Cash in Your Attic

Have you accumulated so many heirlooms, collectibles, documents, art, books, and antiques over the years that you don’t know what to do with them? If yes, maybe it’s time to consider giving up your beloved junk — um — we mean collection. But how?

Whether you are an avid collector of all types of antiques, an estate sale buyer, a Saturday morning garage-sale shopper, or the owner of everything Big Mama left behind, selling your items at an auction may bring thousands of dollars.

When searching for treasures around the house, look for old glassware, quilts, dolls, furniture, toys, vintage clothing, costume jewelry, and musical instruments. “When looking for items to sell at an auction think more along the line of documents. Everyone thinks furniture, but certain documents are valuable — slave documents, bills of sale, stocks, and bonds,” says Phoenix-based auctioneer Rowlan Hill. Old radios, musical instruments, ink pens, eyeglass frames, pianos, and handbags also hold potential value. You have to go through everything. You’ve got to keep your eyes open.” Hill says the most common item to take to an auction would be tableware such as “Depression glass,” “carnival glass,” and silverware.

Before you turn up at the next auction, try these tips:
Check out auctions and estate sales. Look in the classified section of your local newspaper. An auction is a sale of items to the highest bidder. An estate sale is a house sale in which buyers are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. The items are ticketed and prices aren’t negotiable.

Find a reputable auctioneer. Look in the phone book, ask for references, and attend an auction to observe the auctioneer. Attend several auctions before choosing. Determine if the auctioneer is honest, professional, and careful with others’ valuables. The National Auctioneers Association is a good place to find the right person to auction your goods as well as potential buyers. To find an auctioneer near you, log on to Also attend preview shows.

Do your research to ensure that the price is right. Have your items appraised by a reputable appraiser to find out the value of your possessions. Price guides and antique reference books are good to review, as well. “Talk to dealers and go to sales to check out the merchandise they are selling,” Hill explains. And, by all means, obtain at least three appraisals.

Hold on to appraised items. “When you have your items appraised, hold on to them. Do not sell them before the auction. Let it go to the auction and let the people in the audience determine what the item is worth,” says Hill. What distinguishes a collectible from ordinary junk is sometimes unclear. Nonetheless, there are two primary characteristics that collectible items share: desirability and rarity.

Try to sell items on consignment. This is when the auctioneer accepts a percentage of the sale price as a commission rather than an up-front payment for the service. The average commission rate is 20% to 25%. However, some charge 35% to 40%, but this is usually negotiable.

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