The purpose of most of the anecdotes below is to demonstrate the amount of time and money lost by those who decide to handle the personal property from estates on their own. These same people will hire a Realtor to sell the house and an attorney to handle the will, but lose significant time and money by not hiring a professional to assist with the liquidation of the personal property. As you will read below, not only is time and money spent to lose money, but many items of monetary and historical value are destroyed in the process.
These stories are not anomalies, and they are not something that "used to happen." Despite TV shows like Antiques Roadshow, The Collectibles Show, Cash In The Attic, American Pickers, Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, Auction Hunters, Buried Treasure, Salvage Hunters, The Collectors, and many more, there are still millions of dollars worth of items thrown in the dump and destroyed nationwide every day.
Just to save some postage......
I was recently contacted regarding emptying a house where the occupant had moved out of state and was not going to return. He had asked a friend of his to act as his representative in finding someone to get the house ready to go on the market, and the representative called me.
At our initial meeting I found the house full of about a hundred beautiful antique clocks, but was assured that these were being given away to a neighbor because he had “expressed an interest in them”, (pick an average price and do the math). There were also several containers (bowls, baggies, jars, etc.) of old silver coins that the representative had found in various places in the house and was taking with him. He asked me to keep an eye out for any other coins I might come across. By the time I took on the job there was little of value remaining, but lots of stuff that needed to go to the dump, recycling and charity.
In the process of emptying the house I did pick up about twenty dollars worth of modern coins from the usual places, (junk drawers, under the furniture, etc.). When I completed the job and met with the representative (I always have the person in charge approve the work that has been done), I gave him the bag of coins I had accumulated. At this point the representative said “Thanks for saving those, I guess I’ll have to do with them what I did with the others.” When I asked what that was, he said: “Well, I figured they were too heavy to ship to him, so I took them to the coin machine at the grocery store. They came to over $200. The trick is, (he said proudly) if you get a gift card there is no fee for having the machine count the coins!”
Postscript: Even if they have no collectible value, all older silver coins are worth about twenty times face value for their silver content, so the $200 gift card was bought with $4,000 worth of coins. I’ll bet the guy who had moved away was thrilled when he got the gift card instead of his valuable coins!
Now wasn't that convenient........?
I was in Spokane (about 80 miles from home) on business when I saw a barely legible Estate Sale sign on a corner. Having a little free time in my schedule I decided to take a look.
What I found was a yard completely full of stuff for sale next to a forty cubic yard dumpster. I quickly found a fishing tackle box full of old wooden lures, an apple box full of mostly Sun label 45 RPM records, a couple of quart Ziplock bags full of rhinestone jewelry and two large Roseville vases.
I waited around while the only other customer at the sale paid $10 for an armload of vintage dresses and military uniforms and then started up a conversation with the cashier.
I said "Wow, by the size of that dumpster, you must have had a lot of garbage to throw out, was this your parent's house"? She gave me kind of a strange look and then told me the story.
The dumpster was actually in her neighbor's driveway! The older couple that had lived there had passed away and the relatives had come to town, ordered the dumpster and thrown virtually everything in the house away. When they were done and getting ready to leave, she had asked them if they minded if she took some of the stuff they had thrown away. They had been fine with that plan, since every pound removed from the dumpster saved them money. The garbage truck was coming the next day, so she only had about 24 hours to get what she wanted. She had gotten out enough stuff to fill her yard and then put up a couple of Estate Sale signs.
Postscript: As I was leaving she said "You know those funny looking vases you bought?" "I didn't get all the way to the bottom of the dumpster, but I must have seen at least a dozen others like them that which got broken when they threw them in". (The two I bought sold for $200 each.)
IN A SPAN OF ONLY TWO WEEKS (Spring 2012)..........
The first call, the lady had died 18 months prior and the family, who lived 300 miles away, had devoted one weekend per month to "emptying the house". They would drive the 600 miles round trip and spend the weekend hauling stuff to the dump. Finally, as it was the second spring the house had sat empty, they decided they needed to get it on the market. The realtor told them about my services, so they asked me to come take a look. All that remained were a few large pieces of furniture (too heavy for them to lift), a bunch of "garage stuff" (they hadn't finished there) and two garbage cans in front of the garage doors. The most valuable items (worth more than the furniture) were in the garbage cans!
The second call, the family had moved their mother into a retirement home close to where they live, again about 300 miles away. They (the brother and sister) had then each taken two weeks of from work and spend the time "emptying the house". When they listed the house the realtor referred them to me. All that remained were a few large pieces of furniture (too heavy for them to lift), some exercise equipment and a bunch of "garage stuff" (they hadn't finished there).
The third call the parents had moved out of state three years prior. The house was left unoccupied for three years, during which time it was damaged by water and mice. The brother and sister then each took two weeks off of work, traveled from out of state and spend their time "emptying the house". When they listed the house the realtor referred them to me. All that remained was a bunch of "garage stuff" (they hadn't finished there) and some yard tools.
Postscript: Sound repetitious? Welcome to my life!!! In all three cases, the family could have saved their time, energy and money, by just taking what they wanted and having a professional service deal with the remaining items. Each year I get many similar calls. In every case the people have spent their time, energy and money throwing away items of value. These same people hire doctors, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, realtors, and many other types of professionals as needed, but never considered looking for a professional to assist them with disposing of personal property....
