Auctioneer offers liquidation tips

Last week in our Antique Trader e-newsletter, we told of a person who had inherited some antiques and collectibles they did not want to keep for themselves, but weren’t sure how to go about selling them without fear of getting ripped off. We asked readers for input on safe and cost-effective places to sell, whether they are brick-and-mortar or based on the Internet.

Our friends at Quinn’s Auction Galleries and Waverly Auctions ( have been educating senior communities and retirement groups on this very same thing. Here is just a snapshot, courtesy of Matthew Quinn, of what they suggest:

{ 5 things homeowners should do before hiring an estate liquidation firm }

1. DON’T DO ANYTHING… Yes, the first step is don’t do anything. The vast majority of people throw out the wrong things in an attempt to get ready for an estate liquidation professional, let the professional only throw away what is trash and not mistaken treasure.

2. Do your research… Interview companies. There are a lot of companies out there that aren’t as honest as we would like to think. Look for companies that are licensed and bonded (laws vary state to state, a business license is a must everywhere). Also, look for companies that have a steady history of payment, honesty and credibility. Smaller companies and individual professionals can offer one-on-one services and larger companies have the resources to handle more volume. Consider the size of your estate and the services you desire when selecting a company.

3. Determine what items you and your family members are keeping.
Be sure to seek your expert’s opinion even on the pieces you keep – it’s useful information to have. Also, this is a good way to feel out the company you’ve chosen… A company that doesn’t offer this information, or tries to get you to sell items that you don’t want to part with should be a red flag. Your family’s treasures are yours until they are sold. When in doubt, don’t sell a family heirloom that you may later wish you had kept; it can be very pricey to get back. Also, note that there may be fees on items withdrawn from an estate sale or auction if the company has already done work on the items in question. The fee, if any, should be disclosed beforehand, be reasonable, negotiable and fair for both parties.

4. Choose the right venue. Choosing the best venue for your items can sometimes be tricky. With so many options, some research will be required to determine the best for your situation. Auctions, estate sales, eBay, consignment shops and private sales all have their benefits and limitations. Look for a professional who is willing to discuss multiple options to determine which is best for you.

5. Marketing: How a firm spreads the word about your treasures is what separates a good firm from one you wish you hadn’t hired. Ask them what they will do to attract buyers and parties interested in your type of items. Where you choose to sell an item is less important than how the particular firm markets its products. A buyer sitting in China can easily bid online on an item sitting on a farm in Montana so long as they know about it.

{ 5 mistakes homeowners make during estate liquidation }

1. THROWING OUT THE WRONG THINGS. Virtually every client I have ever met has thrown out items that I could have turned into dollars for them.

2. Spending too much time. Time and money are virtually the same… sometimes people spend so much time selling their items that the realized value is less than $5 per hour. A professional can help maximize your time and money. Consult them, listen to them and use them! 

3. Giving items to friends and neighbors… All in good spirit, but do you really know what you are giving away? I had one client who had been given a early American Indian basket that was evaluated at $10,000… she kindly gave it back to the family that had given it to her mother… but would everyone do that? Ask your professional to help you decide what gifts to give your parent’s friends and neighbors.

4. Conducting your own estate/yard sale without proper knowledge of value.
If you want to do the work, most professionals will work with you. That is, you can sometimes pay a fee by the hour for a professional to price your items. This will ensure proper pricing while saving you the labor of setting up and executing the sale. There are more ways to save. Talk to your professional to see what things you can do to help reduce cost.

5. Selling all or most of the contents to one person.  Watch out for this! It may sound like a good deal at first and it is fast. But, looking a little deeper, the seller almost always loses. When liquidating estates, it is not uncommon to uncover valuable items like cash and jewelry as well as other items that you may not realize are worth so much. When you sell the entire estate, you also sell these hidden treasures.