Giving away several thousand (possibly valuable) items from an Upper East Side brownstone - what's the best way?
May 15, 2010 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Removal of a s^!t-ton of stuff from an Upper East Side Brownstone (New York, NY). What's the most charitable, or generous, or easiest, or cheapest way of doing this? Or some combination of all four...

My grandmother lived in a 5-story brownstone on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. She'd lived there for 60 years, and had accumulated a LOT of stuff. Many of the pieces of furniture, although horrible in my opinion, were custom designed for her in 1957 — the last time this house was redecorated. It's unlikely (as they're all used), but we think some of them may be worth something.

My family has basically taken what they want, minus a few large items that we'll have to get professional movers to take (a large piano, for example). But now we're left with a whole house of worthless and possibly worthful stuff. We want to give it to charity, but there's far too much for us to move by car. Desks, tables, chairs, sofas, a ton of books, cds, records, rugs, lights, beds and enough kitchen stuff to fill several of Manhattan's kitchenettes. I took over 300 photos of GROUPED shots of the stuff in the kitchen/pantry. We must have over a thousand items; pots and pans, 23 salt/pepper shakers, 30 place mats, an instrument for de-stoning olives, 7 egg whisks...why do you need 7 egg whisks? Some of the items are quaint (corn-shaped corn-on-the-cob forks), and some fancy (ornate chicken skewers), and some nice (a dozen vases). There's also some plastic garden furniture and a small bbq in the back.

[And how do we find out which of the old books and records are worth something? I imagine books and records are easy to swing a buck on, if you know what they're worth. Where do we find someone willing to split the profits on their sale? I DO want to be charitable with the stuff, but I'd hate to think I was giving away a $100 book.]

I am a member of freecycle, but can't imagine even they would take everything. Is posting an "open house" on Craigslist just asking for trouble? We have one month to deal with everything, but we don't want to have to deal with this for four weeks. Ideas? (and thanks, mefiers, in advance).
posted by omnigut to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could probably make a lot of money with an estate sale and you wouldn't have to move anything yourself. Seriously, in Manhattan? People will be all over that stuff.
posted by Melsky at 7:32 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, there are people who run estate sales/auctions professionally for a share of the proceeds. Mid-century stuff is very hip right now, if it's that kind of modern 50s-early 60s style furniture you might do really well.
posted by Melsky at 7:37 AM on May 15, 2010

Sorry for posting three times, but you could probably find a charity that would be really, really happy to run the estate sale or auction for you in exchange for the proceeds.
posted by Melsky at 7:39 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That would be great - but my googlefi is failing me. Also, that seems to work for much of the larger stuff, but not much of the smaller stuff. I found Caring Transitions, but are they really the only one in the area? And does anyone know of charities interested in this kind of thing?

posted by omnigut at 8:23 AM on May 15, 2010

I would definitely recommend against posting an open house for this stuff on Craigslist. That's asking for all sorts of trouble. Have this handled by professionals. Melsky's charity-run estate sale/auction sounds like a good idea.
posted by wondermouse at 8:24 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks Wondermouse - I thought it sounded a little dangerous. :)
posted by omnigut at 8:25 AM on May 15, 2010

I'm sorry about your grandmother. You understandably want to be done with this business, but your family should keep in mind that interesting mid-century furniture might be worth tens of thousands of dollars. "The first inclination for some people may be to bring in a garbage bin and move on, or maybe hold a yard sale. That could be a costly mistake." Get an appraiser to come look at the house before you sell or discard or donate anything. You might find that some items should be sold individually in a high-end shop, while others should be auctioned in lots. (Even if you did want to donate a $100 book, you might not want to donate a $12,000 couch.) Don't sell outright to a dealer, not even to a charity re-seller, without an independent appraisal. Here's a longer discussion about disposing of an estate. The names and dollar amounts are all long out of date, but the advice still looks sound. Call in one or two pros -- you certainly have enough stuff to make it interesting for them -- and see who sounds helpful and trustworthy. If you have an experienced lawyer helping with the estate, he or she should have some names to recommend; otherwise, I'd start with the appraisers association mentioned in the first linked article.
posted by Dave 9 at 8:54 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Housing Works will pick up peices and often has items worth many thousands marked down to a few hundred cause everything goes to AIDS charities.