REALLY, WHAT DID YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN?
I recently received a call for some people who wanted me to "Take a look at clearing" their parents home. When I met with them at the house, this is what I found:
The father had passed away three years ago and they had moved the mother to a retirement home. Instead of dealing with the home and personal property at that time (I could have had it empty and clean in short order), they decided it was a good idea to have the ne'er-do-well unemployed son of a family friend stay there, rent and utilities free, in exchange for "cleaning up the place and minor repairs".
Well, three years later he had sold everything of value, left all the garbage and done no repairs. Even though I have no way of knowing how much value was there to start with, I can guarantee that calculating taxes, insurance, utilities and lost rent for three years (as well as the lost value of the personal property) they lost tens of thousands of dollars and still have to pay to have the garbage hauled and the place cleaned.
Postscript: You should always "bite-the-bullet" and deal with the house and personal property in a timely manner. By leaving it sit the only things you will gain are mice, burglars, and expenses!
BUT HE IS SUCH A NICE GUY....
When I spoke to the daughter of a man who had passed away in a nearby town, she told me that her family had lived there for 50 years and they had "a lot of stuff they need to get rid of" so they could sell the house. Both the daughter and son lived hundreds of miles away, so they assured me they would not be "hauling much home".
I made an appointment and met with them at the house. Although the large living room was filled to the brim with things, they had decided to keep, it was a large house and I still had hopes that there would be sufficient value remaining to make it worth while.
As usual, I was wrong! The place had been picked clean and the only remaining items were destined for the dump or the thrift store. At the end of the tour they took me out to the garage to show me a stack of paint and pesticides that would have to go to "hazardous waste". The rest of the three car garage was crammed with antique furniture, guns, World War II memorabilia, vintage Harley motorcycle, trunks, crocks, etc.
When I asked what was happening with those items, they explained that the father's caretaker was a "nice guy" and they had said he could have "anything he wanted".
Postscript: Even though he was a"nice guy" and had performed a service for the family, he had already been paid for that service, and I doubt that they would have willingly written him a check for many thousands of dollars as a bonus. That is in effect what they were doing by letting him strip all the value out of the personal property.
I MADE IT ALL GO AWAY!!!
I recently gave a lecture on downsizing for a group of seniors. After my presentation, one of the audience members came up and related the following story.
Her husband, who had passed away three years ago, had been a contractor and had large amounts of building supplies, tools, and hardware. The garage was so full of stuff that neither of their vehicles had been out of the weather for years, and several rooms of the house were also full of "stuff".
She began taking a load in his pickup truck to the dump every week, but after about a year the truck broke down. She then discovered that if she set up some sheets of plywood on sawhorses as tables in front of the house and put up a "FREE" sign, that every time she filled the tables with items,"by the next morning it was all gone". After doing this for another year she had finally managed to get rid of all of her husband's possessions. As she stated proudly "I made it all go away"
Postscript: From my perspective, she spent two years of her life hauling away items of potential value for no monetary return. I could have suggested several ways that she could have done less work, made more money, and had all the material removed in less time.
THEY WERE HELPING!
A couple of weeks ago I was on vacation in another state, when my phone rang. It was a lady who lives on a farm outside a small town some miles from my home. She told me the following:
Her grandparents had lived in a large house in the town from 1924 to 1960, her parents had lived in the house from 1960 to the present, and she and her sisters had grown up there. Thus the house was full of stuff from three generations. Her parents had recently passed away and the three sisters had gotten together and taken out what they wanted. They had also boxed up everything that was left and needed someone to liquidate it for them.
I got the call on a Wednesday, told her that I would be back home Friday night, and made an appointment to meet with her on Saturday morning. On Thursday afternoon she called and said that I didn't need to come because her son and some of his friends had gotten a couple of the big grain trucks from the farm and hauled everything left at the house to the dump. They had not told her they were going to do this, because "they wanted to surprise her by helping"!
Postscript: I have seen similar things happen many times over the years, and always cringe when people tell me that the kids are "Coming to town to help".
Working hard is not always the right answer
I stopped by the fruit stand the other day and the girl that was running the stand saw the “Estate Sales and Household Liquidations” sign on the side of my truck. She asked me what that meant and when I started explaining it to her, you could see the color drain out of her face. When I was done she told me her story:
Two years previously her grandparents had passed away in Portland Oregon and left her an old three story house where they had lived for 60 years, completely full of “stuff”. She lives about a hundred miles from Portland and works full time at various jobs (“just to make ends meet”), every weekend she would drive to Portland and fill up a dumpster. She said “I knew a lot of that antique stuff might be worth some money, but I don’t have any way to haul it to an antique store and I needed to spend my time getting rid of things while I was there”.
After two years she had finally “managed to throw away everything so the house could be sold”. When I explained that she could have kept what she wanted and had the house empty, clean, and on the market in a short period of time (and received money from the proceeds of the sale), she was visibly shaken.
There are dozens of estate sale companies in Portland and a good market for antique items. It is sad that someone so obviously in need of money would pay taxes, insurance, utilities on a house for two years, and spend hundreds of hours and drive thousands of miles to do hard work, all to throw away money (and equally sad that her grandparent’s lifetime accumulation of personal property all went to the dump).
