Admire … Don’t Acquire

Did you ever think you would hear that from an expert in personal property?  It is an occupational hazard, being in estates all week long and handling the countless items I valuate, handle, and advise on.  I love my job, but let’s face facts — we all have way too much stuff!  It’s not hard to figure out — we buy, inherit, collect, and acquire things as gifts.  Over the course of a lifetime, that really adds up.

A client I met with yesterday was a breath of fresh air.  When I asked which pieces she would be keeping from the estate, she simply said, “Oh no, this stuff can’t come home with me.  I’ll admire, but won’t acquire.  My girlfriends and I are constantly reminding each other not to clutter up our homes.”  And that’s exactly the trap we all get stuck in, but this woman was disciplined!

In my public speeches, I share my theory of why we seem to collect so much, and keep doing it even though we know we already have enough.  Long ago from our early human ancestors, I believe we still have buried deep in our DNA the need to collect and hunt.  Back then, it was for survival.  Here in the 21st century, we just whip out the plastic and buy whatever strikes our fancy.  There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself, but there is something wrong if we continually do it, causing debt issues and marital strife, because the house is getting too full and the wallet is too empty.

I fall prey to temptation myself, especially on Ebay, if I see a pretty piece I would like to have.  I sit there and have a conversation with myself.  “Do you really need this, Julie?  No, you don’t.  Yes, it is nice, but you don’t really need it.  Save your money for something really special.”  Lately, I have found that I am doing this more and more, and it does work.  Not only that, but I am purging my own home, sending some items to auction and other items for a yard sale with friends in the fall.

In the next week or so, I will blog a little more on downsizing and the trends we are seeing in the industry.

© 2012 Julie Hall

Love People and Use Things, Not Love Things and Use People

I found this entry in the old journal my late mother wrote back in the 90’s.  It is a small, leather, white book with gold leaves; she wrote some of her favorite quotes in it.  As an expert in “things,” I really like this quote because it is directly related to what I see everyday.  “Love people and use things, not love things and use people.”

People are so anchored to their things and equate themselves and their success (as well as their legacy) to these “things.”  A legacy doesn’t mean leaving the kids with a large house full of collectibles.  It means love them and teach them.  That is ultimately what we take away with us and what means the most.  Don’t misunderstand — leaving behind an heirloom or two is a lovely gesture, but I am referring to people who haven’t quite figured out that you can’t take it with you.

Turn on the TV and you will see that we are bombarded with shows about finding stuff and making money.  One about finding hidden treasure in storage units and another who makes a good deal of money off other people’s lack of knowledge.  Believe me when I tell you that 99% of people are going to remove from storage anything that has exceptional value, prior to them being locked out and forfeiting to public auction!  Believe me when I tell you that those values are NOT accurate and not part of the real world.  We’re in a recession!  That’s just Hollywood.

We spend a lifetime collecting it, buying it, inheriting it, finding it, and then one day, we perish and leave this “load” for our kids.

How about we stop buying the stuff, sell the collectibles, and leave the cash to the kids, which they can really use and will hopefully truly appreciate?  I know I would.  This comment, while you may not agree, comes from years of listening to the children complain about this issue and why their parents never sold the things which mean nothing to them personally.  The stuff becomes a huge headache to deal with; mom and dad said the items were so valuable and the kids discover in today’s market, the value is very low.

If we don’t get rid of the things, I see those children really struggle with guilt when the parents leave them.  They end up filling their homes with the stuff, much to their own children’s and spouse’s chagrin.

These things are an anchor that will only bring you down, or bring down your children and heirs.  Get rid of the stuff, save the cash, and love your family!  Long after we are gone, our children and grandchildren will remember us by our actions, not our things.

© 2012 Julie Hall

I’m Seeing a Paradigm Shift

Lately, I have had an influx of calls that are resembling a pattern.  Boomer children are coming to grips with the financial hardship of long-term care for our elderly parents — and it comes at a high price.  We are living longer, but not necessarily healthier.

It used to be these boomers, of which I am one of them, called me to come out and appraise a few items or advise them on the best way to dissolve their estate.  Today, the phone calls have shifted to something a little more alarming.  “We need you to come out and advise us what these items will bring in today’s market.  Mom is in assisted living/nursing home and we have to sell everything to keep up with her care.  We even have to sell the family silver and heirlooms.”

These distress calls for help are a sign of the times.  It’s part poor economy, part living longer, and part not planning or saving as well as we could have or should have during our lives.  But even that last statement has multiple causes … I know many people who worked hard their entire lives, or were quite affluent, only to lose it in the stock market, ending up in possible foreclosure or financial ruin.

