Lessons Learned

Q. What is the mindset of most clients when you meet them for the first time?
A. People have procrastinated or have experienced a life event that has left them overwhelmed. They are grateful that they have found someone unfazed by the scope of the project.

Q. How should a person go about the process of choosing an appropriate service provider?
A. I recommend you adopt the “doctor, lawyer, accountant” mindset - word of mouth referrals, face to face interviews, rapport, professionalism of the process, experience, etc.

Q. Have TV shows like Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, Pawn Stars and Storage Wars had a positive or negative effect on the business?
A. Both. Such shows educate audiences, but ratings keep them on the air. Positive stories and outcomes make for better entertainment, so these programs create an unrealistic expectation bias.

Q. When doing a walk around with a potential client, what are you looking for?
A. I’m estimating whether I see enough secondary market value to make it work for all parties. Such assessments are hardly exact, particularly in a home/business where much of the value is in drawers, closets, boxes, etc., and thus not easily visible.

Q. Are sellers generally pleased with the financial returns in the secondary marketplace?
A. If you undervalue your belongings, you are part of a relatively small sector of the population.

Passionate sports fans will tell you that the pain of losing stings worse than the thrill of winning. It is human nature to remember the item(s) that sold for less than you anticipated and skip over the items that did surprisingly well.

Q. Are service providers such as yourself to blame for raising client expectations of returns?
A. Indirectly, yes. We go to great lengths to publicize our successes in the marketplace, but disappoint on a daily basis. I try to be transparent with potential clients, but if I knew what someone would pay on any given day, in any given location for your assets, I’d be much wealthier.

Q. When Sellers produce an appraisal to validate their expectation in the marketplace, what do you tell them?
A. Good appraisers are like good lawyers – probably worth every penny they charge. Therefore, it is important to research their credentials. Because every appraiser has done work that has crossed the eyes of the IRS, a good question to ask is whether they have ever had their opinions questioned by the IRS.

Worthy appraisals will provide the reader a detailed description of the asset(s). The best appraisals also state their research sources and market comparables. An appraisal should state the reason the Client asked for the appraisal. Appraisals for Fair Market Value (FMV) and Replacement Value (RV) can be several multiples apart. Finally, appraisals are opinions as of a stated date, and valuations can fluctuate widely with time.

Unfortunately, most appraisals I see do not meet the above criteria.

Q. What kinds of things can (and do) go wrong after signing up a client?
A. People sign contracts who are not authorized to sell the assets. Clients also take back assets after indicating such are to be sold. In general, there is a tendency for clients to undervalue the complexity of the task.

Q. Which better suits my needs - an Estate Sale or an Auction?
A. The skills of the professionals you hire are different. An estate sale requires someone to determine the asking price for each item. An auction lets marketplace demand determine the final price. An estate sale will likely have marketable items remaining at the end. An auction will not. Logistics also need to be considered. Can hundreds of people park/access/load-out your assets without major disruption or safety issues? Finally, answer this question: Do you believe the best buyers for your assets are spending their free time browsing on-line or physically going from sale to sale?

Q. Should I pay to store this?
A. The self-storage industry is now so large that it can hold every person on the planet. Some people are paying more on a square foot basis than their mortgage. Many are paying more than the value of the assets they are storing.

Q. Why do we seem incapable of parting ways with physical items? Is it guilt, laziness, emotional attachment?
A. Psychologists tell us that it is the memories and nostalgia associated with objects that trigger emotional responses and that photos accomplish the same neurological response.

Q. Why do small items seem to retain value more than large items?
A. The simple answer is because small things can be easily shipped, and there is a whole industry of people in this digital age who make a living doing such.

Q. You sell real estate at auction. What are the selling points you make to clients considering such?
A. An auction holds out the "prospect of a deal" to potential bidders. An auction has a finite and concentrated marketing period, which will allow the property to stand apart from the crowd. Faced with a situation where there are not good comparables, competitive forces in an auction can serve as a good proxy. (Think artwork) If good comparables do exist, an auction may be the necessary ingredient that gets buyers to focus on the Sellers particular offering, not the dozens of other similar properties. An auctioneer may be able to offer very competitive terms, given the fact that they are going to force all interested parties to do their due diligence at the same time, thus making the outlay of marketing resources more efficient. A prospective buyer (bidder) is no longer faced with the prospect of a prolonged negotiation with the Seller. Instead, the bidders negotiation is straightforward – the other bidders only. All other factors are identical.