DON'T YOU THINK A LITTLE BELL WOULD HAVE GONE OFF?
A few months ago, I received a call from a lady who had found me through the internet. She lived out of state and was the personal representative for her brother who had passed away in Colfax (a small town just down the road from me). According to the woman, her brother had collected things for decades, and had left a double wide trailer full of "old stuff" about which she knew nothing.
I made an appointment to meet with her at the trailer the following Friday. I explained that all she had to do was to keep those things that she wanted, and I would purchase everything that remained, leaving the trailer empty, clean and ready to be sold.
The day before our appointment she called me to cancel. When I asked her why she had changed her mind, she explained that the neighbors wanted to buy the trailer and would even take everything in it if she knocked a little off the price. When I explained that it was reasonable that someone buying a trailer might want the purchase to include the appliances and furniture, but not all the miscellaneous personal property, she said " No, they want it all" (this is when the bell should have gone off).
A couple off months later I was talking to a friend of mine that does auction sales, and he told me that he had just had one of the best sales in his 30 years in business (over $100,000). The funny part he said, was that all of this great stuff had come out of a trailer in Colfax!
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO WRONG?
I recently received a call from a family that wanted me to hold an estate sale for them. Since that is what we do, I made an appointment to meet with them. Here is what I found:
The son and daughter that I met with were both in their late 60s, and their parents had been in their 90s when they passed away after over 60 years in the same house. When the second parent passed away, the son and daughter had come to town and spent over a week boxing up EVERYTHING in the house and moving it into a two car garage they had rented on the other side of town.
The material from the house had now been in the garage for over two years and they had finally decided that they needed to do something with it. The entire garage was stacked eight feet deep in boxes, and when I asked them what the plan was, they said "We want you to have a sale". When I asked them if they had kept everything that they wanted, the said "No, we will just keep what we want out of the sale".
I explained some of the many reasons why that would not work, and said that we needed to sort out the items in the garage. I explained that there there would be several different piles: The items they wanted to keep, garbage, recycling, charity, and salable. They informed me that this was "personal stuff" and that they did not want anyone else using it, so they did not want anything to go to charity. After a considerable while, I convinced them that while some items are "personal" things like snow tires and old toasters are better given to charity than put in the landfill.
Following a resolution to that discussion, we began the lengthy process of trying to sort out the massive amount of boxed material in the garage. That was when we found out that the cement slab was below grade and that the roof had leaked for two winters. All of the personal papers and photos were ruined, the valuable antique tin toys were completely rusted, the wooden furniture (buried under hundreds of pounds of moldy books) was warped, etc. When we were done sorting, it was 95% garbage, 4% charity, and 1% personal items.
Postscript: If they had initially sorted out what they wanted at the house and had an estate sale there for the remaining items, they would have had everything they wanted to keep, and money for the rest of it. Instead, after much more work and paying two years rent, they had virtually nothing.
RECYCLING IS A GOOD THING (sometimes).
I was raised to be "green" long before it was popular (or the term even existed). My father, who lived through the Great Depression, was averse to throwing anything away, so if we did go to the dump, it was to see what we could find!
When I started Estate Services in 1985, I soon found that I too had difficulty throwing things away, which led to innumerable trips to charity and the recycling center for items that many in the business just take to the landfill. On average, I haul six times as much volume to the recycling center as I do to the landfill. This results in my being at the recycling center much more than most people, and here are a few resultant stories:
While dropping off a load of mixed grade waste paper at the community recycling center, I noted that there were a number of magazines in the bin that were in plastic covers. As I often sort out things that have been placed in the wrong bin, I fished them out. It was then that I discovered that it was an entire comic book collection, and that the plastic covers were the protective slip covers that are placed on issues to retain their condition! .... I sold them later that day to a comic book dealer.
While dropping off a load at the local recycling center, I noticed a pickup truck with three people gleefully slinging bottles into the glass bin and watching them break. When I went closer to tell them that this was dangerous, I noticed that the bottles they were throwing were vintage soda bottles and that the canopy on the truck was stacked full of wooden cases filled with the bottles. When I asked where they had gotten so many bottles they said that they worked for a local thrift store and "some jerk had dumped of that whole load. Not only did they now have to recycle all the bottles but had to take the whole truck load of "ugly boxes" to the dump". ......
I paid them $100 to transfer the remaining bottles and boxes to my truck, and did quite well on them at the next auction.
Yesterday, a friend called me. She had been dropping off some paper at the recycling center and "there were dozens of beautiful old fashion magazines from the 1800's". She wondered if there was any way that I could retrieve them from the bin (a 40 cubic yard dumpster). Although I figured I would probably not be able to get permission, I decided to swing by and take a look. I got there about an hour after the phone call, and the bin was empty.........
Postscript: Just a few more examples of people spending their time and energy to throw away money.
YOU DO THE MATH....
Here is the story of a place that I worked on recently:
The older couple was very well off, he was a college professor and she was a medical doctor. They both tended to accumulate a lot of things, but their main hobby was collecting vintage books and magazines. A few years following the mother's death, the son moved the father into a care facility due to severe dementia. And then let the house sit vacant.....
