By Julia Anderson
Gather the (authentic) family history.
Find the receipts (if they exist).
But ignore the myths and legends about grandma’s favorite table lamp or other long-admired piece of furniture or art.
These are first-step recommendations from Gary Germer, a licensed Portland-Ore. appraiser and recent guest at Smart Money, my public television program. (Smart Money with Gary Germer on YouTube, ( click here)
Germer of Gary Germer & Associates does estate sales, sells items through private brokerage and organizes special events for clients. He evaluates and appraises fine art, antiques and personal property.
He helped us with the basics: How to determine the worth of such possessions as that watercolor that once hung in a favorite aunt’s guest bedroom and is now yours. Whether it’s worth restoring? Or should it (or can it) be sold? And how to do that.
With the vanguard of baby boomers aging into their 70s, many want to do something with their stuff --- either give it to a deserving niece or grandchild or sell it. Or could it be donated to charity with the benefit of a federal tax write-off?
“The first thing is to get together any family history on things,” Germer said. “Where did it come from? Are there receipts for the item stuck in a drawer that could help determine authenticity and real worth? Any information on the piece is important,” he said.
But keep in mind, Germer warns, that family legends may not be reliable when someone says they were offered X dollars in the past for something. Or if a family member is certain that grandma’s lamp was made by Tiffany.
To determine value, use a licensed appraiser, not an estate sales company or an antique dealer, Germer said. And never sell the item to the person who is doing the appraising because of the obvious conflict of interest.
“That’s like laying down in front of a train,” he said. “I am careful to never buy things I appraise. I will represent it but not buy it.”
Contacting a national auction house is another way to get an estimate on value and whether something is worth selling or donating.
Who to contact:
Appraiser: This person should be a certified member of the Appraisers Association of America and a well-established professional, qualified to appraise fine art, jewelry and personal property. Check out the association web site at www.appraisersassociation.org for its code of ethics, history and mission statement. Experience is important. Look for someone who has been doing appraisals for a long time and understands market trends.
Auction houses: Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Heritage and Bonham are national auction houses that buy and sell fine art, antiques, jewelry, coins, furniture, collectible guns, watches, wine and more. Items usually sell on consignment. Typically, an auction house will charge a 10 percent commission to the seller on the sale, called a vendor’s commission. Buyers also may pay a commission known as the vendor’s premium. Some smaller auction houses have specialties. For instance, PBA Galleries in San Francisco, buys and sells rare and fine books, maps and other paper materials.
“Auction houses should be willing to give you the pre-sale estimated value of an item,” Germer said. “Send them your photos and background on the item. Ask them what the estimated bid would be.”
Should you invest in a restoration? This is a matter of personal preference either because of the sentimental value of the item to you or your family or because a careful restoration would greatly increase the value of the item that you intend to sell or donate.
“Grandma painted it is a good enough reason to re-frame her watercolor and upgrade the faded matting,” Germer said. “A restorer will give you an estimated cost for the restoration, if you send a photo and tell them what you want done.”
To recap the process: Gather authentic family information about the item. Include receipts (if available).
Find a reputable appraiser to determine value, then decide if restoration is the next step before selling or donating the item or handing it off to someone.
What’s hot? There's a lot that's not
Meanwhile, families often have wacky ideas about how much something is worth, Germer said.
The Internet, changes in generational tastes and smaller living spaces have combined to roil collectible markets. Big brown furniture, formal dinnerware, glassware and china dishware have longbeen unpopular. A recent New York Times report said that “compared with the heyday of antiques collecting (in the late 90s), prices for average (furniture) pieces are now 80 percent off.” Instead, there’s growing interest in contemporary design, custom creations and pop culture. (Ideal Home)
“The list of items losing value is a lot longer than the list of things gaining in value,” Germer said. “Lately, natural things like rocks, taxidermy and anything to do with science is collectible. Butterfly collections are collectible.” Millennials are into house plants.
Those under 40, he said, also seem enamored with early 20th Century technology – manual typewriters, old adding machines, stuff with gears, vacuum tubes and push buttons.
In the old days (20 years ago), there was fun in collecting, he noted. “It meant going to antique and collectible shows, browsing vendor tables, making offers and bringing home treasure,” he said. “It’s not a treasure hunt anymore because you can go on eBay and instantly find what you want at a lower price.”
Germer advises that if you decide to sell something on eBay or Craig’s List to do your homework on pricing and avoid using the word antique in writing it up. “Antiques are stuffy. Vintage is a much better word for marketing,” he said. “Vintage is quirky, kitschy and fun.”
Appraisers and restorers
in the Portland, (Ore.)–Vancouver, Wash. area.
Calling for an appointment works best as they are not always in their labs and sometimes are focused on their work.
Appraisers and consignors:
Gary Germer & Associates
407 N Broadway
Portland OR 97227
Soltesz Fine Art
Goodman Appraisal Services
Pacific Gem Lab
Certified Jewelry Appraisal
Painting and frame restoration:
The Cultured Pearl
(Best for cleaning and basic restorations of paintings)
(aka Steve and Harvey)
1110 NW Flanders
Lucas Conservation Lab
(Best for full restoration/conservation work of paintings)
2015 Todd Rd
Vancouver, Wa. 98661
Susan Scott-LaRue (Best for work on paper, watercolor, lithographic prints etc.)
c/o Aurora Gallery
1004 Main St
Vancouver, Wa. 98660
(Lab is at her home, but she meets clients at Aurora Gallery, Vancouver).
Green's Furniture Hospital
916 SE 20th Ave.
Portland, Ore. 97214
503 234 9378
Smart Money shows on YouTube:
Disposing of Guns, Ivory and Gold
IRS Gifting Regulations on Tangible Assets
Smart Money: Trash or Treasure?
American Society of Appraisers
International Society of Appraisers
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