. They say, ‘We don’t know any of these people.’ They don’t want to be burdened by all that stuff.”
Sometimes, Gorsuch doesn’t want it either. If those photos have historic interest — say they depict Washington Territory — then they could well be an auction highlight.
“Tell them to bring in their stuff,” he said. “But if it’s 10 boxes of Beanie Babies, then no. But if it’s good, then we’ll see what we can do. Best of all, they should take pictures. Most things that come in here, I just don’t want.”
“I’m selling antique American oak furniture now for less than I would have paid in the ’70s,” he said.
He suggests that people curious about the value of their stuff should “go to the Internet, go to Craigslist, but understand that some of those people are cuckoo. At least do some initial research.”
And if your stuff doesn’t command an estimated value that pleases you, Gorsuch offers an alternative: “Put it in storage, and pay for 20 years, and then let your kids worry about it.”
Auction clients can expect to pay a percentage to the auctioneer — 25 percent is not unreasonable — to cover cataloging, advertising and conducting the proceedings.
And you might get lucky and find the person who actually desires that set of DeSoto hubcaps or those psychedelic go-go boots.
“Some things will sell for more than you thought,” Gorsuch said.
Particularly in demand these days are antique firearms, old toys in good condition, Civil War items and items of silver or gold.
But accompanying those Beanie Babies into history’s closet of obscure leftovers are baseball cards issued after the ’60s, and dishes. “Nobody wants dishes,” Gorsuch said.
THE ESTATE SALE EXPERT
Mary Sudar wears a pair of hats, first as personal property appraiser and then as an estate sale manager.
She appraises items to fair market value for clients involved in divorce, for example, and for those who have inherited an estate.
For the latter, she said recently, a typical conversation can begin with a client saying, “I’ve never done this before. My mother passed away. Where do we start?”
An estate appraisal might be required if items need to be divided equally or perhaps to satisfy tax considerations.
For an appraisal only, she charges an hourly fee, $95. “Never hire an appraiser who’s going to charge based on a percentage of the value,” she said.
An appraiser, she said, should have no interest in the items being appraised. “I don’t buy or sell directly,” she said.
She is accredited by the American Society of Appraisers and the American Society of Estate Liquidators.
As part of her service, she and her crew of assistants will make the items in the estate presentable for sale, because, she said, “You want a house where people will come in and think the owner just walked away.”
In the initial meeting with a potential client, Sudar will assess the items in the estate. She asks, “Is there enough to satisfy a crowd? Can I make this work for the client and the company?”
When she gets the commission, the work begins.
“We go through everything,” she said. “Hidden money in file cabinets, jewelry in pill bottles, baseball (memorabilia) in a rag bag. If I take on a sale, we get rid of foodstuffs, get rid of medicines. We sell what we can and donate what (we can’t). I will only sell what reflects on the owner and the company, so no dirty things, no pornography.”
For the sale, she charges a percentage of the gross sale, perhaps 35 percent or 40 percent, which includes all the research time she and her staff will spend on the project. A recent sale that included 94 clocks featured photographs of each along with detailed descriptions.
As to the popularity of certain items, Sudar suggests that millennials “want things from their childhood, include ‘Star Wars’ ” material. Photos of period birthday parties are popular, as are other items that provide a look at “social history.”
She is not averse to suggesting that potential clients contact an auctioneer, especially if the estate house “is not in good condition, or if the family needs the money in a hurry.”
Like Gorsuch, she notes, “There’s a lot of brown furniture on the market now. I refer a lot of people to the Northwest Furniture Bank.”
Other venues for donations could include local churches, food banks, adult care facilities and detention centers including Remann Hall, where Sudar said books for young adults are appreciated. Other venues include organizations such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul.
She also suggests that people facing a surge of stuff make a quick photographic record of the items in the estate and that they consider the feelings of the heirs.
“There are resentments from years past, slights from the age of 6,” she said. “Some of that you can’t solve. I’m a cross between Nancy Drew and your local librarian. We like to discover and we like to teach, and there’s a little Dr. Laura in there too.”
She suggests it would be a good idea if clients did some research on their own, perhaps at the public library or online. Treasures can be hidden, and she has found, she said, that the most valuable things “can be found in the attic or the basement, not in the china cabinet.”
Oh, and feel free to recycle all of those old National Geographics.
When engaging someone to conduct an estate sale, Sudar suggests that clients ask about charges, experience and references. There should be a contract that outlines, among other considerations, the insurance coverage held by the organizer as well as a clear description of what services will be offered and what steps will be taken with any items not sold.
Before leaving for Canada late last year, Karen Jensen had spent a decade as a jewelry appraiser in Tacoma. She is a registered graduate gemologist and a member of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers.
Her first slice of advice: “Don’t panic.”
“People get so crazy. They’re upset,” she said in her downtown Tacoma office.
She suggests that principals of the estate “check all cabinets, furniture, clothing, hidey-holes. Do not let anything out of the household until you check it. Take control of the household. Be diligent of your assignment as executor. Catalog everything. Examine everything. People do crazy things like put jewelry in the refrigerator, in the pantry or the back of a sock drawer. Don’t donate, don’t sell things until you’ve checked everything. Wait for a formal appraisal. Account for items that have been given as gifts to family, friends and caregivers.”
Concerning the individual pieces, Jensen suggests that people “match earrings, untangle chains, set aside the broken items.”
When visiting a gemologist or other certified and trusted appraiser, Sudar suggests the client bring in any court documents that assign you the power as executor. Also, it would benefit the appraiser to have “any old paperwork connected to the jewelry.”
“No appraiser is an advocate,” she said, offering caution. “We are hired to tell you the truth, to be honest.”
She will appraise at fair market value, which is typically well below retail value.
“Don’t be embarrassed about asking if the appraiser will just look at the collection to see if it should be appraised,” she said.
She charges between $250 and $350 per hour for a professional appraisal.
Although much of the costume jewelry she has seen does not qualify for a professional appraisal, she does suggest that the pieces can be repurposed.
“Why not keep it for the grandkids when they come over for Thanksgiving?” she said. “It can be pirate treasure at the beach, or they can play jewelry store, or play barter. It’s a great tool and (the jewelry pieces) are still heirlooms. There are pieces that can be worn to prom.”
She cautions that “sticky notes don’t count in the state of Washington. The will must state bequests.”
Personally, she cautions “anyone with a taxable estate — do not ask for the lowest number. Don’t put appraisers in the position of helping you with your tax return. Don’t ask for a ballpark. You’re employing a professional.”
Hot these days, she said, are high-quality opal jewelry and diamond jewelry manufactured before the turn of the 19th century. Alaskan gold nugget jewelry is likely to be valued at the “melt price” for gold, and the same goes for Black Hills gold. Pearls, Sudar said, depreciate quickly unless they are large or otherwise important, while pocket watches, unless they are gold, are best left on the mantle. Early Rolex, Patek Philippe or Breitling watches can easily command premium prices. Good rubies are in demand, but watch out for ivory — which can lead to a wrangle with international law.
Jensen neither buys nor sells jewelry. She offers that pieces will command reasonable prices when sold either at auction or through a private sale.
“Selling things,” she said, “takes time.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535