It is a question I am asked often; each time I have to smile to myself, knowing the course of events that transpired to get me into the estate business and evolve with it. Allow me to preface this by saying I don’t think I chose “it”. I think “it” chose me.
Wilma was 103 years old. While I had dabbled in the buying and selling of antiques back then (25 years ago), she had heard about me and invited me over for advice on what to do with her beautiful European residential contents upon her death. She said she was “ready for the hole” which I found amazingly blunt, but she was honest and genuinely worried about her things, as to not be a burden to anyone once she was gone. She had outlived her husband and children. We agreed I would return in a couple of weeks to discuss options, etc.
Upon my return, her beautiful home looked like a carnival had just trampled through it. You can imagine my horror when it was clear to see that her neighbors and so-called friends came over and helped themselves, breaking fine rare German figurines in the process and leaving debris behind for her to clean up. They had purchased her sterling, antique furniture, antique clocks, etc. from her for a dollar, $5, a few bucks here and there, and her possessions were worth a small fortune … tens of thousands at that time.
It was, for me, a moment of truth – an epiphany, if you will – about the inner workings of human nature. Truly, I was disgusted by what I saw, and felt both a deep sorrow for her, as well as a disdain for the people who had done this to her. How could they do that? We’re supposed to protect those who can’t protect themselves. From my best recollection, I lifted a silent prayer thinking about all the Wilma’s out there that needed advocates, to protect them from these unscrupulous people who knew her for decades and still totally took advantage of her, with little regard for their actions. It was unconscionable.
She asked me if she had been taken advantage of, and I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “Yes. I am afraid so.” She nodded, knowing what had really happened and thanked me for my honesty. What she said next was what led me to this industry and to my life’s calling. “We old folks really need an estate lady like you!” And right there, sitting on her remaining green velvet antique sofa, the light bulb went off and I received my life’s instructions. “The Estate Lady” was born. I quit a cushy pharmaceutical job and went to work for myself, figuring if I was working this hard for them, I might as well work this hard for myself. It was a tremendous leap of faith.
From that moment to this, there have been many, many obstacles, plenty of tears for what I see in the industry (both good and bad), lots of sweat equity and even blood spilled due to its physical demands. My back is riddled with arthritis and my once beautiful hands show the signs of hard work. BUT … I’ve never once looked back. I’ve never regretted a thing. I am not rich, but in so many ways I am, because my clients allowed me into their lives. They shared their secrets and pain, and somehow, no matter how small or large, my compassion, skills, and presence made a difference in their lives. That is what allows me sleep like a baby every night, knowing I have served so many to the best of my ability. It is the driving force of my spirit.
If you know someone interested in pursuing this industry, share this link with them: http://www.aselonline.com/index.html. They can expect lots of hard work with little glamour. But if they are looking for a career in an industry that serves so many, and are willing to work hard and earn a decent income, it becomes a win-win.
Not everyone is cut out to do this kind of work. It takes the kindness and compassion of a minister, combined with the grit of John Wayne. If this sounds like you, I would encourage you to explore it.
I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life!
©2013 The Estate Lady®
Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com.
No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent. Email her at Julie@TheEstateLady.com