Sometimes it’s as simple as going through all the money the parent had, and now the children are doing their best to keep the parents’ care going; that includes selling what the children thought were valuable heirlooms.  Sometimes they do have value and sometimes they don’t, but the wrong time to sell is when the market is soft.

We need to learn from these hardships which are taking so much out on the children.  All of them thought it wouldn’t happen to them, but it did and it can.

I see a common denominator:  We are buying too much stuff we don’t need.  Shopping compulsions abound for men and for women.  At the end of the day, we are surrounded by piles of stuff and little money for our future.

MORAL TO THE STORY:  The frugal survive and thrive.  A little less HSN and QVC and a little more money saved for a rainy day.  This won’t solve all our problems, but it will build our confidence that we are doing all we can for an uncertain future, especially in healthcare costs.

© 2012 Julie Hall

You Can’t Take it with You!

Joanne was in her mid-seventies, and her daughter knew mom just couldn’t take care of a house over 4,000 square feet on over an acre of land.  Joanne had to have a home that large to house all of her possessions.  She needed to downsize and move to Assisted Living, but she was giving her daughter a very difficult time about the move.

The daughter made an appointment for me to come over and educate them in the estate sale process.  Her exact words: “Mom’s got 4,000 square feet full of stuff, junk and everything else, and it’s time to sell it all so she can fit into her new place.”  To complicate the matter, the house had already sold!

Throughout the conversation at Joanne’s house, I had a familiar feeling that I had to share.  I addressed the daughter who had asked me to come: “I would be happy to assist you in selling the remainder of this estate, but I have a funny feeling mom will not part with anything.”

Joanne looked over at me and gave me a “cat ate the canary” grin; I knew she was up to something.  The daughter insisted that all of the possessions had to go.  Still, I persisted as gracefully as I knew how.  “I think your mom might have other plans for it, don’t you, Joanne?”  Again, I received the same grin, but she sat silent, as if this was punishing her daughter for trying to make the right decision.

The daughter became increasingly disturbed, and I was caught in the middle.  “Mom, what is going on?”  Still, no reply from her mother.  Once more, I put on my gentle voice and stuck my neck out.  “I’d be willing to guess mom has other plans for her possessions.  Something like storage.”  Mom’s face was simply beaming.  I had hit the nail on the head!

The daughter’s face grew dark like an impending storm, and demanded to know what nonsense mom was up to.  Finally, it came out.  “Julie’s right.  I’ve already reserved four extra large storage units.  I’m not giving it away, or selling it.  It’s mine.  No one can have it but me!”

The lady who wouldn’t let go ended up moving and placing everything in storage, to the tune of over $7,000 per year.

Moral: You can’t take it with you, no matter how hard you try!

© 2012 Julie Hall

The Odyssey of Junk

Has your junk been more places than you?

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been in the estate business, I still wonder why we hold on to so much “junk” and why we have such difficulty letting go of it.  Oh sure, we may have it in neat piles, boxed in a spare room, crammed in closets, or out of sight, but make no bones about it — it is THERE, lurking in the darkness of our drawers, attics, and closets faithfully reproducing while we go about our busy lives.  How on earth do we amass so much?

I have a theory.  Somewhere back in our long-ago DNA when ancestors were primitive, I think we developed a “switch” in our brains that told us to gather and collect.  Humans were, after all, hunters and gatherers, and I believe we still are on some level.  Back then, we had to collect wood for fire, food to eat, etc. Our survival depended on it.  If you didn’t collect these items, you and your family would perish.

Today, we do it on a grand, 21st century scale.  We buy, buy, buy, and don’t really understand why.  We have far more than we need and far more than we will ever use.  Did you know we actually use only 20% of what we own?  Think about it — we wear the same, favorite clothes, shoes, use the same kitchen items, toiletries, etc.  So what happens to the other 80%?  It sits there, not being put to use, often until a loved one dies and then it has to be dealt with.  By then, it is too late and much of it is usually discarded.

We not only hold on to, but also keep moving stuff from one home to another: our college stuff, our kids’ stuff, even stuff for grandkids who aren’t walking yet, but we think they may want these items one day.

When we are in estates cleaning them out, or if clients ask us to clean out their attics, we find boxes with original moving company stickers from the 60s and 70s, and those boxes are STILL taped shut.  No one ever opened them after the move 40+ years ago.  The message that sends to me is these items weren’t important enough for me to open this box, so why do we still have them?

Our elders, God bless them, saved everything including broken appliances and parts (because you might need them one day), tons of catalogs and magazines (because those old National Geographics might be worth something).  The entire kitchen is cluttered with mayonnaise jars, Cool Whip containers, pie tins, etc.  The truth is, they are never used, because we find decades of dust on them.

