Tag Archives: vintage

The Curse of the Brown Furniture

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Some furniture just isn’t selling well right now, especially what is being called “brown furniture”, such as mahogany china hutches, oak dressers, maple coffee tables and the like (read this article about why it isn’t). Or if it is selling, it is going a rock bottom prices.  This can be a big disappointment to estate sale companies who need to sell it to make a profit, and an even bigger disappointment to their clients who had long believed that they harbored treasures in their homes only to discover that nobody really wants them–not their children, not their friends and sometimes not even the buyers who “settle” for something they don’t love just because it fits their small budget.  Don’t panic: there is hope yet!  Here are some ideas that might help change your customers’ minds (or your own!) about buying:

  1. Give them some ideas about how to make an out-of-date or ragged piece into something more contemporary and fun!   Post photos of something similar that has been transformed by paint, updated upholstery, new hardware, or perhaps a totally new shape and function. (Here are some before and after ideas in this article by Better Homes and Gardens)
    Before

    Before

    After

    After

  2. Make it a gift idea.  Everyone knows someone who is just starting out.  Maybe it’s a newlywed, or a college student, or your brother who has been living in your parents’ basement but is finally venturing out into the world.  With usable older furniture prices at an all time low, here is your chance to help out for very little.  Encourage your customers to buy for someone with a limited budget that could use a desk or a much needed storage item.
  3. Educate your customers about the value of older, better made furniture.  It’s still around in abundance for a reason!  It was made to last for generations.  Too often today’s furniture, especially the stuff bought from big retail stores known for cranking out cheap and momentarily attractive pieces, are made with built-in obsolescence in mind.
  4. Encourage green living.  Buying used furniture means saving our natural resources, and it also assures that the furniture that isn’t purchased doesn’t find it’s way into a (gasp!) landfill.
  5. Suggest that buying might be an investment for the future. Antiques are cheap NOW, but they probably won’t always be so.  Trends are cyclical, and what is out of fashion now may be all the rage next year.  For instance, Victorian furniture (previously so popular and expensive) is out, while mid-century modern furniture (once the bane of younger boomers maybe because it reeked of the boring bourgeoisie world of their parents) is still highly sought after several years of booming sales. But MCM furniture sales are slowly waning in popularity.  What will be the next trend?  Maybe, just maybe, it will be all those Victorian pieces full of frills and curlicues that someone was smart enough to buy a lot of while the prices where low!

All that you need are some helpful ways to help customers recognize the benefits of buying the furniture that you know is still fantastic and useful.  They want it, they just don’t know it right now.

If you want more ideas about buying, read 18 Tips on Shopping at Estate Sales.

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18 Tips on Shopping at Estate Sales

This is a companion piece to my earlier entry about how NOT to shop at estate sales.  If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.  Shopping at estates sales is not only economically sensible, but it is also ecologically responsible and possibly financially rewarding.  You get great stuff at low, low prices!  And you can either use them yourself, give them as gifts or sell them at a profit.  Whatever your reason, here are some ideas about how to go to an estate sale:

