Advice on selling collections from an estate
December 3, 2011 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for general and specific advice about striking a balance between value and ease in selling a few disparate items from an estate.

My father died recently. It was unexpected so little thought had been given to the disposition of his possessions. He had a will in place that transfers everything to my mom so I expect no issues there. We are a small and tight knit family with excellent communication and we will talk out issues of what individuals want to keep versus selling so I don't need advice there.

Dad had a few fair-sized collections in a few areas that we probably will not want or be able to keep most of. I'm thinking about how to sell these things with a few considerations in mind:

1. Value. My mom is retired and on a fixed income. Her position is secure but certainly not luxurious and I'd like her to enjoy the benefit of as much value from these possessions as possible.

2. Ease and speed. My siblings and I live in the same state as our mom but not so close that we can manage day trips unless we take the whole day off or on weekends. Transporting or storing these things away from Mom's house would be difficult. I'd also like whatever we do to impugn as little on Mom's life as we can manage. Finally, my mom is most likely going to want to sell the house within a year or so (that's a whole other topic these days but for the sake of argument assume this won't be a problem).

The specifics: probably the most substantial issue is a large collection of very high quality woodcarving hand tools, some dating back to the 40s/50s. Given how they have been kept and used the value in these is likely to be most as tools rather than as antiques/collectibles. They in many cases are of the highest quality, thoroughly used but well maintained. None of us know much about tools.

Another significant collection is of film photography equipment: a number of cameras, lenses and related tools/accessories/luggage. Again, nobody has a lot of knowledge about this.

Finally, a library of books. I'm guessing most of these are worth little, but it dates back again to the 40s/50s and there may be some rare philosophy books, first editions etc. in the mix.

In general the options seem to be to hold an estate sale, or an auction, or to try to bring in dealers to take on whole collections. Trying to piece stuff out and sell it individually doesn't feel like it is logistically possible. Are there options/approaches I'm missing?

We'll have professional financial advice but just looking ahead, any idea how the taxes in a situation like this work out? Does Mom pay taxes on the possessions up front or would we wait to pay taxes on the income from their sale? This is in MN in the USA.

Any input about how to publicize/seek dealers etc. for the specific types of items is appreciated. I'd like advice about whether we should try to single out any items of particularly high value for individual sale, and any advice about how to approach that if so. If you've been through a process like this, any advice about how it went, managing the logistics, unexpected issues is welcome. Thanks for your input.
posted by Luke Skywalker to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you do a mix between having an estate sale, and personal selling? I feel this way the most significant items would get the best return. Woodworking and photography both have plenty of forums out there with (generally) honest hobbyists who would give you a fair value on your goods.

Depending on how much time and space you have, I'd consider taking everything back to your place and selling it online, then just cutting your mum a check. Or perhaps Mum can take up a new hobby?

Also, I don't know anything about woodworking forums, but for photography, I'd recommend checking out Rangefinderforum--there's a large film camera following on there. Personally, I'm hesitant to recommend eBay because of the fees, but it's another outlet. Just set everything at $0.99 and make sure your auction ends on a Sunday afternoon that doesn't on a long weekend.
posted by hobbes at 11:30 AM on December 3, 2011

Best answer: First of all, condolences to you.

My dad died decades ago and all his stuff stayed put for 30 years till my mother decided to move house. It was my job to sort and dispose of my fathers books, tools and photography equipment ... heh.

Books: sort through them and pull out all first editions and others you think may be valuable. Then check out their value on a book auction site such as AbeBooks. Note that this site is overpriced so if it quotes a fairly low value (say under $10), then the book is probably not worth your time to sell to a dealer as a single. Box it with other such books and sell them to a used bookshop for a few bucks each or $X per box. Put the books that have a high value aside and source individual book sellers who specialise in the subject matter and offer them that way. Alternatively, put some of the high value books on ebay with a high starting price and see what happens. I put a bulk lot of my fathers old books on ebay with a high price and didn't get a bite. Moments after the auction ended a private library on the other side of the world contacted me about one of the books and bought it for half the amount I was listing the whole pile (hundreds of dollars).

Photography equipment: check ebay for similar items. Then group some of the items and sell them in a bulk lot on ebay with a reasonable starting price. Any items worth over $100 sell separately.

Tools: This is where the real money may be. Old quality woodworking hand tools are highly desirable to woodworkers (who may or may not be collectors). Are you sure you wish to sell them? Is it possible you or your children may want to use them someday? If so, then keep them - not for their monetary value but for their actual use and sentiment/connection value.

I kept many of my father's tools - even ones I didn't know what they did - and I hauled them interstate and through a few house moves over six years and some of them are ridiculously heavy. Then I met my partner, a jack of all trades and a man my father would have loved, and it is delightful to see him use my father's tools. "Pass me your dad's doohicky will you babe?" is a lovely thing to hear - it connects me, him and my dad in that moment.

Anything left over, have a well advertised yard sale.

Best wishes and take care in this sad time.
posted by Kerasia at 3:18 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a woodworker, and I own more vintage carving tools than I know what to do with because I bought a retired tradesman's entire collection. I've sold some on eBay, and gotten anywhere between $10 and $30 for a typical high-quality gouge; they're valuable but worth a fortune. They are useful only to a specialized audience, so you won't do well to sell them at an estate sale.

I'm willing to look at some pics and help you identify what you've got, tool-wise. Memail me if this would be helpful.
posted by jon1270 at 2:00 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

...valuable but NOT worth a fortune.
posted by jon1270 at 3:25 AM on December 4, 2011

Response by poster: I appreciate that offer and I may take you up on it, jon1270. I don't expect anything to be worth a great amount. As Kerasia suggests this is also the area where there is likely to be the most family ambivalence about parting with them as they are so much a part of who our Dad was. On the other hand they're bulky and heavy and going to end up in storage in one of our houses and none of us are woodworkers or likely to become such.

Thanks for the advice so far.
posted by Luke Skywalker at 1:05 PM on December 4, 2011

Well, if the whole collection would be onerous to keep around then you could just retain and display token parts of it. Woodworking tools are typically bought piecemeal to suit their owner's work habits; you don't need to worry much that you'll ruin the usefulness of a larger set by keeping a tool or two that you feel attached to.

I'm sorry for your loss. I hope you find a meaningful way to deal with the stuff that remains.
posted by jon1270 at 4:04 PM on December 4, 2011

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