7 Characteristics of Diminishing Value

For many years, I have spoken about the characteristics of value when it comes to our heirlooms and other personal property.  Contrary to popular belief, the “age” of an item, is not necessarily the most important characteristic of value.

Appraisers look at objects from many different perspectives;  condition, rarity, the market, an item’s desirability, materials and craftsmanship, the artist (if known), provenance/history, quality, style, etc.  As you can see, determining a fair market value is NOT as simple as looking on ebay and it is certainly not an asking price or a retail/gallery price.  It’s more complex than that.

Most do not realize that condition issues can really put a dent in the value of an item, especially if the piece has been altered from its original condition;  painted over, stripped, refinished, married pieces, etc,. all of which have an impact on value.  However, there is more to the story on what can have a negative impact on values.

Think “damage.”

Here are some other things to take into consideration when you believe great-grandmother’s curio or desk might be worth a fortune:

1)  Moldy/Mildewy = Stinky – Mold and mildew are active fungi and grow in colonies.  They reproduce by spores carried by air so it spreads.  It not only destroys the material it lands on, it can also cause mild to severe health issues. Many estates are locked up for a long time, whether in storage or a home that has not yet been sold.  Often the air conditioner and heat are barely on and the home can take on an awful odor, in storage too.  This musty smell takes time to develop and is a sign the piece(s) have been exposed to dampness and active decay is taking place over time.

2) Leaky – Many pieces we find may have water damage from simple water rings to evidence of sitting in water after pipe damage, leaky roof, etc.  Water is an enemy to household furnishings and once the damage is done, it is hard to un-do.

3) Mousey/Buggy – In estates, we see what mice leave behind in the way of poop and find bug problems as well.  It can range from simple to quite complex.  Mouse poop is an extreme health hazard and can cause the Hantavirus which is potentially lethal for humans.  Bugs too can cause all types of damage to both wood furniture as well as the home itself.

4) Heat/Cold Exposure – Exposure to extreme heat or cold in the attic, basement, direct sunlight, etc., can have a devastating effect on our belongings.  Heat can cause the finish on furniture to “bubble and crackle” and trap dust underneath it once it cools.  Heat expands wood and cold contracts it.  This would explain why some veneer pops up, falls off or the piece becomes warped with time.

5) DIY Stripping and Refinishing –  All of us have the best intentions when it comes to a DIY job of stripping, sanding and refinishing.  The problem is most people do not do a quality job (most likely because it is tiring work) and this can have a serious impact on value.

6) Missing pieces – such as finials, relief carving, legs, pieces of veneer, original knobs, etc.  If pieces are missing, the value goes in only one direction;  down.  People who are looking to purchase these items are definitely looking for all original pieces.

7)  Something Old, Something New – People can get pretty creative with damaged antiques, especially if a piece is missing or the owner wants to create a different looking piece by adding new legs, a new shelf on top, etc.  We see a blending of one piece with another, and often one piece is old and the other piece is newer.  To the owner, it looks great.  To a professional who is tasked with the selling of such an item, it certainly hurts the value.  In the industry, we call putting two or more unoriginal pieces together being “married.”  It works for people, but not necessarily objects.

Damage of any kind will hinder the selling price of most items, unless the prospective buyer likes the “look.”  Sometimes our clients are a bit shocked when it comes to the seriousness of how much value a treasured piece can lose due to any of these circumstances.


©2017 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising/consulting, 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.

Estate Items: What’s Hot and What’s Not?

As we head into the new year, we also head into continued uncertainty with our economy, among other challenges.  The past few years have left some battle scars on the personal property industry, and the economy is still in a weakened state.  We are witnessing the market become flooded with traditional furnishings.  One has to wonder:

  1. When will the market return?
  2. What is currently selling well, if traditional furnishings are selling low?

How I wish I had that crystal ball!  Since we don’t, we can only read the trends based on our experience.

This list is not all-inclusive, but just the highlights of the market.  Items on the “NOT selling well” list are still selling but only if prices have been significantly lowered by the seller/liquidator.

Just this week, we saw a fantastic antique English, curly maple chest of drawers sell for $150 at an auction.  A few years ago, that piece would have brought $1,000.

Please don’t blame the seller; this isn’t the seller’s fault.

The market is simply not bearing healthy prices on many items at this time.

This is the new normal.

What’s currently HOT and selling well?

  • Mid century furniture, some Danish modern, designer furniture from this era
  • Military items: Civil War to present day
  • Genuine and costume jewelry
  • Sterling silver/gold/platinum
  • Vintage toys
  • Record albums: classic rock, jazz, blues.  Not opera or classical yet.
  • Vintage electronics and stereos
  • Utilitarian items: housewares, cookware, kitchen ware, tools, camping, etc.
  • Used cars/boats
  • Vintage garden and patio items
  • Guns
  • Yard items/ornamental/garden tools

What’s NOT selling well?