Two years past (miraculously the house had not been burglarized) and then the water pipes in the attic froze and burst. The problem was discovered within two days, but by then had ruined the ceiling, walls, and floor of both the upper and lower stories, as well as thousands of books. The son then had the damaged books and other items that had been ruined hauled to the dump, but left everything else (including all the furniture) in the house while $60,000 dollars of repair work was done. This means the contractors had to move the furniture from room to room as they worked.
When the repairs were completed, the house sat vacant for another year. Then the son and his wife came to town and removed "Everything of any value".
Postscript: Calculate the cost of the items that were destroyed, plus the repair work on the house, plus three years of utilities, taxes and insurance. All of this cost could have been avoided if they had sold the house when the father first went into the care facility. This cost is far greater than the total of all the "items of value" that remained.
NEVER LET A HOUSE SIT VACANT!!!!!
WHAT CAN I SAY?
When their mother passed away last year the children came to town for the funeral. Several people there recommended that they call Estate Services, so what did they do....
They called the garbage company and filled several dumpsters before leaving town for several months (continuing to pay taxes, utilities, and mortgage, while mice moved into the house). They finally sent me an email before they returned and I explained that we would take care of everything that they did not want.
When I met with them the second day they were in town, there was already another full dumpster in front of the house (this one appeared to be full of cardboard). When they told me that they were doing this to "reduce their costs" I explained that I could haul cardboard to the recycling center in town cheaper than they could pay to have a dumpster delivered, pay a charge for every day it was there, pay to have it picked up, and then pay for every pound they had put in it.
They were unaffected by my logic and showed me the several closets full of clothes that they still intended to throw away. To my utter amazement, they took each item off of its hanger (including furs and cool vintage items) before carrying them out to the dumpster. They also threw away all of the jewelry, but left the six empty jewelry boxes. All of the books in the library were discarded because they had the mother's name in them, (how about an eraser or a black marker if this was a concern). They also proudly told me about all of the unopened boxes from the storage room they had thrown away. These had been moved to the house 30 years ago, and since they were never opened they figured no one needed what was in them!
By the time they were "ready for me to come" all that was left was a chest freezer, six empty jewelry boxes, two old sofas, a beat up piano, several closets full of hangers, and half a load of paint and pesticides in the garage. When I took the chemicals to the hazardous waste section at the landfill, I was talking to the woman at the scale house and told her, in disbelief, that they had even thrown away all of the jewelry. Her response was "Oh yeah, that happens all the time. A couple of years ago I was walking through the tipping area and the whole floor was covered with jewelry. I reached down and picked up a little box, and look what was inside". At this point she showed me the beautiful antique 18K gold ring that she was wearing!
Later on that day I was talking to a dealer who specializes in vintage clothing and told her about having to haul away all of the empty hangars. Her reply was "I'm not surprised, last fall my grandmother died in Spokane and when we went to the funeral a week after her death, my brother that lives there had already thrown away everything in the house, without ever asking if any family members wanted anything".
Postscript: So the cycle goes on. Despite my focus on providing a service to reduce the burden on the relatives and to keep usable items from going to the dump, often there is nothing that can be done.
BUT WE HAD TO DO IT TO SELL THE HOUSE!
It was late August in one of the hottest summers in many years, when I got a phone call from an elderly couple in Moscow. I agreed to meet with them at their house to see what service I could provide.
They showed me the hide-a-bed and set of snow tires that they wanted to sell because would not need them at their retirement condo in Arizona. When I asked them if that was all they had to sell, they started telling me what they had been doing:
They had hauled all of the small items to charity and filled two dumpsters, when they remembered that the attic was full of "stuff" that had been there when they purchased the home 52 years ago. They were afraid that this would affect the sale of the home, so they rented a U-haul truck and spent two weeks with him working in the attic (it was over 100 degrees outside, so you can imagine how hot it was in the attic), handing things down to her in the garage (where she was constantly covered with falling dust). They filled the fourteen foot U-haul twice and their dump bills showed that they had hauled almost three thousand pounds to the landfill. According to them, this job "Almost killed us both".
When I asked why they had not called on me for the items in the attic, they replied "It was just old stuff that no one would want, like old trunks, metal toys, crocks, and other things that no one uses any more".
Postscript: (Insert grawlix here!!)
YOU DO WHAT FOR A LIVING?
This story comes compliments of a local auctioneer: He was having breakfast with the longtime owner of an antique store in one of the small towns in the area. The husband of the antique store owner had recently passed away and the family was in the process of determining how best to deal with his possessions.
The shop owner's husband had been an avid gun collector for many decades and at the time of his death had 125 various firearms. The family knew that these were of value, but he also had "several boxes of ammunition for each one" which they figured no one would care about since "many of them were so old they don't even make them anymore" so they put them out at a yard sale. Some "nice man" offered them $200 for the whole batch and they "were relieved to have it gone".
OK, you do the math: "Several boxes" times "125 firearms =?
If "several" equals 5, then there were over 600 boxes of ammunition divided by $200 equals less than 33 cents a box.
Ammunition prices are at historic highs (several dollars a box) and old ammunition boxes (yes, even empty ones) are one of today's hottest collectibles. Try doing a Google search for "vintage ammunition boxes". Even at a conservative wholesale price of "several dollars" a box, their ammunition would have been worth several thousand dollars!!!
BUT IT SURE SAVED A LOT OF SPACE!
