EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 4 - December 18, 1999 - ISSN 1528-6703     6 of 11

Getting the Most out of an Estate

By Wayne Tuiskula

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Someday, you may be faced with having to settle a friend or family's estate, or perhaps you are downsizing and wondering what to do with all your "stuff."

It is always best to get advice on anything that you think may have value. This is especially important with older items (60's and older). If you have a lot of older items in the house, don't throw anything out before you have someone look at your items or research them thoroughly yourself. I've had to jump in a Dumpster to pull out old postcards and linens that people threw out when cleaning an estate. On the other hand, though, don't be disappointed when items just don't have the value they used to. Your grandmother or uncle may have paid a lot of money for the crushed velvet couch in the 60's or the console hi-fi stereo, but they're just not desirable anymore.

You can check ads in the newspaper and the yellow pages to find the names of people who can help you with your estate sale. Ask friends and family members for referrals.

Your options vary depending on what is in the estate. If family members have taken all of the better items from the house, your options will be limited. When there are a lot of better items remaining, you have many options.

-- Some antique dealers or auctioneers will only want to buy the better items outright and not want the bother of selling the items of lesser value. You can choose to do that and find another method to sell or give away the items of lesser value.

-- You can sell the entire contents of a house to someone who will remove everything. They may also clean the house to prepare it for the realtor to sell.

-- An auctioneer may want to run an auction onsite if the house is full of antiques.

-- You can have people run an estate sale for a percentage of sales or run the sale yourself.

Usually, people who run estate sales will price all of the items and sell everything at the sale. When we run a sale, though, we walk through an estate to decide if there are some items that may be better suited for sale by other means. If you have something exceptional like a Tiffany lamp, you're not going to get fair market value at an estate sale. Some of the items we've found at previous sales include a Civil War diary, a complete original Hopalong Cassidy paint set and 2 German potato masher hand grenades (defused, fortunately).

These items were very desirable only to a select group of people and would not have brought much money at an estate sale. Items such as these are better sold through other means. In some cases, eBay and other online auctions are the best option. In many cases, online auctions aren't the answer. A nice 1940's mahogany bedroom set will do very well in an estate sale. An antique dealer may not want it because it isn't old enough. It would be cost prohibitive to ship it to someone who purchased it online, so eBay isn't an option. Also, if a house is filled with hundreds of lesser-valued items, it isn't worth the time to describe, photograph and ship all those items.

Lastly, don't forget that you can help needy people by donating some of your items to a charitable organization. You'll be able to help someone in need, and you may also be eligible for a tax write-off.

About the author:

Wayne Tuiskula has been an antique and collectibles dealer for over 20 years and a licensed auctioneer. He runs Central Mass. Auctions Inc. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He holds the (GPPA) Graduate Personal Property Appraiser designation from the National Auctioneers Association. Email Wayne at

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