Cleaning up an estate

An auctioneer friend of mine was asked to have an auction for the estate of an individual who had passed away. When he arrived to look at the estate he was shocked to find a large dumpster sitting on the property partially filled. He was further shocked to learn that a full dumpster had been removed earlier. The family member who met him there shared that a lot of junk had accumulated and they wanted to get rid of as much of it as possible before he arrived. The auctioneer immediately told him to not throw anything else away until he had gone through it all.

This is not an uncommon scenario when family members need to clear an estate. They want to remove what they believe to be junk not realizing that oftentimes what they consider junk can be quite valuable. Last year I did an estate sale for a lady who was amazed that I loaded up several boxes of geodes her husband had collected during his life. She wanted to know what I was going to do with those “old rocks.” She had planned on throwing them out in the field behind their house. She couldn’t believe it when I told her there was value in those “old rocks.” They sold for about $400.00!

Like my friend, one of the first things I tell someone when they ask me to do an estate is to throw nothing away. Let me do that. Almost anything will sell at an estate auction and what doesn’t sell can be discarded then. Unless the family member was a hoarder they saw value in what they kept, and it’s likely others will see value in those items as well.

Anyone who has watched Antiques Roadshow has seen people bring in items they thought had little value only to be shocked to learn that this piece they stored in the basement was worth a great deal of money. The fact is most people often do not know the value of many items that might be found in an estate. That old pipe grandpa used to smoke could be quite valuable. An old rusty metal box stuck in the rafters of the barn might be full of old, rare coins. Assume nothing and do not throw away anything until the person you will have dispose of the estate looks at it.

On the other side of the coin I do need to make a comment about not overvaluing your items either. While walking through the home of an elderly lady she kept giving me the history of her antique furniture. When she told me a chest of drawers had been owned by her late husband’s grandmother I knew she was attaching a sentimental value to everything she had. I tried to explain to her that it did not belong to anyone else’s grandmother, and that the prices for antique furniture were not strong right now in our area. I could tell she was not happy with my comments, and I knew she would not be happy with the prices she was likely to get. I declined doing the auction. She had another auctioneer sell her estate and was very displeased with what it brought.

I’ve seen family members leave during an estate auction because it became too emotional for them. I’ve seen some get very upset at the prices they were getting for some things. The sentimental value was much higher than what anyone was willing to pay.

I always tell people to not look at one or two pieces that you thought sold too low but to look at the overall sale. Some items will sell below their value, but other items will sell for more than they are worth including some things you might have been tempted to throw away before reading this post.

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