Sometimes families move the entire household of a deceased relative to another state, only to clutter up their own homes.  This cycle is long, tiresome, and laborious, and the pattern needs to be stopped, or at least interrupted, so we can analyze why we do these things.  No wonder we’re all so tired, buying stuff, finding places for it, and then at some point, being forced to deal with it.  It will eventually become the proverbial monkey on our backs or our children’s backs.

Logic would dictate that we need to be free of it, in order to make our lives simple again.  It’s APRIL and the perfect time for SPRING CLEANING.  I’ll deal with my piles if you deal with yours!

© 2012 Julie Hall

Your Reality Check for the Day

My clients have taught me that in the end, the worth of an item is measured only by the joy it brings at a particular point in time.  Many of us claim to cherish our possessions, only to discover that with the passage of time, they don’t mean as much anymore, or they have become a burden to us in some way.

Perhaps our tastes have changed.  Our home is too cluttered, or the sheer volume of what we own has caused marital strife.  Maybe you feel guilty because mom passed away and you feel the need to take a lot of what she owned.

Today, more and more people are selling their stuff to downsize, make extra money, empty an estate, or to simplify their lives and not have their stuff own them.  I’ve seen each scenario described, and I have witnessed what appear to be love affairs between people and their things.

A recent client told me he was terminally ill and he had many collectibles and oddities he had collected over the years.  He wanted me to come over, sell what I could, and send the proceeds to benefit a wonderful organization.  What a beautiful thought, but it’s what he said that made me really think:  “Mrs. Hall, it’s time for someone else to enjoy these items which brought me so much pleasure.  I am blessed beyond measure.  These are just things that I had fun fixing up and looking at.  But it is a humbling thought knowing someone won’t make it through the night, and it’s time to move forward.  My job right now is not to worry about this stuff … it’s to live as long as I can!”

Suddenly, everything shifted as his words sunk in.  I always thought I was unique to my industry – that while I was an expert in personal property, I never truly had love for these things, just appreciation.  Clients like him have taught me what’s really important in life.

© 2011, The Estate Lady

From Clutter to Cash, Part 3

Here are the final 4 options for turning the clutter stored in your home and garage into cash.  Please pay special attention to Option #7 before you get rid of anything that might have value. 

6.  Do-It-Yourself – You can try Ebay, Craigslist, local advertising in your newspaper. These are time-consuming and often frustrating if you don’t know the proper way to describe the items, people never show up at the appointed times, money can be wasted in fees (especially Ebay’s, which are not cheap, but at times are worth it). For antiques, collectibles, jewelry, vehicles, larger collections: If you are determined to save the percentage you would ordinarily pay a professional, that’s ok. But keep in mind that professionals have the knowledge and skills to sell these items for the highest amount they can. If you are paying them a commission, they want it to sell for as much as possible too.

7.  BEFORE you sell or give away anything you perceive has value, make sure a professional appraiser takes a look at it. A professional who is paid for an opinion of value and not one that will offer to buy it, which to many is a conflict of interest, but you be the best judge. I have uncovered items worth tens of thousands of dollars that were slated for donation. The fee my client paid me was well worth having me come over, because my experience and skills uncovered what they thought was give-away junk. For example, they were very happy when I discovered in their basement a vase that was sold for $57,500.

8.  To sell or donate? – Should it just be donated, or can I try to sell it first? If it doesn’t sell, I’ll pack it up for donation. Whichever you prefer. If it is banged up and in horrible condition, recycle it or throw it away. If you would feel better giving your items to those less fortunate – there are many who are these days – please find a worthwhile charity or organization. By all means, give, give, give. You will receive a donation receipt you can use for this year’s taxes.

9.  Scrap it – If it’s metal and you don’t want it, or it’s broken or bent, don’t throw it away; scrap it! Find out the location of your local scrap yard and haul it there to get cash. It is not unusual for a truck load to be $100-$150 depending on the type of metals you have. They are looking for insulated copper wire, copper tubing, auto radiators, air conditioning coils, brass, aluminum, bronze, cast iron, stainless steel, and other high temperature alloys.

Please leave a comment at the end of this article and let me know how this has helped you.  What have you cleared out and how did you turn it into cash?

©The Estate Lady, 2011

From Clutter to Cash, Part 2

We’re continuing our conversation from the last blog about turning clutter into cash.  Here are several more options for finding a buyer for your clutter.