The pickup pulled up along side at the Spokane landfill. The back was stacked high with burlap bags and the driver began dumping broken glass out of the bags and neatly folding them. I walked over to suggest that since it was all glass, it could be recycled, and then I got a better look at the fragments.
There were a variety of intact necks from bottles and flasks and some larger pieces with embossed writing. The first one I picked up read "Spokane Falls, W.T." (the W.T. stands for Washington Territory). I asked if I could dig around in the glass and was given permission. Within minutes I had found several other fragments with the W.T. marking and others that had all or part of the word "saloon." I asked the guy where he had found all these broken bottles, and then I got the story....
His grandparents had purchased a house outside of Spokane in the 1920's. The previous owner had been an old bootlegger and the former chicken house had been left full of these old bottles. No one in the family had any interest in chickens, so the bottles had been left undisturbed. When the grandparents passed away the family decided to sell the property and thought that the place would sell better if the buildings all empty, so earlier that day they had started emptying the chicken house. It was completely full of bottles and a bunch of old burlap bags, and there was way too much to fit in the pickup truck, so the son had come up with a great idea on how the could make it all fit. They would fill a burlap bag with bottles and then beat the bag with a piece of pipe. The broken bottles took up far less space than the intact ones, and by spending only a couple of hours labor they managed to fit it all into one trip to the dump....
Postscript: For those of you who do not keep up with the bottle market, territorial bottles (and particularly territorial saloon bottles) are worth from hundreds to thousands of dollars each.
THINK HOW MUCH MONEY THE GARBAGE COMPANY MADE.
The old couple had owned a "variety store" in downtown Pullman for forty years. When I was a kid it was a huge adventure to wander down the isles of toys, knick-knacks and "sundries." For a quarter, I could always find two or three really cool treasures.
Whenever anything in the store became obsolete, the owners would take it home and store it in their house (one of the very few large Victorian homes in Pullman). By the time the couple retired in their late sixties, the house was pretty much full of all this old merchandise (still in the original boxes). They continued to live in the house until their deaths (both of them were in their late 80's).
The husband preceded the wife in death, and she passed away in January a couple of years later. The house sat unoccupied until June when school was out, the relatives drove over from Seattle and filled a 40 cubic yard dumpster with the "junk" from the house. That hardly made a dent, so they drove to Pullman every weekend for the entire summer, filling a dumpster each trip.
When fall came, and their children had to go back to school, the relatives called me while they were in town. By now, they had emptied the house except for a small part of the basement and wanted me to finish the job and clean the house. Their dumpster for that weekend contained very little material, but as soon as they left, I climbed in to see what was there. Virtually everything was salable, including a set of leather bound medical books that had belonged to the husband's father, but none of the merchandise from the store remained.
YES, I WOULD HAVE MADE THE DRIVE.....
I got a call one afternoon from some local folks that attend my estate sales. They were wondering if I had any old keys that might fit an old trunk. Although I make it a point not to store or collect a lot of things, keys are something that I do accumulate, as they are often useful in my business. I took my box of keys and drove over to their house. They showed me two beautiful old humpback trunks and then they told me the story......
Her uncle was a bachelor who had lived in a four story Victorian home on Queen Anne hill in Seattle for 70 years. They had never been very close but would exchange Christmas cards, and they had visited the home a few times. She was very surprised, that when her uncle passed away, he left everything to her.
They had driven over to attend the funeral (in their Datsun pickup with a low canopy) and then had gone by the house. They were overwhelmed with how much stuff was there, but since they had inherited quite a lot of cash, stocks and the valuable real estate, they decided "not to worry about all the stuff," rather than take time off from their jobs to deal with it.
She was aware that her uncle had collected gold coins, so they brought back the two large (and VERY heavy) locked trunks that sat at the foot of his bed, as she was sure that was where the coins were kept. The only other things they kept were her two favorite paintings from the many that lined the spiral staircase. They then left the key under the mat and called the Goodwill to empty the rest of the house, so it could be sold.
It took several tries to find the right keys to open the trunks, but I was able to do so... both were full of receipts and income tax records.
Postscript: I also looked up the artists on the paintings for her. Both were "known artists" whose works sell in the low thousands of dollars. I sure would have liked to have seen the others.
ONCE IN A LIFETIME....(I HOPE)
It was 1993, and a Realtor friend of mine called me up and said that he had an estate that I really needed to see. If I had not seen it, I would have never believed the story, or its ending....
Alice had inherited the farm in the 1950's. It was several thousand acres and she was set for life. It was what she chose to do with the money that was unusual. Alice was a compulsive shopper!! When she went to town she would often buy $10,000 or $20,000 of clothes (the vast majority of which were never worn). However, Alice seldom went to town, instead she spent her days ordering from catalogs. I spoke with the postmaster of the small town that was a few miles from the farm, and he had a separate room for her purchases.
With this level of buying, Alice could fill up a house in a short period of time. When one house was full she would buy another and start filling it up. To my knowledge, she never opened any of the packages that she got in the mail. When I went to look there were four houses (two in town and two in the country) and fourteen outbuildings that had been filled with unopened packages.
