One of our estates right now is one of our most touching (and rewarding) stories. Here's a brief synopsis: Lady and Man are married, spend their whole life together, have two children. Children grow up, get married, and have children of their own. Eventually Man passes away. Lady continues on being a doting mother and grandmother, having lunches with girlfriends, riding in Carnival Krewes, and taking care of all of the maintenance on her home herself. She has problems with her weight (who doesn't), and some blood sugar issues, but generally is in good health. One day Lady goes to the doctor because she is having difficulty breathing. She is told she has pneumonia. She goes home and celebrates Thanksgiving with her family. The next day she returns to the doctor and is told she has lung cancer. She is not a smoker. She passes away 10 days later. This is right before Christmas and family is shocked.
Children try to deal with her death but it was so sudden and unexpected they are (understandably) unable to cope. They go in the home a few times to take care of important estate matters, take out heirlooms and valuables, and for general maintenance, but otherwise stay out of the home. A year passes and they realize the expenses of keeping the home are great and they need to take steps to deal with the unhandled estate. They hire another company who makes several promises and never shows up to get the work done. Then, through a referral, we're called and show up.
Estates are similar to Storage Lockers in a bunch of ways but also (and obviously) dissimilar in a lot of ways. Let's start with the similarities: It's a lot of miscellaneous items that need to be sold, of which you can come across clothing, shoes, baseball cards, coins, jewelry, furniture, food, or all of the above. Items have a variety of different values. You sell the things the exact same way. You learn slowly about the person who owned these items piece by piece, item by item. You still have to deal with cleaning and trash and getting rid of things that you may not have found a buyer for. Conversely, the things that are different about estates are: size wise, it's like buying 2, 3, or even 10 storage units at the same time from the same person, you deal very closely with the family and sometimes have to work around special requests (reasonable or unreasonable), and if there is a piece that you are having trouble figuring the history out on you can always ask. On a positive side, you don't have to put up any of your own money upfront (except for selling and listing expenses), but you don't actually have to purchase the items like you would a storage unit-- but on a negative side, as opposed to a storage unit that may have a 1, 2, 5 or 10 day turn around-- you can have sometimes a 5 or 10 week turnaround. Instead of having 100 different customers who each buy 1 or 2 random things out of different storage lockers (a fishing pole from one and a lunchbox from another, for example)-- you end up with fewer customers who buy more things who are more similar to your client (for example, a bunch of older ladies who like to sew and wear a size 8 shoe). Finally, you have pressure of having to make $ amount-- with a storage locker-- you may buy it for $100, and your goal is just to double your money or more. It really doesn't matter to you whether you make $200 or $2000 (although you're always trying your best, obviously). With a family, you want to make sure you meet their expectations, while also factoring in your own costs and fees. In general, the estate business is very different, but also very much the same.
So far, I really like estates -- even the services we've provided to a slew of different customers just by helping them price garage sale items and decide what to do with certain items so on and so forth. You can expect that pretty soon we'll have a guide on How to Have the Best Garage Sale Ever. And it's fun! While appraising some items for a family one day we found THIS glorious poster from the 1980s, who's star happens to be wearing the same pants as Brian! (Note, these are the same pants that Brian wears CURRENTLY. You can infer what you want from THAT statement.)
Here's a picture for reference:
And let's see a picture for comparison:
We also found this little gem while offering advice at another garage sale:
Can we see this one on?
We've had a lot of fun with the estates we've done so far-- and learned even more, while still hopefully teaching and helping the families we've come across. We won't say too much more about this particular estate out of respect for the family, but I will show you some pictures so you can get a better idea of what we're talking about at this particular location:
Another picture of the den:
Another picture of the den:
And one more:
You can imagine how much work it is when you have over 9 rooms to work with! The most storage units we've ever had at one time has up to date been 7, and that was over a period of a few days, so you can imagine what it's like to get 9 all at once. Also, in Storage units, you're at an advantage because people had to carry stuff in there and move it in a vehicle, so you don't get nearly as much stuff as say, someone who has lived in the same house for 30 years. But it's less of a time restriction so it ends up totally working itself out.
Some of our interesting finds so far:
The really cool thing about dealing with older clients is that you never know what you're going to find-- there are a great many antiques, collectibles, and just generally cool things. Things that at the time they got them weren't anything or worth anything, but now, are really neat just because not everyone held on to them. Perfect example is all of the Nabisco tins we have-- they are from when Nabisco was still called National Biscuit Company. Who would think to save a tin? I wouldn't--- but I'm tempted to go buy some of those Christmas gift sets on clearance and stick them in the attic for 20 years until someone like me finds them later!
All in all, these estates have been an amazing and powerful (and even educational) experience. We are able to make some money without putting a lot of investment down, which is always a great thing from a business perspective, but we're also able to help family members who are just physically and emotionally unable to do it themselves. We take a great deal of pride in knowing that we helped someone out in a way that not many other people could. Not only are we able to help them do something they can't, but we also probably do it more efficiently than anyone else would be able to-- just because of our experience level. We also can get them more money than if they would have used their own contacts and methods to sell the items, which is nice to know that we're able to help them financially as well. It's a learning experience not only because we are able to learn information about each piece, but also where it came from and stories of how it was acquired. It teaches us that families are different and that one may value the sewing machine and one may value the silver but they all value the children's drawings and photographs. Above all else, I have gained a newfound experience for life-- how short it is, how precious it is, and how things are not only things but a symbol of someone else's memory. Also, that even though the things are a symbol of the memory, the memory is more powerful than the item and is the only thing that matters, even if the item is gone and cannot be replaced.
I remember recently going through my own Grandparents' estate-- they have so many descendants that we had to request items that we wanted of a list of all of the available items to divvy it all up fairly, and my items requested were a few smaller things- those actually meant more to me than any silver or jewelry or even sentimental items like wedding pictures, monogrammed jewelry, etc-- because they were important to ME. I took the hand towels I remembered using, the pictures I remembered looking at on the walls, etc. It might be a good exercise for everyone to take a moment and think of the things in their parents, grandparents, childhood homes, etc, or the next time they are looking inside these homes-- and decide what is wanted so that the decision will come a little bit easier when the difficult decision has to be made.
Oh, and speaking of sentimental items-- I have to tell you this quick story. We allowed some of our friends from auction to come and look at the items in the home, because we had all gone to auction as usual and there were slim pickings that particular day, so we figured-- let's utilize all of our resources and sell off some of these things from the estate while helping our competition get items to put in their stores. Win win win. Win win win WIN if you count the future customers of our friends who will soon have beautiful pieces of furniture and art in their homes.
Now, if you read our blog, you KNOW how thorough I am. I go through every drawer, take out every drawer to see if there is something taped underneath, go through pockets, I've even gone so far as to look inside mattresses and pipes of people who lived in the Depression era. You never know where people will hide their stuff. So, I'm thorough, but people make mistakes, or miss things, or whatever. Well, on this particular day-- we had to move some pieces of furniture that we hadn't moved before. Underneath, were some shoes, and underneath those... was a...... any guesses? Post the best ones here and we'll reveal the answer in a couple of days. If anyone gets it right, they'll get one of our antique Nabisco tins.
If no one gets it right, we'll post some clues tomorrow and see what happens! MDC- you are NOT eligible, because YOU found it!
Until next time,