Q. What is the best way to research my possessions values?
A. Ebay is often used by Clients as a validating source, however most people equate “asking prices” with “achieved results”, and they are not the same.

If you use Ebay, search correctly. Here’s how: To the right of the Ebay search bar, click on the word "Advanced"; type your search words into "Advanced Search" box; check the "SOLD" box; and then click the "Search" box. The results that appear in GREEN represent actual sales. If there are several sales matching your item, be sure to take a representative sample – not simply the highest price.

Q. If you are reading this, chances are there has been some sort of change in your life:
Death. Many times there is both the lack of interest or space for family to retain personal and real property. Further, there are often debts to be paid, for which the sale of property can help satisfy.
Divorce. Many times neither party wishes to retain certain personal or real property assets — or both parties wish to retain the same assets. In either case, an auction can be beneficial.
Business Downsizing, Dissolution and Retirement Downsizing. Moving from a 40,000 sq. ft. warehouse to a 4,000 sq. ft. office? Auctions are often used when people or businesses have excess property for which they have no need or ability to retain.
Legal Duty. Court-ordered or statute-dictated auctions are common. Foreclosure, repossession, receiverships, seizures, forfeitures, bankruptcy, land-sale actions, storage liens and municipal or other publicly-held liquidations make up the common legal duty-type auctions. The overriding presumption here is that it is the seller’s duty to offer certain property openly and fairly to the general public, and sell for the highest bid.

Q. Can you Do That Fast Talking Thing?
A. Yes; but I’ve chosen to let my photos and descriptions do the talking with buyers.

I love calling bids at an open cry auction. Its fun and ego boosting, but my business isn’t entertainment or performance art – I Turn Assets into Cash – and that means observing human behavior and researching what I’m selling. Only then can I craft marketing efforts that connect buyers and sellers with my marketplace platform.

If you are evaluating several potential companies to sell your assets, you might go light on asking each what they think an item is worth and focus your questions on the How’s of marketing. Throwing out numbers that please potential clients is easy – Marketing is a true skill.

Q. Why do auctioneers hate answering the "What’s It Worth" Question?
A. If my valuation is lower than hoped, the disappointed Seller often decides to keep the item. If my valuation is higher than expected, the pleasantly surprised Seller often decides to keep the item. Either way, I lose.

I tell Sellers that because I work on commission, my financial interest is aligned with theirs, therefore, I’m going to work very hard to maximize the returns. Period

Q. When is an appraisal advisable or necessary?
A. Few people are willing to pay the hourly rate of a good personal property appraiser, who will take the time to inspect, research, commit to paper and sign a USPAP compliant document – just to have a better idea of something’s value.

However, there are times when people should obtain an appraisal because it is either necessary or a wise financial investment. Think IRS. Our tax laws are in a constant state of flux, but there are many estate scenarios where taxpayers can benefit. Consult with your legal and financial advisors.

Q. What are some of the roles of a Personal Representative for an Estate?

  • Locate the Will
  • Obtain death certificates from funeral home
  • Consult an attorney (if necessary)
  • Apply to appear before the Probate Court
    • Prove the will
    • Obtain appointment from Probate Court
    • Obtain exemplified copies of Will for out-of-state probate
  • Notify beneficiaries named in the Will
  • Apply for publication of notice to creditors
  • Mail a notice to each known creditor
  • Send notices of death to post office, utilities, banks, and credit card companies
  • Locate the following documents:
    • Insurance policies
    • Land contracts and mortgages
    • Auto or other loan documents
    • Payment of state and federal income taxes
    • Payment of property taxes
    • License fees for vehicle registrations
    • Safe deposit box rental fees
  • Inventory all assets and have them appraised (if necessary)
  • Collect debts owed to the estate
  • Check with deceased’s employer for unpaid salary, insurance and other employee benefits
  • File for social security, civil service or veterans benefits
  • File for life insurance and other benefits
  • File city, state and/or federal income tax returns
  • File state death and federal estate tax returns
  • Pay valid claims against the estate
  • Distribute assets and obtain receipts from the beneficiaries
  • File papers to finalize the estate

Q. What are some best practices for interacting with family members, now that I’ve been named as the Personal Representative for mom and dad’s estate?
A. I hear over and over that the division of assets amongst beneficiaries and family members is one of the most anxiety producing aspects of settling an estate.

Every extended family is dysfunctional at some level. Service providers should be willing to listen to your specific set of circumstances and concerns and offer you several ideas for weaving your way through this dreaded task. Ask them. Their answers will expose just how much experience they actually have.

