Shay Jacobson, RN, MA, NMG, LNCC, CNLCP
In its own unique way, personal property tells the story of life. The first half of life is about acquiring as much personal property as we can reasonably house, and the second half is about trying to get rid of it all.
As young adults, we acquire our own places to live and rush to fill these yawning, empty spaces. If we’re lucky, we prosper, have families and move to ever larger quarters. These new spaces call for more furniture and decoration, and the children clamor for more toys and accessories. Many of us go on to fill garages, sheds and storage units, as well.
Eventually, the day comes when the children launch and begin their own acquisition campaigns. The parents, now entering the second half of life, begin to contemplate downsizing so they can spend more time travelling and less time vacuuming. Every inch of their four-bedroom house is occupied by papers of unknown origin, outgrown clothing, inherited figurines from the prior generation, boxes of grade school art, prom dresses, toys, framed art, photo albums, craft supplies, holiday decorations and excess furniture.
The prospect of sifting through all this personal property and making hundreds of decisions about its ultimate disposition is simply paralyzing. The dread associated with this task may be the single greatest reason 85-year-old widows wind up alone in those four-bedroom houses, still surrounded by mountains of items. They want to move to assisted living, but there are only two rooms there. Somehow, they have to get rid of six rooms worth of stuff, and they have put this chore off for 20 years.
An entire industry has sprung up around the problem of personal property. There are appraisers, consignees, estate sale vendors, “pickers”, Ebay stores and charitable organizations that will accept certain donations. It seems there are buyers out there who may want our stuff and a host of merchants willing to assume the role of middle man.
Having helped countless seniors overcome the hurdle of downsizing, and having liquidated large volumes of personal property attached to decedent estates, we offer the following definitions, guidelines and advice for those poised to take this plunge:
Professional, certified personal property appraisers are the great awakeners. Their services may stop us from underselling something of significant value. More often than not, though, it is their duty to tell us that those old pieces of grandma’s furniture are not worth nearly what we might have hoped. However disappointing this news may be, we need to know the truth about what we own and what it may be worth to someone else.
Appraisers charge for their time. They will come out and look at the personal property, conduct research (as needed), and then submit a report noting items of value and their estimated worth.
Some appraisers may offer to buy items from your collection. While convenient, it is generally not good business practice to sell something to the very person who has just apprised you of its worth.
Consignees are professionals who offer to sell personal property on your behalf without buying it themselves. They typically have a large database of prospective buyers and/or a storefront where they will offer your merchandise for sale. They make a living by keeping a percentage of the sale price.
Consignment is a good option when the appraisal reveals that you have a small number of reasonably valuable items amidst a sea of more commonplace merchandise. The consignee will take those few things of value, leaving you free to sell or donate the lesser items.
Pickers buy things outright. They come in search of items they can re-sell on Ebay or at flea markets, and many are seeking particular types of items for which they know they have a market. Many tend to take small items (hats, framed art, collectible figurines, board games) they can carry away with them. We typically ask these vendors to pay in cash.
Estate Sale Vendors
Not all estate sale vendors are the same – some operate at the high end of the spectrum, and others at the low end. Many will review your appraisal report to determine if you have enough merchandise of value to make a sale viable for them. Estate sale vendors, like consignors, keep a percentage of the total bank at a sale. They have to advertise the sale, prepare for it by tagging all items, and staff it, so there are quite a few associated expenses. If they don’t feel your sale will generate enough revenue to cover their expenses and leave them with a bit of profit, they will likely decline.
Estate sales are most appropriate when the volume of items to be sold is large (i.e. an entire household). Plan on having to get rid of unsold items – not everything will sell. Cars can be included, and often serve as anchor items to attract buyers to the sale.
Auctions are conducted off-site by professional auctioneers. Like consignors and estate sale vendors, these professionals are compensated with a percentage of the sale proceeds. They will take only those items they feel confident they can sell. Some auctioneers have websites on which you can track the sale. One of the central benefits of this option is that the saleable merchandise is off site and out of the way if the house is being prepared for the real estate market.
Goodwill and Salvation Army are among the better known charities interested in personal property. This is a gift, of course, and not a sale; the estimated value of the donated items can typically be used as a tax deduction, however. It should be noted that charities are very well served these days and impose limitations on what they will accept. Some charities no longer take books, stereo and TV consoles, old computers, and metal items (file cabinets). It is well worth it to call ahead and ask them what they do not accept.
Some charities still visit neighborhoods and collect items from the doorstep. There are limits here, too. Most will tell you exactly how much they will take on a given visit (i.e. five boxes, ten bags) and when they will take it – they may only visit your neighborhood once every six weeks, and you will have to wait.
If a client is moving to a senior living community, we often recommend that they move first – taking just the personal property they need and can accommodate in the new space – and then allow us to tackle the remainder. Not everyone can afford to move without first securing the proceeds from their home sale, but there are definite benefits to being out of the fray when the liquidation process is underway. It is stressful and rejuvenating all at once to see the property go.
We acquire….and later we liquidate. This seems to be the natural order of things, but the undertaking of this effort feels anything but natural. Please call us at 630-953-2154 if we can be of assistance in “weeding the garden” of someone you know.