Of course everyone in the small town knew the story, and as soon as she moved out of a house, they would break in and start stealing things. With the windows broken, the rodents and birds would move in, the roofs would leak, and the contents soon became a moldering mess. In 1993 the relatives had convinced the court that Alice was "not of sound mind" and had the property turned over to them by the court and Alice was moved to assisted living.
This is where I came in, as they needed the houses and buildings emptied so that they could be sold to pay off some of the debt that had accumulated over the years. The first two houses were in town. The first house had virtually nothing salvageable remaining; the second was mostly full of clothes. However, the third house was near the fourth one -- out in the country -- and was 75% intact. The fourth (where she had last lived) was a large three story home with six outbuildings full of unopened packages.
My offer to the relatives was that I would not only empty all the buildings, but I would also pay them the largest sum that I have ever paid for an estate. They accepted my offer and I hired a crew and went to work. It was 95 degrees and we were all having to wear full protective gear (coveralls, gloves, respirators, goggles, etc.). What I failed to anticipate was that as soon as the locals saw my trucks and crew, they realized that their moment of opportunity was waning and went into a frenzy. I would come to work in the morning to find doors kicked in and truckloads of the items I had purchased missing. To prevent this from happening, I had to hire guards to stay on the properties when I was not working.
After two weeks, and a tremendous amount of expense for labor and hauling, I got a call from the relatives. It seemed that word had gotten back to Alice that her treasured possessions were being removed and she had hired an attorney to stop the process. It turned out that the court had awarded possession of the land and buildings to the relatives, but the personal property (contents), still belonged to Alice. The relatives' solution was to offer to return the amount that I had paid them!
When I brought up the fact that I had incurred many additional expenses in the two weeks I had been working (as well as my time) and that they were the ones that had sold me something that did not legally belong to them, they threatened to sue me. We finally settled out of court and I was reimbursed for my expenses, but made no profit for my efforts.
Postscript:Two weeks later Alice passed away and the relatives hired a contractor with a backhoe to dig a trench and dump all of the contents into it where they were burned (I heard later that his charges for hauling and equipment were over $10,000). After the contents were burned the locals spent days digging through the ashes, filling buckets with silver coins and jewelry. Eventually, the trench was filled in, the houses renovated and sold, and the whole story relegated to folklore.
THE BEST BUY I EVER MADE
I was driving to work one morning and noticed some people stacking garbage out in front of a home a few blocks from my house. It was garbage pickup day in my neighborhood, so I knew if I waited until after work it would be gone. I stopped and told the people that I would pay them $20 for their garbage, without even looking in it. They looked at me like I was crazy, but took my money (since everything outside the garbage can was going to cost them "overage charges" they were saving money) and helped me fill the back of my pickup with boxes and garbage bags full of the stuff from the pile on the curb. My truck had a canopy on it, and I filled the back as full as I could and then crammed a couple of bags into the passenger seat.
That night after work I emptied the truck in my garage and started going through the contents.... It soon became obvious that they had been dumping the drawers from the furniture and cabinets into the garbage bags, without even looking at the contents. The "garbage" contained, silver coins, jewelry, a derringer, pocket knives, military medals, trade tokens, pocket watches, etc. The garbage bags contained mostly clothing, but not your usual polyester stuff, there were military uniforms, beaded flapper dresses, and some beautiful embroidered western shirts.
If they had left everything in the house they would have done much less work and made much more money!
Unfortunately, this scenario (things of value being thrown in the garbage ) takes place innumerable times every day across the country, and it is rare that anyone intervenes.
When I started my business 25 years ago, my main focus was not so much making money, as providing a service and keeping items of value from being destroyed. I HAVE FAILED! At least a couple times a month someone says, "I wish I had known about you when I had to empty my ------------'s estate." When I point out that I am in the phone book, they reply, "I didn't look because I didn't know such a service existed."
Postscript, a neighbor later told me that the people had continued putting stuff out on the curb after I left, and that by the time the garbage truck came the pile was even larger than the one I took.
I have always wondered what was in there.........
MY KAYAKING ADVENTURE...
In my younger days, I used to spend a lot of time kayaking on the Selway River. On the way home from one of my kayaking trips, I saw an estate sale sign near Kamiah and decided to stop. The sale had been going for quite a while and was pretty well "picked over." On the cashiers stand there was a carefully guarded shoebox full of old general issue postage stamps. They were for sale for $5.00 each, which at the time was far more than they were worth. When I asked where the stamps came from, I learned the story....
The estate sale that was being held was that of an old bachelor who had lived there his whole life. His only heirs were some distant cousins back east, who had come to the funeral, taken one look at the old run-down house, and offered the contents to the neighbors in exchange for their cleaning the place out. The neighbors (who were holding the sale) had found two large trunks full of old letters in the attic. Since they were not related, they had no interest in the correspondence (which they burned) but thought the stamps might be worth something. The week that they were setting up for the estate sale they kept putting batches of the envelopes in the bathtub so the stamps could soak off and be sold.
When I asked if there were any of the old letters or envelopes remaining, they first said "No," but then one of them remembered that there was one still in the garbage because the stamp had torn when they were trying to get it off. They went and brought the envelope to me. Despite the missing portion of the stamp and the water damage, it was still possible to see that the postmark read "Pierce City, W.T."
Postscript: While there were hundreds of thousands of general issue postage stamps issued each year, the number of postmarks from small towns was very low, and few remain in existence. There are many collectors of these rare postmarks and they have significant monetary value.
