Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pricing Items for an Estate Sale

I’m sure some of you who come to our sales wonder how we arrive at our prices so I want to try to answer that question. The truth is, pricing is the trickiest part of what we do. Many factors are considered, things like condition, rarity, brand, and demand, among others. The most important factor is knowing what the market will bear and that’s where hiring an expert will benefit you the most.
I’ll start at the beginning: the condition of an item is almost always going to matter when determining the price. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to work, it means it has to be in saleable condition. For example, a old treadle type Singer sewing machine in a wooden cabinet…if it has good paint on the machine, the wood is polished and not buckling, and the iron legs are black and not rusted (for indoor use) then it doesn’t much matter whether the machine works or not in terms of what we will charge. Most people who buy these don’t want to sew with them; they are using them as a d├ęcor piece. So in this instance, condition means appearance.  

Ok, moving on to rarity. This can be difficult to navigate also because being rare doesn’t necessarily mean valuable. An example of what I mean can be explained using soda pop bottles. Coca-Cola items are highly collectible but small regional soda pop brands not so much. So even though the small unknown brand might be rare in terms of sheer numbers available, it doesn’t mean they are valuable.
The brand of an item also helps to determine its price. For example, a vintage Singer sewing machine is worth more than a vintage Kenmore, a Coca-Cola sign is worth more than a Faygo sign and a Fiesta bowl is worth more than a Pyrex bowl. These are easy examples; most people are familiar with Singer, Coke and Fiesta…but what about Pfaff, Griswold and Texas Ware? If you’re not familiar with them you could make a serious error in pricing and leave money on the table by selling them too cheaply. For the record, Pfaff is a German company that makes high end sewing machines, Griswold was one of the preeminent manufacturers of fine cast iron cookware and Texas Ware bowls are highly collectible with prices that are generally higher than Pyrex but not as expensive as Fiesta.  
Finally, demand and knowing what the market will bear is probably the part of the pricing equation that makes hiring an expert a no brainer. Someone familiar with estate sales, garage sales, flea markets and antique stores will immediately know whether the armoire that you think is worth $1200 is sellable at that price in this area. We do this full time and are very aware of area prices, trends and supply. If you have ever watched one of the many television shows that show pickers, storage hunters, or antique appraisers then you know that prices around the country vary greatly. Furniture in the northeast sells for a lot more than it does here but I bet a good Magnalite pot brings a better price here than in New York City! Also, if you watch those shows, you may mistakenly believe that $400 for a medium size porcelain sign is what you should get for it. That $400 price is a retail price. Retail prices include the wholesale cost, the expense of getting it to the store, the expenses of having a retail operation (rent, salaries, advertising, etc.) and some profit. The price at an estate sale is going to be closer to $100-$150. The reason is two fold; the goal of an estate sale is to get rid of as much stuff as possible and to make the most money possible. Although those two things might seem to contradict each other, we have successfully joined them and do both to the best of our abilities! And in answer to any doubters, yes, you could hang on to said sign, advertise it on Craigslist, in the paper, and you would probably eventually sell it for more than $100 but considerably less than $400. But that is oftentimes a lot more hassle than most people have the time or energy for. Who has months to devote to selling off an entire household bit by bit? (Not to mention the desire!?)

I hope this has enlightened you some on pricing and helped you to understand exactly how important it is to have things priced correctly. I went to an estate sale last year that a family member of the deceased had done. It was beautiful! The house looked great, it wasn’t too crowded and there were some very nice things for sale. And everything was priced WAY too high! Not just a little on some things, crazy high on everything. People were walking through in 10 minutes and leaving! I asked the lady conducting the sale if she was negotiating on prices or if she was going to mark them down the next day and she said, “No, the prices are fair and if you are familiar with quality you will know that!” I smiled and thanked her and kept my thoughts to myself. But I was THINKING that yes, that cherry dining room table and chairs is Ethan Allen and it is in great shape, so if someone wanted an Ethan Allen cherry dining table and chairs, then $1500 was probably an ok price. Retail is probably around $3500 to $4000…the problem is there is no demand. Today’s families don’t do formal dining rooms with Early American furniture. You can sell a bar height table and stools that came from a big box store for more money than you can get for that cherry table and chairs. I know most people don’t want to hear that but it’s the truth and knowing that, is what makes us good at what we do!