The Real Value of Our Antiques and Heirlooms

We each have items in our homes that came from a loved one, passed down through the years.  To us, these items are special, unique, and valuable.  Sometimes, these items are even more special, unique, and valuable because of our feelings towards the loved one who gave it to us.

If you can, place those feelings to the side for a moment.  We really need to have a fresh understanding about the market, the economy, and what our heirlooms are really worth.  As an appraiser, I come to the table as an objective third party who has the ability to look at items through new, yet somewhat critical eyes, much like a detective.

I see flaws others may not.

I see condition issues others may not.

I see that someone drilled a hole through the bottom of a Ming Dynasty vase because they wanted it to be a lamp (ugh!).

I see that someone uses 21st century screws to reinforce an 18th century piece.

However, there is more to it than that; we must dig a little deeper to get to the crux of the matter.

The truth is that in today’s market, a c.1830s bird’s eye maple English chest will sell for far less than a “Made in China” piece you can buy at Rooms to Go or IKEA.  I saw it with my own eyes at an auction recently.  The gorgeous English chest sold for $100 and the black lacquer Oriental chest made 30 days ago sold for $350.


Gone are the days of truly caring about quality.

dark traditional ornate bedroom

Gone are the days of the younger generations wanting traditional furnishings.

In are the days of how the item looks and functions.  Maybe not for all of us.  This trend is picking up speed and we see more of it as each day passes.  Size and space also enter into the equation, since we are in the middle of a major simplification trend.  Both our homes and our furnishings are getting smaller.

I address the older generations when I say this and I hope it will be realized:

Dark brown furniture gives the younger generation the willies just to look at it.

dark heavy china cabinet

Boomers don’t want any more of it, and are trying to downsize and let go of the dark heavy furnishings, as we speak!  Being surrounded by heavy, large, dark furniture is not what people want today, let alone my daughter’s generation.  She doesn’t want it now and she will not want it later.  It won’t pay to pressure her or store items for her.

It doesn’t matter how old it is.

It doesn’t matter what you paid for it.

It doesn’t mean anything to a stranger or the public who come to purchase it.

If we don’t want it and our children don’t want it, others will not want it either.

dark heavy dining room

Of course there are exceptions to every rule and all families are different.  But if we dare to peek into the future, what will become of the older, dark furnishings in 2 years? 5 years? 15 years?

Those of us in the industry have seen a steady decline since 2008 so it is no surprise to us.  It’s alright that not everyone will accept what we have to say, but at least, listen to the market.  It has spoken loud and clear!

©2016 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at

A New Take on “Taking”

Tips for Letting Go When Handling an Estate

There’s nothing simple or easy about letting go, especially when you are handling the estate of a loved one.  People have the tendency to keep too much from the estate.  They often find comfort in the things and the memories attached to them.

Being able to let go:

  • brings closure and peace of mind
  • minimizes family and marital strife
  • prevents future worries when your children are burdened with the same stuff
  • help avoid storage costs
  • prevents cluttering your own home

When you keep too much:

  • You realize you no longer need what you kept.
  • Your own home becomes overwhelmed with stuff.
  • Storage costs far outweigh the value of what is stored.
  • Your kids and grandkids don’t want what you selected to keep for them.
  • You may experience guilt. “Mom would be so upset if I sold that.” or “Mom said it was valuable so I should keep it.”  Escort guilt to the door.  Life is hard enough without the burden of needless guilt.

What do YOU want?

It’s perfectly acceptable to let go of possessions, especially if you don’t absolutely cherish them.  If no one in the family wants the items, have an estate sale professional sell to those who will cherish them like mom and dad did.  Unfortunately, families rarely get to see how happy new buyers are when they find these items.  I’d much rather have someone who can appreciate the items, than to keep them stuffed in boxes taking up space in my home … unappreciated.


  1. Don’t keep items just because.  Ask yourself if you really need it and have a purpose for it.
  2. Record a video of the estate as it was when your loved one lived there.
  3. Photographs are a great idea to preserve the memories without hanging on to the stuff.
  4. Give to those less fortunate.  Maybe your loved one had a favorite charity.  Even if you have an estate sale, arrange for the estate sale professional to donate the items that do not sell.
  5. Be honest and realistic.  Will you really use this item?  Why are you keeping it?
  6. Set healthy boundaries and realize that space is a limiting factor.
  7. If the estate needs to pay off debt, take as little as possible, so the remainder can be sold by a professional and proceeds applied to the debt.

©2015 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at

The Roses

SAMSUNGRemember when we were little kids and our eyes went directly to the big, brightly colored, sugar-icing roses on our birthday cakes?  Everyone fought over those colorful, sugary roses that contained enough fuel to shoot us to the moon and back, or at least until midnight when the sugar buzz finally wore off and we crashed wherever we landed.  We were probably 5 or 6 years old, but already we had learned a lesson that would follow us throughout our lives.