Here is a history lesson from:
"Clearwater County was originally in Washington Territory so the Washington Territorial Legislature included this area in Spokane County. The Washington Legislature established Shoshone County in 1861 with Pierce City as the county seat.
Discovery of gold brought thousands of people to Pierce and increased the need for a more centrally located government, independent of Washington Territory. March 3, 1863, Idaho was declared a territory with Lewiston as the first capital."
That one postmark in good condition would certainly be worth far more than their entire box of stamps, and who knows how many others there were. As well as the monetary value of the postmarks, that much correspondence from that era in Idaho's history would have been a priceless addition to the historical archives of the state...
IT WAS ONLY JUNK..
Despite my advice that people spend 100% of their time dealing with the items that they want to keep, the first thing they usually do is to throw things away. When I ask them why, they assure me that "It was only junk, not anything of value." So, as undignified as it is, the first thing I have to do is to go through whatever garbage cans, garbage bags, dumpster, etc., is still there when I purchase the contents of the house. ALL of the items shown in the banner at the very top of each of the pages on this site (as well as many more) were salvaged from the garbage.
My favorite example of just how easy it is to mistake items of value as being "garbage" is a pasteboard soap box from the 1960s that my sister found in a garbage can. On the back of the box was a coupon that you could cut out and mail in with $1.50 and three soap wrappers to get a set of inflatable Beatles dolls. The set of dolls recently sold on eBay for $75.00 but the empty soap box sold on eBay for $288.00
The box was sold to a Beatles memorabilia dealer who sent me a note saying he had never seen another one, and that I didn't want to know how much he would have been willing to pay!! Why is that item so valuable? Because people think they are "junk" and throw them away!
A CASE STUDY IN HOW NOT TO DO THINGS.
The four story Victorian home had been built in the 1890s for one of the first professors at Washington State College. He raised his family there and stored everything that came into the house, including advertising "junk mail" from the early 1900s.
His son also became a professor at WSC and raised his family in the home. He, too, was a compulsive saver, and the house was nearing it capacity to store things. He passed away in the 1970s and his wife continued to live in the home until she had to move to assisted living in 1992.
At this point, the house was completely full of everything dating back to its original occupants in the 1800s.....
SO WHAT DID THEY DO?
The remaining family members were reluctant to sell the family home, so they came to town (from 300 miles away) and rented a large U-Haul truck. Everything on the main two floors except the original Victorian furniture was hauled to the landfill, and the furniture was hauled to the Goodwill in Lewiston, ID (35 miles away).
Now the two main floors were ready to be rented! However, the family felt so bad that the attic and the basement were still completely full (of the oldest of the things in the house) that they rented the home for $400 per month (instead of the $1200 per month the could have received for four bedrooms on the WSU campus).
The home went through 12 years of successive renters (who diligently dug through and stole anything they thought might be of value in the attic and basement. In 2004 the family tired of the headaches associated with owning a rental property 300 miles from where they lived and decided to put the house up for sale.
They came to town and met with a local Realtor, who advised them to empty the remaining clutter from the attic and basement to make the house more salable. To assist them in this process she had them rent a large dumpster and suggested that they contact the local moving company (so they could pay trained professionals $30 per hour to throw things in the dumpster).
Thank goodness a neighbor happened to give them my name and suggested that they call me instead. After assessing the situation, I took over the contract for the dumpster and paid them $500 for the remaining contents. This price included completely emptying and cleaning the home, right down to scrubbing the toilets.
I was able to pay this amount, plus the cost of labor and dump fees, because the renters who had stolen virtually everything else had not bothered to take the paper items (old magazines, letters, postcards, advertising, etc.). My heart was broken when I came across the fragments of a full-color lithographed poster advertising a marionette troop that had visited campus in the 1890s. It had been totally destroyed by the renters digging through things looking for something to steal (what do you think that would be worth in good condition today?).
THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE YOU JUST CAN"T HELP......
I was preparing to hold a sale in a nearby town, when a lady driving by saw the sign on my truck and stopped to talk. She had grown up in a house a few blocks away with her parents and three brothers. Both parents had died years ago and the last brother had recently passed away, so she was in town to “settle the estate”. I went with her to take a look to see if I could be of any assistance.
All three of her brothers had been architects or engineers and had built many of houses in the neighborhood. The house sat on a full acre and the land was covered with heavy equipment (backhoes, bulldozers, front loaders, etc.) as well as piles of building materials. There was also a huge shop full of power tools, more building supplies, and smaller equipment like forklifts, Bobcat loaders, cement mixers, etc. She said that she was still going through the house and was not ready for me to look at anything inside, but the two problems that she needed solved were selling the stuff outside and someone to keep up the grounds on this piece of property and another in town. I told her that it was obvious to me that she needed to have an on-site auction sale and I called a local auctioneer who agreed to meet with her. I also gave her the name of a guy who does yard work.
I ran into the auctioneer the next week and he said that he had gone by the house the day after I had called and there was a semi-truck parked in the driveway and people were loading up the tools. When he talked to the lady she said that she had decided to give everything to a ne’er-do-well nephew who had never held a job in his life because he had inherited nothing (I wonder why) so he “needed the money”. The auctioneer did not pursue it any further. Satisfied that I had done my best to help her, I never gave the place another thought.