  • Traditional “brown” furniture
  • Glassware: clear etched, cut crystal, pressed glass, etc.
  • China sets and painted porcelains
  • Victorian furniture, other dark heavy antique pieces
  • Holiday items/collections
  • Rugs: Persian, Oriental
  • Collector plates and figurines (Franklin Mint, Bradford Exchange, etc.)
  • Upholstered furniture
  • Common antiques
  • Dining room furniture, hutches
  • Print media: numbered prints, mass-produced art items

If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that things are always changing.  For now and for quite some time to come, these are the trends and predictions.  One day, this will change too; we just don’t know when.

©2014 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.

Clean Out an Estate and Care for the Environment

Q:  While I’m cleaning out an estate, how can I also “go green” for the environment?

A:  Thank you for this excellent question.

Donating, recycling, and selling are less expensive than a dumpster and may provide cash for your unwanted items.  They may also provide a tax deduction or help out a worthy cause.  Use your imagination when deciding where things could go, other than black trash bags!  Can someone use your items in some form or fashion?  This is the ultimate in recycling.

Remember the following when cleaning out estates:

  • Have the neighbors in for free household chemicals, garden/yard tools, etc.
  • Create a donation network by discussing what you have to give.
  • Keep watch for charity drives in your community.
  • Web search for places to sell or donate items.
  • Gazelle.com, venjuvo.com, techforward.com and myboneyard.com all offer varying amounts of compensation for electronics.
  • Mygreenelectronics.com tells you where to find nearby recycling centers for electronics.
  • Paper, cardboard, and scrap metal are commodities that are traded.  Find a buyer in your local phone book.
  • Scrap metal and other household metals, photo frames, etc. are wanted by artists, or can be sold for scrap.
  • Charities are in a funding crisis; paper, books, games and toys help daycares, senior centers and after-school programs.  Give them a call; they are happy to give you a wish list.
  • Alzheimer’s facilities are always looking for clean linens, towels, etc.
  • Many religious organizations/groups set up homes for refugees, domestic abuse victims, pregnant women, disabled adults, etc.  They need many everyday items that you need to dispose.
  • Inventory the home before buying materials.  Garbage bags, boxes, and cleaning supplies are normally already in the house.
  • Worn sheets and towels, leashes and pet bowls are very much needed by local pet shelters.
  • Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

Do your part to help!

© 2012 Julie Hall

What Currently Has Value?

Q: What currently has value or is selling fairly well?

A:  Reader, thank you for this question, and it is the million dollar question.  The answer is “not much” these days, except the following:

  • Precious metals/fine estate jewelry
  • Certain scrap metals
  • Electronics/home furnishings
  • Mid-century furnishings (1950s and 1960s)
  • High-end antiques, art, etc.
  • Used gas-efficient cars

And, believe it or not, utilitarian items such as kitchenware, linens, clothing, etc are selling very well at estate sales.

Keep in mind that even the bottom half of this list is not bringing in what it has in the past.  If a collector wants something bad enough, they will dig deep for a special item, but we are not seeing it as much as we used to. 

I fully expect prices on second-hand furniture (especially traditional, dark furniture) to continue to drop in price, as will real estate markets, land, larger vehicles, and many luxury items.

We are in for a bumpy ride, friends!

© 2011 Julie Hall


Why can’t I determine value on the internet?

Q:  You make it sound complicated to establish value of my heirlooms.  Why can’t I just look at the internet and find the value myself?  Surely there’s plenty of stuff for sale on Ebay that I can find a similar item and see what they are asking for that item.

A:  The arrival of the 21st century has enabled us to find 90% of what we are searching for on the internet.  What a great tool — but with greatness also comes weakness.  What a double-edged sword.  If used correctly, you can find the answers.  If used incorrectly, it can truly mislead you, or cause permanent damage to one’s reputation. 

I read numerous articles, newsletters, and blogs; I see so many wanting to research what their possessions are worth. 

There are multiple factors involved in assigning a value to a particular item, not limited to the following:  marketability, condition, collectability, age, rarity, provenance, materials used, handmade vs. factory made, etc.  Age alone is not the only important characteristic, for all that is old is not necessarily valuable.  Original condition is a very important factor, as is rarity. 

One problem is everyone seems to believe they have something hard-to-find or rare, based on family stories told over years.  Families are often disappointed to learn that the old bench great-grandfather made in 1857 is just an old bench and has more sentimental value than monetary value.

