The Coming Estate Sale Implosion

By Matt Price, Price Auctions & Estates

As storage facilities and estate sale professionals are finding out, things are not bringing in as much money as they were in the past.   The cause is a combination of things.  First, an economy that is steamrolling through and amazingly, it does not seem to be ending.  The plain truth is that people are buying new than second hand, and it is reverberating though every level of the industries.

Second, storage facilities are packed to the rafters, and consignment shops have a hard time finding places for everything being brought in, and specialty shops are having a hard time competing as it seems that the competition to sell second hand goods becomes a do, or as more rampant than not, die situations.

Third, weekends are slammed packed with yard sales throughout the United States, as many are finding that they can try to get a buck or two out of things that are having a difficult time getting estate sale companies to come and take things.   A recent survey by, many companies are turning away jobs because of the economy and their inability to meet expectations.

While many of the companies know that the reason that they are in businesses is because of Death, the other reasons people turn to estate sale liquidations are Downsizing (Right Sizing), and Divorce.  The number who are asking for assistance are due to Death, with Downsizing and Divorce in close second and third, respectively.

The report, goes on to say that many companies turned down sales for a variety of reasons. Commonly, was that too few items available for the sale, and a close second was due to items having too little value.  Some of the other reasons were due to scheduling (some want the sale to be held in less than 30 days so they can close on the house) or due to family or other drama in which the Executor was doing their due diligence, but families were attempting to assign more sentimental values than what the markets will absorb.

Some of the more notable companies such as Everything But the House have gone into bankruptcy mode as the income derived from sales relating to Consignments and Estates have dried up.  Almost to the point where they are required to liquidate their businesses.  This has led to many to wonder what is going to happen to their household full of antiques and collectables.

I traveled to Selma, North Carolina considered the Antiques Mecca of the Eastern Seaboard, and spoke to one of the owners of a few shops in the area, and spoke to Michelle Collier, a Antique Aficionado who owns a store in Goldsboro, NC.   With the changing economics of their stores, they found that much of the furniture takes longer to move than normal.   An example was an antique Pie Chest that 20 years ago would bring in a premium of upwards to $3,000.  “Antiques are just not moving like they used to.   The Pie Chest sold for less than what we paid for it in order to move it.   The price $75.

At one of the stores had a tag on a Six legged sideboard with inlay around the keyholes. The drawers are beaded and the drawer slides are mortised through the back. The item was exquisite and was a sturdy piece.   The original price on it was $1,200, and the tag was marked down from the original tag to almost 80% off at $240.  I was told it has sat in the same spot for more than 2 years.

One owner says “We have a lot of folks come in and browse, but they are buying smalls, and have interest in the items, but are not buying.”

It is not limited to the antiques markets.  Commercial Equipment is also suffering impacts from the explosive economy.   Two Door Deep Freezers, Refrigerators and Stainless prep tables are also having a hard time going across the auction block for premium pricing.  An example is a Stainless Steel Commercial Deep Freezer that sells for more than $2,300 sold recently for $60.   A four burner Atosa Gas Countertop Range normally $532.00 sells for $80 at auction.  A under counter Ice Maker with 88 lb Storage bin new is $1,540 sells for $50.

Reverting back to Estate Sales and special collections, nearly any engineered furniture that is commonly bought at big box stores (Pressboard) is lucky to get an offer, or the offers are so low that many companies use it in their wood fire stoves.   There have been stories from the Washington Post and a few other news outlets that say Beanie Babies, Precious Moments, and many other “Collectables” are worth thousands.  When a person who has any of those items take them to consignment stores, they either do not take them, or are told to place them in the rubbish.   They simply are no longer marketable.

Franklin Mint, Danbury Mint, and other items that are or were limited run have lower pricing depending on location.   That $300 item that mom or dad bought years ago is going for $5 in box lots.  Train sets by Lionel keep their value, as long as they are not re-released.  Norscott came up with a Caterpillar Train Set that was seen at an Estate Sale for $10.   Purchased by an Auctioneer, he recently sold it for $250.

The markets change so fast that it is impossible to place a good estimate on pricing, as the average of them gives a ballpark figure, but not actual value.  Estate Sale clients go to eBay as the bellwether of what a good price is, however, unless they are taking the average of all of the good sales (not offers accepted – eBay never posts that information) then the items that are listed for sale are likely to be more sentimental value than actual market value.

As the world changes from a true recyclable society to a throwaway society, the landfills continue to become mountains of excess, with Storage Facilities becoming mausoleums of items that we have sentiment for, but have no longer a practical use.   Many families who are stuck in the conundrum of what to do with a massive estate, take the personal property to a storage facility and then never pay the bill or have no intention of paying the bill after the first free month.

It’s not just in your area.  Business Insider reported that millennials and Gen Xers are uniquely resistant to the influx of furniture, kitchenware, and general stuff that comes with their parents’ downsizing.

At the end of the day, the important thing to take from this?  No one wants the family china.  New restaurateurs don’t want your used stuff.  Backlogs of “stuff” flooding the market makes it near impossible to market it to someone else.  It’s the generational cycle.

What’s next?  “Millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home….” Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith

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