Q. What am I going to do with all this stuff?
A. My observation is that people spend years accumulating possessions, and one day it dawns on them that they have become a burden.

We accumulate possessions for lots of reasons. We collect, inherit, and display our items proudly. We allow our stuff to anchor us. On some level, we equate our stuff with success and we become emotionally paralyzed in trying to let go, despite weighing us down.

Our possessions often take over our ability to house them, they cause our spouses to gripe and our children to grouse that they would rather have cash, but in spite of all this - we rarely make a plan for them once we’re gone. Learn to let go. We can avoid the all too familiar pain, regret and anger that so often befalls on families. If we insist on not making decisions, decisions will be made for us, and those decisions will likely not be the ones we would have made ourselves.

Q. How can I ensure I’m entering into a business relationship with an ethical individual?
A. This is the first time many of you have had such a need, so personal experience can’t be leaned on. Be resourceful in researching providers, in the same manner that you do in all other aspects of life. . You are entering into an agreement that generally involves a lot of emotion, so make sure you read and understand the contract before you have a reason to become concerned. There are good and bad players in this industry, but treat everyone with respect until you have a good reason not to. Lastly, be wary of someone who overpromises.

Q. I hear people say that I shouldn’t throw anything out until I’ve called in a professional. Is this your advice as well?
A. Call in a professional once you’ve decided what items are being kept and what items are to be sold. It isn’t fair to ask a professional to commit to business terms when the items to be sold are a moving target.

Q. At what point should I call in professional help?
A. Professionals know how to efficiently organize, research, advertise, sell, collect funds and manage their clients expectations, however, you probably will be wasting the professional’s time if:

  • You are not prepared to sign a contract that is mutually binding.
  • You are not emotionally ready to let go and let the professional do their work
  • You think that all old items are valuable
  • You expect returns to approximate old insurance appraisals
  • You have a minimum price in mind for all the most valuable items

Are you leaving behind a gift or guilt?
"I’m leaving it for the kids to deal with. I won’t be here." This traditional approach doesn’t work well in our modern, mobile society. My clients - the children - are often sad, mad and dazed as they complain that mom and dad had years to do this cleaning and never did.

The loved ones we leave behind have very busy lives of their own. They may still have their own children to raise and a full time job. They may be caring for other family members who are ailing. It’s also possible they are not quite up to the task of cleaning out themselves.

One of the very best gifts you can leave your loved ones is to begin the process of clearing out. You may not be there to see the relief and gratitude on their faces, but it will make all the difference in the world to them.

The dead don’t talk; but their possessions do...
Many people have skeletons that need to be dealt with delicately when found. It is not uncommon to find love letters, adoption papers, evidence of an extramarital affair, suicide notes, drug abuse issues and different levels of pornography. In short, we see the dark portals in people’s lives after they leave.

I always give pause and reflect on what things need to be told to the family. I try to always remember that the deceased can’t defend themselves or their actions.

In the land of the forgotten, we find things. I bring up this subject for the benefit of the greater good, in hopes that we can learn to better prepare for our own estates. Think about the many different facets of an estate and how complex it can be. We must not only think about ourselves and what we desire, but we must think about those we leave behind and what they may find.

Notes left behind in a house...
It is common to find all manner of notes attached to possessions as well as spreadsheets amongst the "important" papers. Many contain a price tag, where and when it was purchased, and information as to the piece itself. Other times, the paper simply says "This is to go to Eileen"...

Are such notes useful in the settlement of the estate? They can be, but often aren’t. Why? Because they can be removed, altered and abused by unscrupulous heirs-to-be. In addition, multiple versions of these notes are often found.

A far better way to handle your desires is to consult your attorney and write a formal addendum with your Will or Trust. Better yet, consider giving possessions away while you are still able to do so.

Q. What should I keep from mom and dad’s estate?
A. At some point, the emotional side must give way to logical consideration and reality.

  • Will I really use it?
  • Will I have space for it?
  • What is the cost of getting it from here to there?
  • Am I going to be paying it to store it?

You don’t have to possess the item to remember the love. What makes stuff special is who owned it, who used it, who loved it or who gave it!

When we curate your assets we are always looking for specific personal papers to return to the heirs:

  • Marriage certificates
  • Birth certificates
  • Documents for a cemetery plot
  • Military discharge paperwork for burial in a veteran’s cemetery
  • Papers indicating pre-chosen or pre-paid funeral home expenses.
  • Copies of will/trust, living wills and DNR’s
  • Medication Disposal