People have a tendency to jump onto Ebay, which is not always a good thing.  While Ebay is a huge site with a broad variety of items, the market is currently down and often cyclical.  There are better times of year than others to sell on Ebay.  It’s also important to compare apples with other apples, and not an item that just looks like grandma’s old figurine.  You must first have an accurate description of the item, then you can begin your search.

Remember too, the cardinal rule: If you go searching on the internet, make sure you accurately find the price the item sold for, and not just the asking price.  Many times people say, “Julie, you only appraised this item for $200 and I see it on the internet for $675.  Why is your appraisal so different?”  My research in comparables accurately depicts what it sold for.  Anyone can ask any price they wish.  Go on Ebay and you will see some pretty ridiculous asking prices!  But note, the items have not sold for these prices.

It is important to also remember to search multiple search engines, as well as different values: not just Ebay, but online auctions, in-person auctions, estate sales, etc.  Find the fairest comparables you can.  Keep in mind that professional appraisers have extensive training and knowledge in research, writing, and databases, which the average person does not have.  When in doubt, please hire a professional appraiser to offer you the knowledge you need to make good, sound decisions about your personal property.

© 2011, The Estate Lady

“Are Co-Executors a Good Idea?”

Q:  I have two grown daughters who get along well, and treat me with great care and respect.  Now that my husband has passed away, I need to update my will.  I am considering both my daughters to be co-executors.  Is this a good idea or not, Julie?  What do you suggest?

A.  Have you ever noticed that there are those who are very good at making decisions and those who couldn’t make a decision if their life depended on it?  While these are two extreme examples, everyone is somewhere between those two extremes – a mixed bag of opinions, emotions, thoughts, feelings, theories, etc.  You never know what you’re going to get when you add different moods and personalities to the mix.

Even when you know someone very well, the tide can easily turn when one is grieving and handling an estate, which is a very stressful situation.  The slow and steady brother suddenly rears up and causes strife which you did not expect.  The quiet, reclusive sister becomes the chronic complainer to the point of estrangement.  Another sister is refusing to move out of the home, causing major financial problems for the family.  Finally, the long-lost baby brother no one has heard from in years surfaces, demanding his share.

One executor is difficult enough, for they can never make everyone happy and are always the target.  Having co-executors is not often recommended by legal professionals for these reasons:  differences of opinion, geographically remote from the location of the estate, one can easily cause trouble, the other can drag out the sale of the estate against the family’s wishes.  You name it and I’ve seen it!

I think many people choose co-executors because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  In the end after they leave this earth, the hurt, pain, and grief that their decision has caused can be unbearable.

Bottom line: Think long and hard before assigning co-executors.  It may be best to assign this role to someone who is completely objective, rather than either of your daughters.

© 2011 Julie Hall

“Can an Executor Change the Locks?”

Q:  I am the executor for my mother, who just passed away.  She is our last parent to die, and now her house and garage will be unprotected.  I don’t know who has keys to her house, since she had some caregivers towards the end of her life.  Is it ok for me to change the locks?

A:  If you are the executor of your mother’s estate, you have a responsibility to protect all she owned until decisions can be made about dividing and disposing of her personal property.

The first step would be to retrieve all the keys to your parents’ home.  Since this is not possible with the uncertainty of who might have keys,  start with a clean slate.  Change the locks with everyone’s knowledge.  What a small price to pay for peace of mind.

No one should remove anything from the house immediately after a parent’s death.  This is common, yet it is a huge mistake that families make.  No one issue causes as much disturbance among the children and heirs: knowing that one child took a collection of stuff away and the rest don’t know the real value, nor the extent of the collection.

On the other hand, the executor has the responsibility for safekeeping the assets, and a death will often signal a vacant house to a thief who might be watching the neighborhood.  Depending on the valuables in your mother’s house, you may find the need to remove items of value, such as jewelry, sterling silver, personal legal papers, insurance documents, and anything else of significant value.

If you do remove any items for security reasons, document who has the items and where they are.  Make sure that every heir knows where the items are, and that this is a temporary home for these items.  Try to keep the items local, so they can be present and accounted for during the division of property.

The more timely the division of personal property with your siblings, the less worry you will have about burglary.  Draw the curtains and blinds every time you leave the home, and have a lamp timer to come on in a couple of rooms in the house.  Remember to leave the air-conditioning on.  Nothing is worse than turning off the utilities and coming back to a house which smells of mildew and has visible mold.

© 2010 Julie Hall

“Mom and Dad Left Us a Mess!”

Q: My mother died a few months ago and I am completely overwhelmed with the accumulated mess she left behind.  Though I tried to offer help on many occasions through the years, she would hear no part of clearing out her stuff.  I spend most of my days in tears, resentful that she left me this mess, squeezed between my family, my job, and her affairs.  Do you have any advice for me to handle this daunting task?  Can you at least tell others not to do this to their children?

