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What if nobody wants your old stuff?

Image of boxes packed with old items with heirloom value
Boxes of packed heirlooms

Decluttering? Guess what, estate sale values today are not what you might think. Unloading old items is not so easy anymore and it can pay off to have professional help!

My friend Judy Johnson runs a company called Unexpected Treasures. They have been involved in managing major estate sale and custom liquidations since 1997. Judy helps families with the very difficult work of divesting of belongings when downsizing or after major life changes.

During a recent conversation, here is what Judy had to say about today’s heirloom values and the market for estate sale materials:

The buying population is now comprised mainly of younger adults with growing families. They have different lifestyles and values and have little interest in old or used things.

The sellers are baby boomers who not only have their own accumulated stuff to deal with but are also parting with heirlooms and furnishings handed down to them by their parents.

So basically, more people have items for sale and fewer buyers have interest in purchasing their things. As a result, the market is flooded with antique furniture, rugs, pianos, art, china, and older but still useful household items. Antique stores are struggling, and many have closed. Life-long collectors are getting older now too and many are selling off their prized collections. At least one major auction house in San Francisco has closed its furniture department because furniture just isn’t selling. Consignment stores are stuffed to the rafters with furnishings and are becoming more and more selective as to what they will take. Even charities are refusing to accept certain items.

Image of vinyl "picture" record album by Vogue
Vinyl “picture” record

On the plus side, for those who want and appreciate nice things, there has never been a better opportunity for excellent acquisition deals on some real treasures.

Current young buyers have different lifestyles and outlooks for their futures than the baby boomers had. Some are not sure about ever having a big home with lots of trappings like mom and dad, so they are looking for considerably different and more streamlined surroundings. Most like to spend time eating out, or entertaining downtown with friends instead of cooking at home. They are on the go and prefer experiences and travel over objects, current style over antiques and simplicity over clutter.

What’s in? These items seem to be appealing to the new generation, open floor plans, sleek furnishings, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, IKEA, Danish modern, vintage designer chairs like Eames and Herman Miller, vinyl records, jazz and AirBnB.

Image of estate sale chair with ottoman designed by Eames
Eames Chairs are IN!

What’s out? China, oak furniture, houses with formal rooms and mahogany dining sets. No one has time to iron linens, care for antique wood furniture or hand wash crystal. They prefer new and clean items and if they buy second hand it must be useful, streamlined and easy to care for.

Bottom line: currently a lot of used household items are no longer worth much, no matter what they cost new. On the positive side quality vintage items have never been more affordable, so if there is something you have been longing for, now may be the time to find a good one at a bargain.

If you are a seller, there can still be some valuable “unexpected treasures” in your stash if you are paying attention. Here’s what folks in the market are snapping up:

  • Mid-century modern furniture-Danish teak, Herman Miller, Eames chairs and Scandinavian designers from the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Minimalist designs, from lighting to rugs and art.
  • Chinese antiques and Japanese art and tansu chests.
  • Well known high-end brands and labels.
  • Vintage American Indian artwork, silver jewelry, baskets, pottery and beadwork.
  • Jazz, rock and heavy metal vinyl records.
  • Musical instruments especially fine guitars, saxophones and horns.
  • Architectural salvage, ironwork and stained windows.
  • Classic motorcycles, cars, wood boats and Evinrude motors.
  • Any transportation memorabilia.
  • Kids books, furniture and toys, if in good condition.
  • Costume jewelry, Mexican silver and chunky 1980s necklaces and bracelets.
  • Cement patio figures and décor.
  • Historical western memorabilia.
  • Items pertaining to Silicon Valley history.
  • Old scientific instruments.
  • World War II and other military items.

Remember, if you are considering an estate sale you need to know the above things about the current market. Also, realize that the condition of any item is EXTREMELY important (and just like your home,) the condition will not only affect price, but salability. Be sure to talk to an estate professional like Judy to review your possessions before you make any decisions and certainly before you throw anything away. You could be quite pleasantly surprised!

Judy Johnson earned a Master of Arts Degree in museum studies and worked for the fine Arts Museums of san Francisco. She has been involved with estate sales and custom liquidations since 1998 and is a follower of Home Preservation Services and believer in the value of this website and its philosophy. Visit her at: Unexpected Treasures

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