Don Zatarain flipped through the pages of a notebook filled with doubloons until one caught his eye.
“Check this out,” he said. “It’s a Saints doubloon from the first year they existed, with their schedule on the back.”
Zatarain made the discovery at the Occasional Wife’s new showroom at 8237 Earhart Blvd. He is what the staff calls a regular.
“I can’t make it to every estate sale, so I come in here to see what I can find,” he said.
Whether motivated by a move, a downsizing or a death in the family, estate sales are an increasingly popular way to dispose of a household’s contents.
“Millennials don’t want their parents' stuff,” said Kay Morrison, who runs The Occasional Wife with her husband, Camp. “They are not interested in mahogany furniture or fine crystal and china.”
As blogger Julia Anderson (sixtyandsingle.com) says, “For them, a piece of dark brown desk furniture makes no sense in a world of Ikea, laptops and Facebook.”
Headlines seem to prove the point, from USA Today (“Boomers often rebuffed when passing down heirlooms") to The Wall Street Journal (“Why the market for heirloom and second-hand furniture has disappeared”). There’s even a name for the phenomenon: The “no brown furniture” movement.
Rather than rely on children and grandchildren to take their treasures, more people are selling them at estate sales, with the thought that someone will appreciate them even if their progeny doesn’t.
“When we started out 12 years ago, the business was 100 percent home organizing, but now estate sales are approaching 50 percent of what we do,” said Morrison, who uses the term “estate sale” to refer any sale of a whole household.
If you're looking to dispose of the contents of a house, it’s important to find an estate sale outfit that can provide the range of services you want and need. Some can be hired simply to conduct the sale. Others will work with a realtor, stage the sale and remove leftover items when the sale is over. It depends on how much the client wants to be involved, and maybe how emotional the process is.
“Interview as many of the companies as you can and take a weekend to go to sales to get a picture of how the companies perform,” Morrison advised. “Is everything stacked up and still in boxes, or has it all been unpacked and staged attractively? Is the staff warm and welcoming and do they allow buyers adequate time to consider a purchase, or do they tend to rush them? You can tell so much from going to an estate sale and watching what goes on.”
Fee structures vary. Most companies charge a percentage of sales, although others work on an hourly basis. It’s important to get a sense of the fees in advance be sure you are comfortable with the arrangement, as you will need to sign a contract with the company.
Make sure that on-site estate sales are permitted where you live. Many condo associations, apartment complexes and gated communities prohibit them. The next step is to establish what has been promised or willed to someone so that item doesn’t end up in the sale. Then comes pricing.
“This part can be tricky if the client thinks something is worth a lot more than what experience tells you it will command. That’s when I try to show the client info on fair market value of items,” Morrison said. “Sometimes we work it out so that I price the item the way they want the first day, but we make an agreement in advance on what the reduced price will be the second day. Every estate sale business approaches it a little differently.”
Morrison said any usable item on site should remain, even if the client thinks no one will buy it.
“We have had people buy half-empty bottles of Windex, so don’t think anything is trash. A dollar for this and a dollar for that really adds up,” she said. “We do ask clients to remove medicine bottles, birth certificates, bank statements and family photos for the sake of privacy and security. And we ask clients to stay away on the days of the sale because of the emotions that can arise when they see strangers going through their personal possessions.”
Most sales are two- or three-day affairs, and clients often arrange for another place to stay overnight.
“When you’re interviewing companies to manage the sale, it's important to find out what happens with the leftovers, the things that don’t sell. Will it be up to you to dispose of them or will the estate sale company handle it? If just a little is left over and it isn’t valuable, some clients post a curb alert on Craigslist or Nextdoor. But bigger pieces and valuable items can be consigned,” Morrison said. “If you plan to donate everything left over to a charity, find one that can pick up. And if you don’t want the headache of dealing with the leftovers, some estate sale companies will sell them for you.”
Morrison and her crew take items to their shop on Earhart and offer it for sale there. What doesn’t sell in 45 days they donate to a charity and the client gets the charitable contribution deduction.
As for the Saints doubloon that Zatarain discovered at the Occasional Wife, it may be a treasure to him as a Saints fan, but he won’t be able to quit his day job. Rafael Monzon, a local doubloon expert, estimated it's worth $5.
(In addition to the Occasional Wife, companies that stage estate sales locally include A&O, Ages Ago, Big Easy, Blue Moon, H&H, New Orleans Geaux to Girls, and Rain or Shine. Go to estatesales.net to see what’s coming up this weekend.)