2.  Consignment shops – For designer clothing, higher quality purses and shoes, nice quality furnishings and home decor, physically go into different stores to talk with the manager and get a feel for their percentage/fees and how they work. Some will negotiate on their percentage a little bit. You can expect to pay them 35%-50% commission, plus a possible pick-up fee. Remember: location, location, location.

3.  Auction company – If you have a lot of household items, nice quality furnishings, and decorative items, consider a local auction house with a good reputation. Their percentages range from 15%-25% and may also have additional pick-up fees. Remember to ask for auction estimates for some of the better pieces, as the auctioneer should be able to offer you a range that he/she feels it will sell for. There are two kinds of auctions: absolute and reserve. Reserve means it will not sell until the reserve price (minimum) has been met. But many auctioneers will not place reserves on numerous items. They will sell for what the public decides; that is an absolute auction. When that hammer comes down and it’s only $20.00, that is what the item sells for.

4.  Higher-end auction galleries – For higher end items, find higher end auction galleries and contact their consignment director to ask them if these items are of interest to them. Large auction houses have extensive lists of buyers and often sell to multiple countries. This is what you want for high-end items that are small enough to ship.

5.  Selling gold? – A jeweler may not get you the most “bang for your buck” but it’s worth asking. Don’t be too hasty when wanting to melt down items. Many people are selling gold pieces with gemstones in them and not getting paid for anything other than the gold. Think twice and compare offers: Can I get more for this piece as it is, a ring or pendant, or should it be melted down? Do research in your area. Find the gold buyers that are one or two steps from the refinery itself, as they will generally pay you higher $$ than others. Call around; visit different places. Get the gold weighed and let them make you an offer. Go with the highest offer. Note: There are those who are sitting on their gold, thinking it will go higher still. Watch the gold prices closely.

We’ll have the last 4 options next week! 

©The Estate Lady, 2011

Clutter in Your Closets = Cash in Your Pockets

The Estate Lady® is well-known for her quote on keeping stuff. “If you don’t see it or use it for 2 years (maximum), statistically speaking you’ll never use it, so get rid of it!” Why allow your home to be cluttered up when life is hard enough? SIMPLIFY and make some cash too!

Easier said than done, believe me. As I write this, I feel like Mighty Mouse zipping through our entire home, closets, garage, etc. because I’ve grown tired of all the STUFF! My husband probably thinks I’m nuts, but to his credit he says nothing and lends his muscle. Call it an occupational hazard of being in homes every day and seeing everyone else’s stuff. Then I come home to my own cabinets and closets, eek! So I decided to do something about it and so can you.

Did you know that 80% of what we own we never use? We use the same 20% of things every day because we are creatures of habit — our favorite clothes, shoes, purses, kitchen ware, etc. So that leaves a healthy percentage of things we don’t really need and as I say, “put some cash in your pocket instead of clutter in your closets!”

From kitchen items to books, costume jewelry to tools, there is a buyer out there who wants them. Here are some tried and true options; which is right for you?

  1. Yard sale – Utilitarian items are selling better than ever. Pyrex, pots and pans, used paint remnants, rugs, tools – anything someone really needs – are selling very well at yard sales. Just know these items won’t sell for retail, but try 25% of the value for these kinds of items. Make sure you don’t sell anything of significant value. If uncertain, hire a personal property appraiser to be certain, or it could be a costly mistake on your part.

Next week … 4 more options for your stuff.  You don’t want to miss the rest of this list!

©The Estate Lady, 2011

Downsizing = Daunting

“Daunting” is a good word to describe the downsizing process, and many questions and problems will arise during the process.  Selling household contents and clearing out a home after a loved one becomes infirm or passes away brings about great emotions which further complicate the process.

Consider it a labyrinth of issues — whichever way you go, there are even more questions and things to worry about.  There are many “unprofessional professionals” waiting in the wings to take advantage, so you must carefully choose the best professional to assist you.  The more knowledge you can amass, the better equipped you will be to make sound decisions and feel good about them.

Talk to different professionals: auctions, estate liquidators, consignment companies, to gather facts and see what each one can offer you.  Find out if they will come to your home and look at the items to be sold, what their percentage is, whether they charge a fee to pick those items up, can they provide references, do they work by contract (you want a contract!).  Remember too, to contact your local Better Business Bureau to make sure they have no unresolved complaints against them.

Ask around.  Talk to friends, colleagues, your attorney.  Most of all, find a professional you feel comfortable with and feel you can trust.  If your gut instinct tells you the fit is not right, listen to that instinct and continue searching for another professional.

Next week: A guide to hiring an estate liquidator

In the meantime, check out my book “How to Clean Out Your Parents’ Estate in 30 Days or Less” for so much more on this process.  See the link to the book at the right of this blog.

© 2011 Julie Hall