A:  You have touched upon one of the most important aspects of my work and of my public speaking.  In my work, I deal with children every day who are flying in and out of town, trying to handle parents’ estates.  The “Sandwich Generation” is caught between caring for our parents and our children, with not enough of us to go around, especially when geographically remote from either parents or children.

When I speak, I talk openly about accumulation, what to do about it, how to begin thinning out your stuff, or get rid of it altogether.  Evaluation is the first step in any estate settlement process.  Children are often in a crisis mode and don’t know where to begin this daunting task.  Finding a company or person you can trust to help you understand the values of your parents’ personal property is paramount.

Once you are armed with that information, you are better able to decide what can be thrown out, what can be donated, what to keep, etc.  Remember that knowledge is power.  If you do not possess the knowledge to make these decisions, find a professional who does and can offer you objective information.  This professional can also help you sell items of value, and clear out the estate.  These services are especially valuable if you live out of town and have limited time to spend handling the estate.

Often I find my older clients have massive accumulations in their attic, closets, basement, and garage.  The reasons are numerous and not always understandable.  My guess is that they don’t know how to handle the accumulations either.

All too often, I sit beside a child whose parent has just died; they are angry that mom or dad left this mess, and they are grieving too.  This becomes a double blow to their heart and spirit.  If parents could see what I see, they wouldn’t do this to their children.  How would you like to be remembered?

© 2010 Julie Hall

Mom Refuses to Create a Will

Thanks to another reader for this excellent question.

Q:  My mother refuses to have a Last Will and Testament drawn up.  She doesn’t want to hear about the ramifications that would be present if she died without a will.  It hurts me to think she will not take care of this matter.  How can I get her to listen?

A:  You are certainly not alone in your concerns for your mother.  For each of us, facing our own mortality can never be a pleasant thing.  Yet preparing a will and other legal documents is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give our loved ones.  When you prepare a will, you assure that things are done according to your wishes when you pass away.

I recommend that you contact an attorney or paralegal.  While I am not one, I can share with you many situations where I am brought into an estate where the individual died intestate (without a will).  What a complete nightmare!  I wouldn’t wish that horrible mess on anyone, let alone my loved ones.

The attorneys/state get deeply involved, creditors hassle the family, family members are in a constant state of unrest, and any money from the estate often goes right out the door, instead of going to loved ones.  It is grueling and time consuming, not to mention distressing and miserable!  When you don’t have a will, you doom your heirs to potentially years spent closing your estate.  Why would you knowingly do that?

We go to great lengths to preserve our heirlooms and other personal property.  Since we can’t take them with us when we pass away, doesn’t it make sense to make preparations for all that you worked hard for in your lifetime, and protect that with a will or trust and other legal paperwork?  It makes sense to me!

© 2010 Julie Hall

My Sibling is the Problem

This week, I’m answering another great question from a reader.

Q:  I am the executor of my mother’s estate.  There are 4 children and one of them is being problematic, even accusing me of things I haven’t done and have no intention of doing.  Is there something I can do to help this situation, because she is not speaking with me and causing everyone great distress?  She wants everything in Mom’s house that is valuable and is not willing to share.  Mom specified everything be split 4 ways equally.  Any help would be appreciated!

A:  In my profession, I see this more often than I would like to admit.  Sometimes the glue of the family begins to disintegrate once both parents pass away.  If one sibling is being difficult, he or she is really calling out for some type of assistance, and it requires great patience and grace to get to the root of the problem.  In some cases, the difficulty can lie in a form of guilt or resentment that this sibling is feeling.  Perhaps they never got the chance to make something right with the loved one before their passing, or felt cheated during their life by the one who just died.  Envy can also play an important role in the behavior of siblings during this difficult time.

Here’s what to do to help this situation.  Write each sibling a letter as the executor.  Share with them the feelings and fears you have about this situation.  Be honest and direct and encourage a family meeting.  Offer each sibling the opportunity to speak, one at a time.  Ask the problematic sibling to tell you what they desire and why.   What would make them feel better?  Really listen to each other.

Have an appraiser evaluate the contents of the home before anything is removed.   Keep a spreadsheet for each sibling and what they would like to have.  Make certain each takes approximately the same financial amount, based on the appraisal.  If one has considerably less assets, make up for it with cash assets, if all siblings agree.  Select items in mom’s house in order of birth and then reverse the order to make it fair, or draw names out of a hat.

Being an executor is probably the most difficult task you might ever experience.  It will test the core of your being!  Lead with your heart, keep compassion on the forefront of your mind to remain fair and objective, and most of all, honor your mother’s memory by being respectful of her and her lifelong possessions.  This is about your mother’s wishes, not your sibling’s!

© 2010 Julie Hall