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What’s It Worth Survival Guide

by ThomPattie (11/06/08).

In these difficult economic times, more and more Americans are turning to consignment sites, yard sales and pawnbrokers to sell collectibles, valued items and family heirlooms. To protect consumers from undervaluing their assets, WorthPoint, a leading online source for information about buying and selling art, antiques and collectibles, is issuing a Survival Guide for collectors.

Helping people make money from their collectibles is WorthPoint’s mission. Founded in 2007, WorthPoint is an Internet-based data-and-media company that offers a vast database of sales records on art, antiques and collectibles. WorthPoint helps collectors understand the worth of their items and provides expert advice on how to preserve, buy and sell them.

The recommendations in this Survival Guide come from what I have learned through 40 years in the appraisal, antiques and auction industries. I have managed regional auction houses and have offered onsite appraisals for U.S. and international auction houses, and have seen several economic downturns. In these times, many people make the mistake of selling their prized collectibles and antiques for much less than they are worth because they haven’t thought the sale through. Before selling anything, you should consider the following:

Step 1. The first thing to decide is whether you need a licensed professional. Licensed professionals can help determine the true worth of your item, but they will likely charge you for an appraisal. Very few professionals will give free advice. So consider whether you think the value of an item warrants the cost of an appraisal. And make sure you let a professional know whether the appraisal is for insurance purposes or to aid in selling an item. This definitely impacts the appraised value.

Step 2. Get a second opinion. Do not take one person’s evaluation as the final word. Check with at least one other person who supplies similar services. You should plan to visit more than one store, auction house or pawnshop.

Step 3. Now log on and visit Internet sites that offer expert advice—there are a number of places online to help you determine the value of your item. For example, WorthPoint enables you to ask its Worthologist experts for a small fee, or you can query its online community for free. Remember, there is plenty of free online information, but as always, consider the source.

Look at your options

Step 4. Understand your options. If you have decided that you are going to sell an antique or collectible, consider all your options and ramifications. Are you going to be satisfied with the dollar amount you receive for the sale of your item? Seller’s remorse can be very stressful. Explore your options, weigh each carefully, then decide what to do. Just make sure you do not rush into something blindly—take a deep breath. Once you sell or pawn your item, the decision has been made. Be sure it is the right one.

If you decide to auction your piece, you need to understand how auctions work. Using auction houses is not a rapid process for selling high-value items. It may take 60 to 90 days before you see any money. Ask for an estimate of what the item will bring, read the auction contract, and do not sign it until you understand all the charges. Be clear about the commission rate. Find out if there are other charges, such as for insurance, photography, advertising, etc.

The pawnshop route

If you plan to go to a pawnshop, you must understand how pawnshops work. Fast cash is always going to be less cash. You will receive pennies on the dollar for your item, so you should know what you have and what it is worth before you enter the door. Use these venues as a last resort, and be aware of the terms. Read everything. How much will it cost to get your item back? Are you willing to give up the item for the amount you receive?

There is still the option of holding on to your piece as antiques and collectibles are good investments. Most of these items keep their value even while many stocks, commodities and other investments do not. When we are financially stressed, we often act in haste because we don’t have something to fall back on. Remember, high-end antiques are similar to blue-chip stock with one big difference—they aren’t making any more antiques like yours (reproductions yes, but not the real thing). High-end antiques may decline in price from time to time, but overall, they will retain and gain in value.

Step 5. Negotiate. You have more power than you think when it comes down to negotiations, whether you are selling at an auction, to a dealer or a pawnshop. Always ask for better terms, reduced rates or the dropping of add-on charges. The item is yours. You are the final decision maker not the auction house or pawnshop. You should always get a signed contract that states exactly what you understand the terms to be and neveraccept a verbal agreement.

Two Sides to Every Deal

Step 6. My mother always used to say there are two sides to a slice of salami. In this Survival Guide, I hope you consider buying as well as selling. The same rules apply for buyers as sellers. But in uncertain times, there are always opportunities. Now is the time to buy. The midrange market (which is most likely to fluctuate) is a gold mine of bargains. You can purchase some items in the midrange market for a fraction of what they cost five years ago.

You can also adopt a “Recycle/Go Green” attitude that can save you money while you enjoy the hunt for antiques and collectibles. There is no need to spend money for expensive new accessories and furniture (often made of particle board with photographic finishes), which almost immediately diminish in value. Instead, take advantage of the secondary market (auctions, used furniture and antique stores), and acquire items that often increase in value over time.

Step 7. Do your homework. Know the value of what you have. Remember, to win at this game, you have to at least understand what you have. Take a look at the more than two million historical prices from hundreds of auction houses on the Worthopedia, a free service on the WorthPoint site. If you are a professional, take a look at GoAntiques’ PriceMiner, where you’ll find more than 27 million historical prices. Few people have rare antiques, but many of us have items that are more valuable than we realize.

Please add your advice to the Survival Guide. Click on the “Add New Comments” button in the left-hand column.

Thom Pattie is WorthPoint’s chief Worthologist.

WorthPoint—Get the Most from Your Antiques & Collectibles

Editor’s Note:
WorthPoint is looking for people who are willing to discuss how the current economic climate is impacting them and who are willing to share their experiences with pawnshops, consignment sites and yard sales.

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