It’s so true: Some things in life you just can’t put a price on.
Until you have to. When it’s up to you to liquidate your parents’ treasure-filled home, you need to price the priceless.
How much for that baby grand piano Mom used to play? How much for the sideboard that served up every Thanksgiving dinner you can remember? How much for the porch swing Dad built?
When selling is both unthinkable and necessary, it’s nice to have outside experts.
Such reason did not prevail last year when I cleared out my parents’ home several months after they had moved into assisted living. I did not have experts. I had myself, my sister-in-law and one week.
But looking back, I see the value of experts.
They knew then what I know now. For starters, they know how emotional, irrational and deluded those of us selling our parents’ belongings are when estimating value.
“Things are worth what people will pay,” said Barry Gordon, founder of MaxSold, a company that clears out homes. It sends in a team that organizes household items in batches or “lots,” photographs them, then uses social media to sell them through online auctions.
“People think that when they put their price on items, they have control of the price. They don’t,” Gordon said. “The buying market will determine the value.” Holding out for a price can leave you holding onto the item.
I know! I turned down several offers for my parents’ antique marble-topped nightstand, which I now have parked at a family friend’s house across the country.
Clinging has its costs, especially if you need to ship an item, move it or put it in paid storage.
Although no two households are alike, in Gordon’s experience, the contents of the average North American home, after the family has taken out what they want to keep and paid the liquidator, yield between $3,000 and $10,000. He’s heard other liquidation professionals say the average house yields about $5,900.
“Our process is not designed to replace the important work,” said Gordon, referring to the sifting, sorting and saving that family members must do first.
But once the family decides what won’t stay, if they’re not up to selling items themselves, they need to step aside.
“Dealing with a family home paralyzes people,” said Gordon. “It can take the toughest, most organized, efficient people and slow them to an absolute standstill.”
His advice: “Don’t work yourself into a frenzy trying to control things you can’t. What you can control is how much of your life you put into the process.” Here’s what else you can control:
Your options: When clearing out a home, many families hold an estate sale, where individual items are tagged and the public is invited on a particular day. The sale can create a chaotic environment, which is hard to control, especially if a lot of people show up. Others work with a bulk buyer, who pays one price to take everything away. What you lose in profit, you gain in convenience. A liquidator like MaxSold is a hybrid. It batches and auctions off goods from the house and reports all sales to the client.
The location: More than 99 percent of household belongings sell nearby, said Gordon, whose company uses 35 social media avenues to promote auctions locally.
Timing: How long families take to clear a home ranges widely and is highly personal. “I’ve seen clients go through the process in light speed, burning through the sorting in a day, and others take several years and still (do) not make much progress,” said Gordon. “A good healthy time frame is probably a couple of weeks.”
Package deals: You’ll move more merchandise faster and more efficiently if you make groups: all figurines, all items in the cleaning closet, all pots and pans. “Buyers can’t pick and choose,” Gordon said. “They buy the lot.”
Your reserves: In an auction, a reserve is a price below which a seller will not sell. “We don’t allow that,” said Gordon. “We ask sellers if they are done with the items. If they are, we sell.” It’s a trap to think that having a reserve ensures that you get the price you want. Only place one if you’re prepared to keep the item.
Your goal: If your goal is to clear the house, accept that you may not get top dollar but that you will get what the market is paying. “Clients need to release themselves to the competitive market,” Gordon said.