  1. If you’ve never been to an estate sale, then expect a learning experience.  Estate sales are for everyone, not just the rich, or the poor, or whomever you had once thought they were for.  They are for you.  You are not being intrusive by entering someone else’s home.  You have been invited in.  If it is in the home of someone who has died, don’t feel like you are being disrespectful by going through their stuff.  They won’t care.  They would rather you buy their treasures than to have them go in the trash.  Their family would also like you to buy things.  They have already removed the items they want to keep.  What’s left are things they would rather you buy.  You are helping the family by buying as much of the things in the home as you want and can use.  And the staff at the sale also want you to buy a lot.  You are helping them, too.
  2. Estate sales are not just for shopping for antiques and other expensive stuff.  Most estate sale also have lots of ordinary items for sale, like clothes, pots & pans, ironing boards, vases, cleanser and garden tools.  In fact, usually you will find any possible type of item that you would normally find in your own home.  So why pay retail for laundry detergent when you can get it for a margin of the cost.  Need a coffee table?  What about bathroom rug?  You’ll likely find them at an estate sale.
  3. If finding something specific is important to you, plan to get to the estate sales early.   Some items will go fast at a sale.  If there are photos of the household goods available, look them over carefully and plan what you would like to buy before you go to the sale.  Remember, though, that not everything will be photographed.  What you really want to buy may still be in the house, but may not be in the pictures.   If possible, contact the company to be sure the item is still available.  Some companies sell items before the sale, if they can,  because that is often the best way to get the best price for their client’s property.  Knowing the company’s policy will help you decide what is the best way to get what you want.
  4. Come prepared to pay cash.  Some companies do take checks and/or credit cards, but you shouldn’t count on it.  Bring plenty of cash with you; you can always take the money back home with you if you don’t find something you want.  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, my company can and does take credit card payment, but it’s not what I prefer.  There is always a fee to be paid for the service and it also means that I have to put my own dollars into the client’s fund because the credit card charge goes directly into the company’s account.
  5. Be respectful of the neighbors.  Don’t stand in their yards, block their driveways, or otherwise be rude.  I know that you think it won’t hurt to park in front of their drive because you are just going to run in for a second and there is NO other place to park.  Don’t do it.  It always takes longer than you think it will.
  6. Make sure you follow the rules that the estate sale sets up.  Every estate sale company has their own way of handling a sale.  Maybe they put up a sign-in sheet, or give out numbers, or run their sale on a first-come-first-in basis.  Whichever they choose, you need to follow it.  Don’t put up your own sign in sheet even though they’ve specified they don’t do that.
  7. When you finally get inside, don’t just randomly grab anything and everything that you think you MIGHT want to buy.  When a customer does that, it prevents others from having a chance to purchase some items.  I’ve had customers bring up a ton of stuff for me to hold that I thought they planned on buying, only to have them come back after shopping an hour and then have them go through their pile and discard half of it.  Not only do I lose potential sales from them, but nobody else was able to buy the stuff either.  And if they’ve had me hold stuff while they shop until the crowd dies down, then the potential that someone else will come along to buy their discards is less too.
  8. Be considerate of your fellow shoppers.  Don’t bogart the good stuff unless you actually plan to buy it; don’t grab stuff from someone else’s hands (yes, I’ve seen this happen); don’t push in front of another customer to reach something before they can; don’t dig through someone else’s pile of goodies; smile a lot and complain rarely.  This should be a fun experience for everyone.
  9. Try to shop in an orderly manner.  See above, but also: walk, don’t run; don’t create a mess if you can help it (and you know you usually can); while waiting in line (either to get in or to pay) talk with your neighbors or stand quietly, but please don’t grumble.  The staff are trying their best to move the line along quickly.
  10. DON’T STEAL.  That says it all.  You know what’s right.
  11. Never leave unattended any items you plan to purchase.  While above I admonished people to not dig in someone else’s pile, you shouldn’t tempt them by leaving a delectable selection sitting unguarded.
  12. Feel free to bargain with the estate sale professional, but don’t get angry if their idea of a proper price differs from yours.  And be reasonable.  Don’t offer a dollar for something marked $20.
  13. NEVER be rude to the estate sale professional.  It’s never profitable for you.
  14. Get on the estate sale company’s  email list.  Even though you might find out about their sale through another source, being on their email list is usually a better idea.  Sometimes companies will offer a pre-sale open only to their followers.
  15. Take your time at the sale.  Those who hurry often miss things.  It takes a while for you to see beyond the clutter of stuff so that you can see the individual items.  A sale can feel overwhelming at first.  Take a breath and wander for a bit.  Try to ignore the people rushing past you and just be in the moment.  Sounding a bit zen?  It is.  Your treasure will often find you when you least expect it.
  16. Look in less obvious places.  Everyone will search on the tables and counters, but it takes little effort to look under the tables, in the corners, in odd gaps.  Is there a garage?  What about under the house?  Any place that isn’t strictly forbidden is fair game, in my opinion.  But on that note:
  17. Don’t enter where you’ve been forbidden to go.  I know it’s tempting to open that door that says KEEP OUT.  Who knows what treasures may be hidden inside!  Unfortunately, those treasure need to be kept from you for a reason, whatever that reason may be.  Probably it has the family’s items that they plan to keep, or maybe it contains the estate sale crew’s personal belongings, like their purse or coat.  Be respectful and leave it alone.  The same goes for drawers and cabinets marked as areas to leave alone.
  18. Enjoy yourself.  Life should never be so serious that you can’t enjoy the experience of shopping, or even just being among other people or interesting stuff.  Look around you and see how someone else lived their life.  Admire their belongings and appreciate their interests.  Or just be glad that you didn’t have to live with that avocado green refrigerator or that brown shag rug.    Think about how much money you are saving by not buying retail.  Or think about how you are helping the environment by not letting the stuff be added to the landfill and how your carbon footprint has been reduced by reusing and not just buying new stuff that had be manufactured, thus using up even more of Earth’s precious resources.  Whatever.  Estate sales can be lots of fun if you approach them the right way.