The voice in our heads beckoned us to eat as much as possible including all those coveted roses.  After all, “it’s my cake, my birthday!  Why shouldn’t I have it all to myself?”

Mother’s quiet, yet serious tone forced me to share, and share equally among the other children at my party.  “You have to be fair to everyone,” she would say.

But that just isn’t fair to me, I thought to myself.  It’s my cake!  I should have all of the slices of cake with the roses on them.  (The roses were, and still are, my favorite.)

So it is with much of life.  We all want the “roses” in life; that includes our loved one’s estates.  You’ve had your eye on that antique grandfather clock, or mom’s diamond ring, or dad’s fishing lure collection for years.  You believe you should have them, or perhaps they were promised to you long ago, so you just assume they will be yours one day.  Then that “one day” comes and your siblings claim the same thing, so the trouble begins.  Indeed, every rose has its thorn.

Until items are gifted to you in person prior to infirmity or death, or until there is a written plan for those heirlooms upon a loved one’s passing, you are entitled to nothing unless it is given to you.  Even if you don’t end up with your beloved “rose,” remember that while we would like to have the majority of the cake, it’s good and appropriate to share as equally as possible, even if you feel it shouldn’t be that way.

I have seen with my own eyes good and poor behavior when dividing estates.  Those who lead with kindness and care for others end up faring the rocky experience pretty well.  Others will watch how you react, respond, and behave.  Much to my surprise, they will usually follow suit, especially if the plan is laid out before them.

Make a pact that there will be no fighting.  “Roses” are great, but peace is even better!

©2015 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at


‘Til Death Do Us Part

Most of us enjoy hearing those words during a wedding ceremony, where the new couple is floating in bliss and envision being by each other’s side until death separates them.  From my perspective, however, I see people who have a very passionate relationship with their material possessions, sometimes more so than each other!  If I didn’t know better, I would say they behave as if they can take their possessions with them when they leave this earth, but we know that we can’t take stuff with us.

I have seen it all.  In all those years of estate work, I have tried to figure out why people have such a hard time “letting go.”  Often, the Depression Era generation is the one that has accumulated the most, in my experience.  Their parents did not have much and probably possessed more utilitarian items because of the era in which they lived.  When their parents passed away, they did not distribute or sell those items … they absorbed them.  The boomers have multiple generations of stuff to deal with when their Depression Era parents pass away.

Here are a few thoughts on why people hold on to so much:

  • You just never know when I’m going to need this.
  • There are so many things I could use this for.
  • If I hold onto it long enough, it will become valuable.
  • It is already old, so it must be valuable.
  • I did without as a child and I will not do without again.
  • It was a gift and I will honor the giver by keeping it.
  • The more I leave the kids, the more they will have.
  • I worked very hard for these things and I will pass them down.
  • They bring comfort and familiarity.
  • Sentimental reasons.
  • Too overwhelmed to let it go — emotional attachment.
  • I’ll let my kids deal with this after I’m gone.

As an appraiser of residential contents, this is the part where I try to put my clients at ease.  When in doubt, always have the contents of an estate appraised prior to distributing or selling contents.  Most times, the heirs are not surprised to learn that much of what mom and dad amassed doesn’t have much value.  Some children feel that items might be “junk” and some pieces do turn out to have significant value, pleasantly surprising them.  Family stories through the years can add to the anticipation that great-grandfather’s chair is more valuable because it is so old, but age is not the only factor of value.  There are many more characteristics of value we look at to determine it’s worth.

Another important issue that the older generation should realize is that many of their heirs already have houses that are full of accumulation from 25+ years of marriage.  Adding more stuff will only fuel marital strife.  I’ve seen divorces happen over keeping too much stuff.

Some kids keep items to sell, others for sentimental reasons. others because they feel guilt because “mother would kill me if I didn’t keep this.”  The younger generation appear to want nothing but cash assets.  Even if your children do take a few items, their children definitely don’t want them now, and most likely will feel the same in the future.  They are not interested in antiques or traditional possessions when they could take the cash and go to IKEA or Pottery Barn.  This is the trend.

Holding on to possessions because you don’t want to let them go will leave a massive burden on your children.  Gifting now and making plans for the distribution of your possessions while you are still here (and in control of those decisions) is the best plan of action.  Take it from one who knows!

©2013 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

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

What We Find Left Behind

It’s always an eye-opening experience working in estates after the children have taken what they want and allow us to handle the remainder.  You just never know what you will find left behind.

Sometimes, we just find what you would expect, the items that should have been discarded 40 years ago – broken items from the attic, old appliances, clothing that needs to be donated, etc.  Other times, we find items that have value and we arrange to have them sold for the family.  And on occasion, we find items that leave us scratching our heads, or items that we can never speak of and promise to take that information to our graves.

We see it all: the love, the fights, the estrangements, the addictions, the sorrows, the secrets – all of which are carried through our lifetimes.

