Newsstories have reported on people who have found very valuable items right in their own homes. Everything from vintage autographed baseballs to fine works of art have been discovered when cleaning out grandma’s house or a neighbor’s attic.
If personal property ranks among Americans’ most significant and lucrative assets, why when faced with a death in the family, do we trash all of the valuable items that once belonged to the deceased? You wouldn’t set fire to grandma’s house because she isn’t using it anymore. Grandma’s house has value and so does her stuff.
Consider this: Grandma passes away. Her family meets at her vacant house dressed in sweats to “clean out the house”. To put the house up for sale, the family works to throw out grandma’s stuff. Remember, grandma has been insuring her personal property for about $100,000 on a typical homeowner’s insurance policy for years, but now the family just trashes most of it. Old dishes, furniture, paintings, beaded purses, etc. all make their way from grandma’s house to the dumpster in the driveway. Suddenly, grandma’s personal items have no value! It’s ridiculous.
Sadly, most families make decisions about grandma’s objects and their value based on little information. For instance, the 21-year-old fiancée of grandma’s grandson probably won’t realize that grandma’s oyster plates are valued at $750 each. Even grandma’s daughter doesn’t know that her mother’s Victorian chair is worth $300. Grandma’s nephew, an accountant, has no way of knowing that the old portrait in the living room—an artwork by Currier & Ives –is worth $50,000. No appraiser means no information.
Grandma’s family is like most families. Grandma’s pieces travel to the dumpster without an expert identifying what grandma’s stuff is worth. Her family throws away significant amounts of money—essentially their inheritance—in these unwanted objects.
Perhaps a family lives too far away from grandma’s house to clean it out. On the advice of the local estate lawyer, the family hires a “clean out crew”. During my antique appraisal events held nationwide, I have met a number of these hardworking guys who clean out houses. Typically, the workers are allowed to take anything they want from grandma’s house because the contents are going to the trash heap anyway. In addition to a day’s pay, they get authority over grandma’s valuable personal property.
Recently, I met Joe, an estate trash man, who was hired at the urging of a family’s estate lawyer. Joe cleaned out grandma’s storage locker for this family. Understandably, the family didn’t want to pay the monthly fee to store grandma’s stuff. Sight unseen, the family gave Joe permission to trash the locker’s contents. The storage locker held household items, furniture, and paintings. When I appraised the paintings that Joe removed from the locker and Joe now owned, I told him that they belonged in a museum. That’s right, a museum!
The locker contained four American Impressionist paintings removed from grandma’s house valued at $40,000. The family lost a bundle and probably never even knew it. From my vast experience providing personal property appraisals, I know there are valuable items in your grandmother’s house and in your house, too. It is important and lucrative for you to get your antiques, art, and collectibles appraised. My advice is “Don’t let it go until you know — what it’s worth.”
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on Discovery channel’s Auction Kings airing Thursdays at 9 PM. Visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call (888) 431-1010.