That being said you should probably get everything appraised and then meter them out to auction, charities, relatives, etc.
posted by The Whelk at 9:09 AM on May 15, 2010

So we've been dealing with this for the past year with my bf's parents place. Exactly the same deal, except on the Upper West Side. The only difference is that we live here now, so there wasn't a looming time crunch.

About appraisal: We ended up doing this for estate purposes, and also for the reason's pointed out above. I interviewed several companies after getting referrals from a couple of different estate attorneys (mefi-mail me for specific names). It is not a cheap process, nor 100% perfect. The guy we ended up using spend 10 hours in the apartment, and still didn't get nearly everything done. We got a written report several weeks later. The entire process cost $4000.

Unfortunately, there were no magical antiques roadshow moments. There were some things we knew had some value, and a few surprises, but nothing on the order of 5 figures. Also, we realized that mistakes were made. We found some artwork that was misidentified, and after doing our own research discovered it was worth about 10 times what it was appraised at. We were also sad that there wasn't as much detail in the report about the items as we would have liked.

What we learned: condition means a lot. There were things that the appraiser liked, but were worth much less because of condition. So if you've got furniture that's scratched up, water damaged, or just generally dried out and brittle from 50 years of NYC steam heat, it might be worth much less than you think. This was especially true of a massive book collection that we had a separate appraiser look at... she ended up taking nothing because of condition.

We also have ended up with a pile of things that we don't really love, but are worth too much to just toss out ($200 teapot, set of china, some art). And now we are stuck with trying to sell them, which is not going to be easy. Galleries are very pick about what they want (we have about six paintings by Zero Mostel that no one is interested in ). Hopefully the market will recover and we will have better luck in the future. I guess we will eBay some stuff, but that can be a hassle with no guarantee of getting what the item was appraised at.

Like I said, we've had the luxury of time, and are finally doing another big redecorating and cleaning push. We have several boxes of things to take to Housing Works, which I think is a great organization. I've given away certain things (like a whole collection of eldercare equipment- walker, shower chair, etc) on Craigslist. And some things we've just thrown away, knowing that they will be picked up from the curb.

Salvation Army will come pick things up. But they aren't my favorite organization, so I've avoided that when I can.

The Strand will come buy entire collections of books depending on what you have. There is a guy who is head of buying (Mr. Bass?) who will talk to you about it.

I guess my biggest recommendation given your time crunch is this: just find a company to do an estate sale. Even if you do have a $100 book, there no guarantee you will get that, and the time and energy you will spend over every little object isn't worth it. I promise. We've been agonizing over this stuff for 18 months now. Let them do the work, the estate will get some cash, and the house will be emptied. The worth is in the memories that you have... if everyone has taken what they want, then that's what is important.
posted by kimdog at 10:45 AM on May 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

You would be surprised what people on freecycle will take. I'm a member of the Nassau County group, which is very active. I got rid of tons of stuff that was either worthless or not worth the trouble of selling, most of it was gone within 24 of posting. However, this might take a lot of time and effort on your part considering the amount of things you need to get rid of.
posted by inertia at 1:28 PM on May 15, 2010

When you get down to the crap no one will pay you for, don't underestimate the ability of Freecycle to take the rest. Someone once successfully gave away a piece of used carpet that had been vomited on and then left out in the rain on the Toronto freecycle list.

If you've got a lot of smallish things and a few mediumish things, I've had some freecycle success with listing the mediumish things, which are sufficient to get someone to come to my house to pick it up, and then having the smallish things arrayed around for the choosing. No one would come to my house to pick up 2 giant plastic silly straws, but someone took them for her grandkids when she came by to pick up some shoes.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:29 PM on May 15, 2010

My grandparent's house was smaller in scale, but my mom and aunt had an estate sales company come in and go through the house, top to bottom. They priced everything in situ, right down to plastic kitchenware. We went through the house as they did, pulling everything we wanted - books and jewelry, mostly, along with a few small pieces of furniture and sentimental items.

They had a pre-sale for some dealers they had connections with. On the day of the main sale, there was a team from the estate sales company who ran the whole thing, including selling off the cars. When that was done, they also made a run to the nearest charity thrift shop and we also took some things (books to the library for the book sale).

They got a cut of the profits on the sale - we didn't make a huge amount, but there was some interest in vintage clothing and the estate sales guy helped drum up interest for a specialist buyer to take all my grandfather's shop equipment (serious woodworking machines).
posted by clerestory at 4:58 PM on May 15, 2010

« Older Where should I host a video for schoolchildren?   |   can't they just blow it up? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.