Help me sell my antiques without getting ripped off!
February 3, 2011 5:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I sell antiques and get a fair price?

We have several very old items that we are sick of looking at and would like to sell. We suspect that a couple of them are worth a substantial amount. The problem is, I don't trust any of the locals to give us an objective opinion. We are not desperate for money but the few people I speak to tend to negotiate with me like I am.

Where can we go to sell these items and get their real market value?

(Yes, I know everyone thinks their junk is worth more than it typically is. My question isn't "Where can I get a lot of money for my junk?" but "Where can I sell it and be confident that I won't get ripped off?")
posted by brownrd to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Find a reputable auction house near you and get appraisals, I would think.
posted by xingcat at 5:18 AM on February 3, 2011

Where can we go to sell these items and get their real market value?

If by "market value" you mean "retail value," then you've got to be the retailer. You can't sell it to a dealer for its retail value because then he can't resell it for a profit.

If the items are smallish and shippable, then eBay is probably your best bet.

If you don't want to do the retailing work yourself, then get a few bids from different dealers. Every dealer's interest is to pay you as little as possible; hard negotiation is how they make their livings. It's very unlikely that any dealer will pay you more than they think they have to.
posted by jon1270 at 5:31 AM on February 3, 2011

What are the items? If they are truly significantly valuable email Christies or Sothebys for advice. Otherwise, they will find their value on eBay.
posted by fire&wings at 5:34 AM on February 3, 2011

Start by going to an antique dealer to get an "insurance appraisal." Tell them, I am not selling. I need something in writing stating value for insurance, and pay them a small amount for the appraisal.

If the insurance company accepts the appraisal, then it is probable pretty close to correct. Keep in mind though, an insurance appraisal will be about 25% more than market value.
posted by Flood at 5:36 AM on February 3, 2011

The advice you need will depend on what the items are and their value.

Taking them to a local antique dealer or auctioneer will be a waste of time if their knowledge does not cover the item you have. Most of these "appraisers," will bluff, they are blowhards. Gold, silver or collectable ceramics which are catalogued in books you can buy from amazon are fine - bring them an obscure military uniform or a rare piece of song dynasty porcelain and prepare to throw your money down the drain.

If you feel the item is valuable email the relevant department at Christies, they will look at photographs and give you an expert, free opinion on value and suitability for sale with them. They can also recommend specialist auction houses that might hander smaller items. These are internationally recognised experts in their field.

If your item is important immediately forget "local." Do not trust local antique dealers/appraisers/auction houses unless you're selling something which is easily identifiable. I make my living by buying items which have been incorrectly catalogued and valued by naive and ignorant auctioneers and appraisers.

You'd get better advice here if you named the items, or at least the price band you'd expect to sell them for.
posted by fire&wings at 5:57 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by fire&wings at 5:58 AM on February 3, 2011

Where can we go to sell these items and get their real market value?

You need to go directly to the customer -- an antique dealer, antique shop, etc., is buying to resell, so you can expect less than half of "real market value".

So, where are the customers? eBay, or you could rent space in an antique shop and sell direct, or put it up at an auction, or you could put an ad up at Craigslist, or get a store at Ruby Lane, etc. All of these require work and cost money in varying amounts, so if you want to keep your cost of selling low, weigh these and pick the best one. If you're in an area with a lot of people who collect the things you're selling, Craigslist is probably the cheapest and least work, but probably the least effective.

IMHO, your highest ratio of profit-to-work is to call around to your local auction houses and ask about consignment auctions. From time to time, auctioneers lump together single-items from individual sellers, stuff that didn't sell at previous auctions that the auctioneer thought might sell better later, lots from people who don't have enough for a full auction, and stuff their buddies haven't been able to sell at their rummage sales, etc., etc., and make one full auction out of it.

It is in an auctioneer's best interest to get the highest possible price for an item, since they're getting a percentage of the sale, so they are going to work in your favor. The the price at an auction is going to go as high as the market will bear; dealers can't get their 50%-of-tag price if there's a collector willing to bid up to a retail price.

"Real market value" in antiques depends entirely on finding the person willing to pay the highest price for an item. Seriously, nobody likes paying real market value, not even collectors. The people who pay full retail price are the people who absolutely, positively need the item right now, and have enough money to buy it. For those customers, you need to wait, and wait, and wait for them to be in the right place and the right time.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:31 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

My parents' retirement hobby was to devote themselves full time to their antique sales. They have been in the business for close to 40 years and my mother is EXTREMELY knowledgeable about many categories of antiques you can find in the Midwest. She is particularly versed in American primitive tools and furniture as well as some categories of glass and ceramics.

They sold their items in a booth at an antiques mall and also go to antique fairs to sell. I am writing this is in the past tense not because they have passed away (thankfully, they have not), but because after four or five years of devoting a good amount of time to it, they quit. They realized that the recession has really, really hurt the antiques business. Things might be slowly picking up as we crawl out of the recession, but it is nowhere near its heyday in the 80s and 90s.

If you said you wanted to do this as a business full time and had a great business plan, then I might say "more power to you!" But to just casually sell a couple of items, I will say be careful and be prepared to be disappointed. All of the markup that antiques dealers want is not supporting fat cats - it goes to cover overhead (e.g. space rental), advertising, shipping, oodles and oodles of time and waiting and cleaning and prepping and taking pictures and replacing items people break and then leave in the booth, etc, etc.

In general, their view is that it's a depressed market right now.
posted by Slothrop at 7:38 AM on February 3, 2011

I could have written what Slothrop did, right down to the parents in the business and their specialty. The market is REALLY depressed right now, unless you've got something really really rare/great.

Your only real bet to get a good price is to find a buyer who absolutely must have what you have to sell, and sell directly to them.

Auction houses might be a good place for appraisal, but you are not going to get a good price except for really high-end or specialty/rare items through an auction house.

If your area has a good consignment shop that deals in antiques, you *might* have luck there, but you'll have to do your research on that, and be willing to pay the consignment fee.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:49 AM on February 3, 2011

Thanks all. I will start at Sotheby's.
posted by brownrd at 11:14 AM on February 3, 2011

Just wanted to pop in and suggest that you get more than one appraisal. People are going to try to lowball you in this economy.

Also, cross-reference what items like yours sell for on eBay, Ruby Lane, and Worthpoint (you need to pay for the latter).

This is how I've set fair prices for my vintage items.
posted by xenophile at 11:46 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older House-cooling advice for fraidy cats   |   Why is shadowbox (in wordpress) redirecting people... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.