It is difficult to put into words when you find war medals of courage and valor left on the floor for disposal, or antique photos of people in the family that have been left in a pile for us to discard.  But we understand that every person has a story and we are not privy to their upbringing or lives, and therefore do not understand why they made the decisions they did.

Recently we found letters dating from the Civil War period, of a soldier who wrote home to his sister.  He wrote of the horrible conditions, how most of his comrades had died from dysentery, and that there wasn’t enough food to keep the soldiers strong.  He spoke of having no warmth through the winter months, but described it in such a way that he was not complaining.  It was fascinating to hear of life so long ago from a person who lived during those times, but the family took no interest.

Other things we find are scrapbooks, war letters between mom and dad, family Bibles with genealogy information inside the front cover, diaries, estate jewelry, guns, etc.

I guess it’s true what they say.  Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, and one cannot predict what is in a person’s heart during such difficult times.

© 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

She was Having a Bad Heir Day

Joann and her brother were co-executors of their mother’s estate.  One day, she decided she didn’t like how her brother was acting regarding the division of mom’s property.  So she did what many heirs have done … however unthinkable it was … she asserted control over the issue in a not-so-nice manner.

I think you will agree she went about it all wrong!  After I completed a consultation with her, she immediately called a locksmith and had all the locks changed so no one could get in the house but her.  “My brother is not going to get the things he wants.  He has ticked me off one time too many.  I’ll show him … I’m going to get them before he does,” were her exact words.  I hope my jaw didn’t drop too much.

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, she proceeds to move all the heirlooms out of mom’s house without notifying her brother of anything, and has them delivered to her storage unit.

This is the perfect example of how NOT to handle an estate unless you want to drain your finances for legal fees.  Despite my repeated attempts to talk with her and offer her some sound advice, it fell on deaf ears.  To me, it is complete disrespect for the loved one who has died, but this happens more frequently than even I care to admit.  Scary, but very true.

© 2011 Julie Hall

The Irony of Heirlooms

You can count on Murphy’s Law when dealing with heirlooms and dividing estate contents — something almost always goes wrong!  I’ve had a front seat for nearly 20 years, and seen more than my share of serious feuds, estrangements, the “entitlement mentality”, and the rapid gathering of vultures and other green-eyed creatures.  Sibling rivalry, as well as tensions and emotions, are at an all-time high; the executor is generally stuck in the middle, not wanting to ruffle any feathers.

Often, certain family members will take it upon themselves to enter the estate, take what they desire, and leave everyone else in the dark and empty-handed.  We’ve all heard the scary stories.  One brother locks the other brother out of the house and takes everything in the middle of the night.  A sister helps herself to valuable jewelry without asking, or the long lost sibling who returns after 30 years to claim a chunk of the inheritance.  All of these scenarios, plus so many more, add fuel to the fire and cause decades of resentment and bitterness.

We all have a connection to this particular issue because we have either been through it, are getting ready to go through it, or are dreading the very thought of it.  Unfortunately, when a family member dies, or is approaching death, those who feel entitled come calling.  Suddenly, heirs and distant relatives surface that you didn’t know existed, and true colors shine through in various shades of green.

For what reason does this occur over and over again?  Is it because of perceived value from generations of family stories that one particular piece has tremendous monetary value?  Is it over a sentimental item, like mom’s reading glasses, a family Bible, or a wedding band?  Do people want these items because they feel the loved one who died is still close by?  Or is it plain old greed?

Here’s the irony: People are fighting over things they can’t take with them either.  We exit this world the way we came into it, with no material possessions.

Read my solution in the next blog entry below!

© 2010 Julie Hall

The Solution to the Irony of Heirlooms

We spend a lifetime collecting and caring for heirlooms, yet we rarely take the time to make a plan for them once we pass away.  We allow our children to fight over them, instead of making wish lists and talking with them about their wishes. 

Some will argue that their 3-year old grandchild will want these heirlooms thirty years from now.  If I were a betting lady, I would disagree!  The younger generations have no desire for china, silver, crystal, etc.  They prefer IKEA, Pottery Barn, and Crate and Barrel to grandmother’s “old stuff.”  Though we have fond memories of heirlooms, our homes are already too full, and 70% of our stuff we will never use.  So, let us ponder for a minute: How will our children handle our estate when our time comes? 

Planning is the key to a smoother division of property and estate settlement.

  • Enlist the assistance of an estate planning attorney.  This is no time to be frugal.
  • Choose an appropriate executor who will get it done, remain firm, and honor the decedent’s wishes.
  • Hire a personal property appraiser to ascertain what has value vs. what doesn’t.
  • Base the division of personal property on equitable distribution to keep it as fair as possible.
  • Read The Boomer Burden – Dealing with Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff, perfect for clients, attorneys, heirs, and parents.

© 2010 Julie Hall