Three years later …. I was talking to the wife of the same auctioneer I had recommended, and she said “do you remember that place you sent us to that had the semi-truck in the driveway”. She said that she had been called to that house by the same lady the previous day and they had gone over to take a look. All the equipment, tools and building supplies on the grounds and in the shop were gone. The lady said she had sold all the antiques in the house (to a local dealer who is notoriously cheap and unethical) and all that was left was a basement full of a huge amount of boxes of paper, stacks of magazines, and a massive library of books as well as big metal desks, file cabinets and drafting tables.. Selling the good antiques to the dealer had taken “all the draw” away from any sale, so the auctioneer turned her down. She had told them that she had ordered a six cubic yard dumpster and was going to throw away all the books and magazines and had a shredder truck coming from out of town to shred all the boxes of paper (mostly architectural drawings and house plans that do NOT need to be shredded). Since I started my company to keep things from going to the dump, I asked for her phone number to see if I could help her make some better decisions.
When I called her she remembered me as the one who had recommended the auctioneer and said that the guy I had recommended for the yard work was “the only one in the last three years to do good work”. I explained that I was calling to see if I could be of assistance with her process and she wanted to know how much I charge. I told her it was “The same as last time, nothing.” and that I hate to see things go to the dump and was just trying to help. She said that she would call me back the next day and we would meet then.
The next morning I started making phone calls so I would have the information ready for her.
* The six cubic yard dumpster (which would have to be filled many times) would cost $137.60 each time. The shredder truck would cost 40 cents per pound of paper shredded (that’s $800.00 per ton). However if she had a set of six one cubic yard bins delivered on a trailer from the recycling center, the total charge would be $50 ( they would hold between 4 and six tons of paper).
* I also called a book dealer who specializes in vintage engineering and architectural books and he agreed to drive from out of town to see if she had any books that he would purchase.
* I called the manger of a local thrift store which normally does not provide pick-up of items, but since I donate dozens of truckloads each year agreed to come with a truck and crew to haul away usable items and books that they thought would sell.
* I called some out of work guys that I know who are hard workers and would carry the stuff out of the basement for her at minimum wage.
She did not call me the next morning, so I called and left a voice message that I had some information that I thought she would find of use. She never returned my call. My friend at the garbage company says they emptied the dumpster eleven times.
Postscript: Every time I am taking a box or bag of stuff to the recycling center, I am forced to realize that at the same time there are people like her throwing literally tons of recyclable material into the landfill (and paying extra to do it).
The lessons in the stories above are repeated throughout the country every day. Everyone in the business faces the same problems. A local auctioneer once said " In most cases I'd love to trade them straight across, what they threw away for what we got in the auction". I chose the following, from a company on the other side of the country, because it is well worded (and I always think of how many more cases there are in between).
FIVE COMMON MISTAKES
The following was taken from the website of
Jones Estate Cleanouts, CLICK HERE! and is used with their generous permission. They have done a great job of summarizing the mistakes that all of us in the estate liquidation business see far too often.
Most Common Mistakes
Below is a list of the top five most common mistakes people make when cleaning out an estate. Don't say it won't happen to you and don't say we didn't warn you.
1. The NUMBER ONE mistake and the MOST COSTLY mistake that family members and/or executors make is not letting a professional look at the contents of the estate BEFORE they throw anything away.
The best way to avoid making a costly mistake like this, is to NOT remove anything from the household before letting a professional such as us look at the items. It may look like garbage, it may be broken, it may need paint, it may be torn, unusable, moldy, have water damage, or even smell bad, but it may have value. You will never know unless you have an experienced person look at the items before throwing them into the garbage or dumpster.
2. The NUMBER TWO mistake is being embarrassed by the amount of junk or garbage that has collected in the household.
A real professional or a representatives from a professional company like Jones Estate Cleanouts understand situations like this. As we age, we accumulate things. Some people accumulate more things than others. Some elderly people are such that they cannot take care of themselves, or the circumstances around them and things get messy. There is nothing you can show us that we have not already seen, so please do not be embarrassed.
3. The NUMBER THREE mistake is either donating items, giving things away to friends, neighbors, and or strangers, or having a garage sale, pricing the items yourself, and selling items too cheaply or asking for too much money. This is another reason to have a professional such as Jones Estate Cleanouts look at the estate before it is touched.
4. The NUMBER FOUR mistake is discounting your own self-worth and that of your friends and relatives.
Your time is worth money, your relative's, friend's, spouse's, children's, realtor's, lawyer's, etc. time is also worth money. Maybe you are not being charged by your friends and relatives, but it may cost you at a later date. Most people and families quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to clean out an entire household. We are told time and time again, "We spent the last six months (or year, or sometimes two years) going through all the items in this house and we have not even made a dent in it." or, "We just don't have alot of free time." All the time it takes to clean out a house is more time that the property is not on the market. The taxes, rent, heating bill (the water pipes may freeze if its not paid), and/or maintenance fees still have to be paid during that time. These bills add up, no one will pay them for you.
5. The NUMBER FIVE mistake is renting a dumpster and paying extra tipping fees for items that don't have to go into a landfill and can be resold, recycled, or donated.
Copyright: Jones Estate Cleanouts