O.K., you’ve committed to “rightsizing” your living circumstance and you are planning to move. You have picked out a new home, scrutinized the floor plan, and are pretty confident about what you are going to take with you. But there is a major problem – what are you going to do with the items you don’t want? The adult children already have everything, the grandchildren aren’t old enough to set up housekeeping and you don’t want to give it all away because, frankly, you could use the revenue to help pay the moving expenses. There are many items you would like to sell, but how do you value them?
You begin by making a list of what won’t fit in the new home or what you won’t need anymore (like lawn mowers, etc.). List every room in your house, including the attic, basement, garage, or shed, and don’t forget the porch and patio furniture and lawn ornaments. Then inventory each room, writing down all the major items (don’t forget lamps, art, rugs and appliances) that won’t have a home with you. Get colored, removable dots at any office supply store and dot everything that you want to sell. The dot system means that you don’t have to move items around or collect them in one place. Let lamps, books, and collectibles sit where they are – just put a dot on them. Use removable dots because they allow you to change your mind easily. Don’t forget the items in closets like extra vacuum cleaners, file cabinets, and items on shelves. The dotting process can be relaxed, taking days or weeks if that time is available to you, and serves another purpose. It alerts family and friends to what is now “on the market,” but when they ask “how much?” you need to have an answer.
The primary goal is to establish a “fair market value” for the items you wish to sell. Recognizing the condition of a piece is first and foremost. Is it broken or has it ever been repaired and thus lacks structural integrity? Is the upholstery dated, dirty, faded or cat scratched? Is the finish faded, scratched up, or otherwise degraded, in whole or in part? Is it solid wood or is it laminated? Is it truly an antique (defined as being 100 years old or more), or is it a period piece from the 30’s or 40’s? Are furniture trim pieces or decorative hardware missing? Generally anything chipped or cracked is seriously devalued. Be objective in your assessment. Contemporary pieces of furniture generally fall into the generic “used” furniture category and are priced accordingly. The current market for new furniture is so depressed that furniture stores are almost giving new furniture away. This impacts the value of used furniture, making it harder in today’s market to wring a dollar out of previously owned pieces, unless they are of exceptional quality. Check furniture store sale ads in the newspaper and visit consignment stores for a reality check.
There are professional appraisers out there to help value your collection, but at $75 an hour or more, you can run up a hefty bill quickly. Do not use insurance “replacement” valuations as a basis for establishing “fair market value” or what you can expect items to sell for today. A good rule of thumb for price setting (quality antiques, jewelry and art exempted) is to sell an item for 1/3 to 1⁄2 of what you paid for it originally, leaning towards the 1/3 price point if you want to get rid of it quickly. Dealers who purchase estates and are willing to give you cash immediately normally pay $0.20 to $0.30 on the dollar measured against the retail value of the piece. Consignment shops, which partner with you to get the most out of your items, will pay you after the item sells. They generally give you more, averaging about 50% of what the item sells for, but most have a sliding scale of reimbursement, depending on how many days they have it on the floor before it sells. Some consignment shops want you to come pick up the items that have not sold after 90 days (this is not an attractive option for most seniors), so review your consignment contract closely. Auction houses are another option. Unless you are leaving almost everything, or want to auction the house and property as well, most people do not leave behind enough items of value to attract a large audience for an “on site” auction. You need an auction house to come pick up your items and combine them with other estates at an auction “gallery” that draws a large crowd and can generate optimum prices. Most auction houses will even clear out kitchens, garages, etc. and “box lot” collections of dishes, pots, pans and tools, bundling like items together to generate cash.
Finding the “end user” is the key to selling items yourself and keeping most of the revenue, whether with yard sales, the classifieds, or online via Craig’s List, etc. Placing a classified ad does not mean that you have to open your home at all hours of the day or night. When interested parties call, tell them they are welcome to view the items on a Saturday, for instance, between noon and 4 p.m. Always have a spouse or friend with you during that window of time for added security. If someone shows interest in an item, but doesn’t meet your sale price, always take their phone number in case you lower your price later. Pricing flexibility is the key to ridding yourself of household goods that you don’t want, especially if you don’t have much time.
If you can’t sell it, maybe it can be donated, but most outlets like Goodwill, the Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army and the DAV have restrictions as to what they will take. Few non-profits will accept old console TVs and stereos, old cabinet sewing machines, sleeper sofas, mattress and box springs, older exercise equipment or any upholstered pieces that are torn, soiled, or broken down. Most offer scheduled pick-up service on different weekdays, so call them to confirm.