There are a number of reasons why you might want to sell some of your stuff. The quest for minimalism, downsizing, changing tastes or other life changes (marriage, having kids). Once you've made the decision to sell, a couple of questions arise. I'm going to break this into three posts so that I can do each justice. The first will talk about what things are worth, the second will cover the various ways to sell, and the third will consider a related topic … sell or donate?
What's it worth?
The most honest answer you're going to get when you ask this question is “It depends”. Though not the most specific or reassuring response, it is the best way to ensure that your expectations are somewhere near reality. So many times, we grow up with family “heirlooms” and assume (or are told … repeatedly) that they're valuable. What something is worth is really what someone else is willing to pay for it at a given time.
Timing, location and audience all impact the sale price. Trends change over time … Delicate crystal and china is not as popular as it once was, so in general, it's brings in less than it used to. Where you're selling matters … an important Tiffany lamp will likely sell for more in a major market like New York, Los Los Angeles, and Washington DC. Getting your item in front of the right audience is tied to location but also tied to the method of sale … coins, stamps and other collectibles are worth more to a collector than to the general public.
All that said, there are other factors to weigh.
· Timing is hard to control. Most people need to sell their items in a given time period. If you're downsizing, as an example, you’ll likely need to sell things before you move. While it might make sense to hold onto a very valuable piece of art to maximize the value, most items won't vary in value over a short period of time. Sell when it works best for you.
· There is an expense in moving an item from a smaller to a larger market. Packing, shipping and insuring valuable and sometimes delicate items can be very costly. You'll need to recoup that and more to make it worthwhile.
Be careful about the generalizations you hear and read. While they may be true in many cases, there are still many exceptions. I keep hearing about no one wanting “brown furniture”, the traditional dark chests of drawers, secretaries, table, chairs and breakfronts. In general, yes, prices are lower than they had been. Yet, there are still sales of this type of furniture from the high thousands of dollars into the millions. Quality, rarity and provenance (history of the piece) still matter and influence the result. Similarly, while fancy china, crystal and silver are less popular, I still see it being purchased in a range of prices in stores, estate sales and online.
You hear the opposite about modern and mid-century (designed and created from roughly 1933-1965) furniture and art. It is more popular now and thus brings in higher prices than 10-15 years ago. But, prices range from $5 to several million, depending on the piece. Just because it's mid-century doesn't mean it's valuable.
One last caution, one man’s trash can truly be another man’s treasure. Although a bit sexist, that's how the saying goes, so you get the idea. Before you consider something “trash”, look for a few things. Does it appear well made? Does it have a signature, brand, label or any identifying information (for example, an invoice taped to the ask of a painting)? Does it seem hand-made? If you answered yes to any of these, it might be worth a quick Internet search (Google - web and images, eBay and 1st Dibs are my go-to’s) to see if you can find it or something similar. It can be fun to do the research and find out that what you thought was junk is actually valuable.
Next up … the best way to sell