As always, I’m sure I missed some tips.  Please feel free to add your own.

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Filed under December 2011

How to Shop at Estate Sales (if you are shopping for trouble)

Have you ever shopped at an estate sale?  Well, here is some advice to help you get the most out of the experience.  Granted, it might also get you banned for life or arrested or beaten by your fellow shoppers,  but what do you care!  For REAL tips, read 18 Tips.

1.  Make sure you get there early!  In fact, get there the night before to make sure you are first in line.  If sleeping in front of the door isn’t feasible (like maybe you have a really great party to go to and will be too drunk to drive to the house), start a sign in sheet the night before and pin it to the door.  If there is already a sign-up sheet started and your name isn’t on the top of the list, toss it out and start another one!  Tip:  if you forget the sign-in list idea (maybe you got way too drunk) and can’t get there the night before, just bring a list with you in the morning.  If others are there before you, wave the list at them to prove that your name is on the top. And don’t worry if the estate sale company has its own way of doing things; rules are made to be broken.

2.  Don’t worry about the neighbors.   I’m sure  the neighbor will understand if you park in front of their driveway.  I mean, you have to park somewhere, right?   It’s not your fault that those people who got there way too early have already taken all the good spots, so go ahead and park where you can.  You’ll only be there for a few minutes anyway.

3. Once you’ve secured your proper place at the front of the line, guard it from all possible usurpers!  Don’t let others try to shame you or bully you out of your god-given place; be assertive and stand your ground. Fight for your rights!

4.  Get in quickly and grab as much as you can.  Don’t worry about whether you grab things you actually want to buy–you can figure that out after you finish shopping.  If it looks good, hoard it from other greedy shoppers.  If anyone tries to rifle through your stuff, a quiet yet intense threat of violence will work wonders for sending them scurrying away.  Once you’ve worn yourself out and have looked through every possible hiding spot and torn through every neatly piled table, then you can go back and sift through your own pile.  Don’t waste your precious time putting anything back where you got it. Just toss any unwanted items to the side; the staff is there to clean up after you.  You’ve got other sales to rush to and shouldn’t waste any time.

5. It’s every shopper for themselves!  Keep an eye on your fellow shoppers because they may find something you might want before you can.  If that catastrophe should occur, be prepared to use subterfuge, if necessary, to get the prize.  If they have an unattended pile, it’s an easy matter to grab the desired item when they aren’t looking.  Otherwise, trick them into setting it down for some reason.  Setting their purse on fire might work.  Or try grabbing the item from their hands and claim that they had stolen it from your pile.  All’s fair in estate sale shopping.  They’d do it to you, too, given the chance.

6. If the sticker price is too high, remove it.  That’s right, be a sticker picker. You deserve a better price.  And they won’t likely remember what they put on it before.  Chances are good that they’ll price it lower this time, especially when you utilize the ideas listed below.  Of course, in the off-chance you run into one of the many estate sale professionals who DO remember what they priced things at, be prepared to pay more than otherwise because they obviously can’t take a joke.

