Summer 2024

By Lauren Hurwitz

Think your house is full of valuable treasures? Having been an estate liquidator and antique dealer for over three decades, Josh Tane (photo left) knows his way around an older home – and how to find the hidden gems. “The first rule of thumb is if it’s an estate, or if it’s things you’ve had sitting around your home for a long time, don’t throw it away before you check it out because you just never know,” says Tane. The problem most people run into in the age of modern technology is that they start to check things out online and “get led in a different direction, which almost hurts them. They see a similar item listed on some website for X amount of money and assume that’s what their item is worth. Usually, just like in real estate, it’s not worth that; it’s the asking price. Tane stated that a better way to get a fair price is to go online and look at completed sales on a site like eBay, where you can see the item likely sold for a lot less than the actual asking price. 

What’s Hot
When clearing out your parents’ or grandparents’ house, be careful. Inside junk drawers, you may find old cigarette lighters, weird corkscrews, pocketknives, or something else you think is going straight to the Salvation Army. You are convinced items in the china cabinet are the most expensive. Tane, however, wants the possible treasures in the drawer because they are often worth more and is easier to move. 

Mid-century modern is especially popular. Items like Murano glass from Italy, certain lighting, and pottery from the 60s and 70s are also still selling at high prices. Chinese and Japanese goods such as high-end jade pieces, porcelain, and ceramics are desirable; even a damaged antique Chinese porcelain vase could have great value depending on its age and provenance. 

Resale for high-end watches remains solid with brands like Rolex, Blancpain, Patek Philippe, and Cartier leading the way. Other luxury pieces including pocketbooks, scarves, and leather goods from Hermes, Judith Lieber handbags, and authentic Louis Vuitton items are worth trying to sell according to Tane. 

What’s Not Hot
According to Tane, “What’s not selling is china – especially your ‘grandma’s floral, fancy, old-fashioned china’ – it just doesn’t move. Crystal is dead, and a lot of the collectibles that were very hot in the 70s and 80s, like Hummels, which used to be worth $250, are now worth $5. Royal Doulton and Lladró can still sell, but not well.” Ten to fifteen years ago, Tane says there was a ban on selling ivory goods to dissuade poaching. If you have something you believe is ivory, a figurine or chess set, for example, “The only way you can sell it legitimately is if you have iron-clad documentation that it’s over 100 years old and where it came from. There are only a few auction houses that will even touch it.” 

Unfortunately, people often assume that because they paid a lot of money when they bought something, they’re going to get a lot when they sell it down the road – especially furniture. “Someone may go to the D&D building [a showroom in Manhattan] and buy a $40,000 bedroom or dining room set and think that it will be easy to sell for $15,000 down the road, but that’s not the case,” he says. All hope is not gone for old furniture, however. Jennifer Ventresca, Marketing Communications Manager for Black Rock Galleries (BRG), says BRG offers professional moving and transport services “to get pieces into the right hands of the right buyers. Items in the Northeast like old brown mahogany furniture might not have a strong market up here, but in the Southern markets, they do.”

The World of Fine Art
Gene Shapiro, President of Shapiro Auctions in Mamaroneck, says that contemporary art is selling fastest. A lot of valuations, regardless of style, are based on previous sales of works by an artist since you can often find comparable prices when you’re repeatedly dealing with the same artist. There “are a lot of artists who don’t have auction records, however. Although there is no existing secondary market (auction or private sale) for them, that doesn’t always preclude a sale. They may be sellable at auction. Other things are considered in the sale, such as the subject matter. Sometimes the art may be considered to be higher in decorative value than a name-based value because it’s by a particular artist. Decorative value tends to be a little less than the value of fine art sold on the secondary market. “Decorative value is an easy way to say, ‘This art is being sold for what it looks like not for who made it,’” shares Shapiro. For example, if you have a Warhol painting, you know it’s going to be very expensive. But if you have a painting that looks very much like his but it’s not by Warhol, and nobody knows the artist, it has decorative value. 

How to Hire an Appraiser
Tane cautions that it’s important to be careful when hiring an appraiser. “A lot of people out there say we do ‘free appraisals,’ and that could mean that they are giving you a free estimate.” Someone, for instance, may be willing to pay X for a vase. That’s not an appraisal; that’s an offer. “An official appraisal is when you hire an appraiser who takes an objective look at the item, charges you a fee, has no interest in buying it (otherwise, it’s a conflict of interest), and tells you it’s fair market value,” Tane shares. He says most appraisers charge an hourly fee, but some can charge by the number of pieces they’re valuating. Be sure to get more than one estimate because they can vary greatly. 

Preparing for an Estate Sale
Jennifer Ventresca says some companies hold a traditional estate sale by running the sale in a home for a few days, allowing strangers to walk through the home, hoping that the right buyer shows up on the day(s) of the sale day, and praying for good weather. Other companies, like BRG, have a full suite of services depending on the client’s need, but pricing can vary. Sometimes it’s a flat rate; sometimes it’s a sliding scale. The size, scope, and value of the project will determine the pricing.

Once an agreement is signed, the company will then send professional photographers, catalogers, material handlers, and movers to your home. “Most of the time the houses we work in are decorated, and things look best in their native state, where they were meant to be. We try to photograph and catalog things in the house. Then the team processes the collection and uploads it to the company’s proprietary system. Clients get a password-protected login and can track the status of their items. Once ready to launch, the sale goes online for approximately 7-10 days,” Ventresca says. In addition, the online model works well because they’re able to capture a larger engaged bidder audience, cover an expanded geographic region, and obtain higher prices than traditional estate sale models – not to mention their 99% sell-through rate. 

Tips for Shopping at Auctions
Ronan Clarke, a skilled auctioneer and appraiser, and Owner of Clarke Auction Gallery Inc. in Larchmont, a staple in Westchester for 22 years, says the industry has changed because of the Internet. “Before the Internet, our local auction house had standing-room only, but now there are many different ways to participate in an auction in addition to being live, in-house, such as various websites, call-in, and even live-stream.” 

The locals have the hometown advantage at Clarke’s because they attend a Preview Day in person before bidding to “see what things look like in real life, sit on the furniture, see if the legs are wobbly on a chair you like, and speak to the experts about the specific items before placing a bid,” he says, adding “a local house like ours might even let you bring an item home to see how it looks in your home before auction, as long as you bring it back. It’s all about relationships.” 

First, he says always talk to people at the auction house to get the inside scoop. Second, keep in mind additional costs known as buyer’s premiums for non-dealers which are anywhere from 20-30% on top of the price you’re paying, plus tax and shipping (if relevant). Lastly, make sure you’re shopping at a reputable house that will stand by their sales. Clarke says that you don’t want to wind up with fake items – you need to know the source – and warns against shopping at “pop-up” auction houses that are here today and gone tomorrow.