7. Insist that the cashier give you a lower price than what is marked.  You know they are trying to cheat you by pricing way too high.  Once they know you are on to their scheme, they will lower their price some.  If not, here are some ideas to force their hand:

  • Offer them a dollar for the item.  This lets the cashier know that you are nobody’s fool and that you won’t pay their outrageous prices.
  • Even if the prices are reasonable, offer them three-fourths less (that’s 75% off, in case your math is bad)  just to get the respect and low price you deserve.
  • Pretend to be buying a lot of items.  Many estate sale people will offer a discount if you buy a bunch.  Once they offer you a good discount on everything, pick out only a few items and demand the same discount on those.
  • Tell them you’ve seen the same item sold at a tenth of their price at the last sale you were at.  It doesn’t matter that this isn’t true.
  • Tell them you are only going to cut it up or tear it apart to make something else anyway, so why should you have to pay the full price for the whole thing.
  • Act like you know more about the item than they, or you, do.  If they claim that it is a Fenton carnival glass cruet and they’ve priced it at an inexpensive $15, tell them they’ve been smoking crack because YOU know it’s a cheap glass thingy that you’ve seen for $3 at the local discount store.  Offer them a dollar.  If they point out the Fenton mark, stand your ground.  You can’t back down in the face of facts.  Remember, show no fear.
  • Point out that you can’t make any money reselling the item at the extravagant price they are offering it at.  After all, if you can’t make any money, why should they?  Once again, it doesn’t matter if this is true.
  • Demand to see the person in charge.  The cashier is a nobody that you shouldn’t have to deal with anyway.
  • If all else fails, be extra rude and obnoxious.  Announce loudly that they are trying to cheat you.  Say you know the property owners personally and you know they would be shocked by the way the sale is being run.  Refuse to leave until justice is done. In other words, just be your usually self. If you make a big enough fuss, they might give you a lower price just to get rid of you.  Whatever works, right?

8. If you don’t get a reasonable price, steal it.  Wait until the item has been returned to the display and then slip it into your purse or backpack.  Tell yourself that it’s stuff the family doesn’t even want anyway, so why should you have to pay an exorbitant price for it.  And you know that it will be given to a charity or maybe even thrown away if nobody buys it, so go ahead and take it.  You have needs, too.  In fact, why go to the trouble of trying to negotiate with those greedy idiots in the first place?  Rip them off before they try to do it to you.  Who do they think they are, trying to rob a hard working person like you?  They’re probably rich anyway.  Right?

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If any of this advice sounds good to you, or if you already know all of this but were hoping for some new tricks, then my next advice won’t please you: stay away from my sales!  Please!  For more serious tips about shopping at estate sales, read 18 Tips for Shopping at Estate Sales.

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Filed under November 2011

College for Appraisers

If you love vintage or antiques, consider attending the College for Appraisers. I did, and I loved it. The instructors are friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. I don’t work as an appraiser (at least not right now), but I learned so much about the kinds of things I find while running my estate sale business, things like glass, furniture, pottery, etc. The college has classes you can attend in Whittier, CA, where the instructor brings in lots of examples of the items being discussed. They also have a home study program for those who live too far to attend the classes. The Glass Class is starting soon, so check it out. Visit their website at http://www.cfacollege.org for more information. And no, this is NOT a paid advertisement. I just like to support an organization as good as this one.

Here’s what they say about themselves:

The College for Appraisers Certificate Programs are for everyone from professional appraisers, dealers and collectors to the incurably curious. Our career programs lead to AAS degrees for those seeking careers as professional appraisers and for those who seek to become more successful dealers, estate sellers, auctioneers, dealers and collectors. Our courses provide the specialized knowledge and hands-on practical experience you need to make that great leap from simply looking to truly knowing what you are seeing.

UPCOMING SEMINAR College For Appraisers! AUGUST 20, 2011 / Glass 1-day seminar…

Includes an overview of glass and cut glass history as well as specific ways to observe differences between pressed and cut glass – both old and new.

Date: SAT August 20, 2011 – Instructor: Tom Ahern

Make sure you don’t miss this wonderful seminar! Happy Friday!

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Filed under August 2011