Overblown appraisal?
February 15, 2006 10:14 AM   Subscribe

I can't seem to sell a high value piece of furniture that got aired on Antiques Roadshow -- what's the deal?

Here's the scoop: The item (basically a Rube Golbergesque piece of furniture from the Samuel Morse family) was appraised by the Keno Brothers of Sotheby's for $20,000. This appraisal actually made it to air on Antiques Roadshow and was a 5-minute show-opener.

We have run the item twice on eBay, once back in August and again at the same time the show was aired (even with an mpeg of the broadcast added to the auction). We got about 15 watchers but no bids on either auction! We started at $8000 with no reserve, did a good writeup, paid attention to keywords and category, put good photos, and so forth. One guy contacted us on e-mail outside of eBay and tried offering $4000.

I'm thinking either (1) Sotheby's appraisal is a crock, or (2) eBay is the wrong venue for selling antiques. Any thoughts?
posted by hodyoaten to Work & Money (11 answers total)
Both. Items are often greatly overvalued on Anituqes Road Show in order to drive interest in both the program and the industry.

You would likely do much better by having an antique dealer sell or auction it for you. Furniture, like other large items that are difficult to ship safely, is problematic on EBay, particularly if it has some real value.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:18 AM on February 15, 2006

I'm not sure if it's the buyers, the industry or the show, but the U.S. Antiques Roadshow tends to value things at much higher levels than the CBC's version.

Oh, and I agree with solid-one-love, eBay is not the venue for high-priced stuff. If something has true value, the big-name auction houses will do a better job at drumming up interest.
posted by lowlife at 10:36 AM on February 15, 2006

Welcome to the wild world of relative valuation. When the Kenos told you that it was "worth $20,000," they forgot to append the important words "to the right buyer."

Your problem is that you haven't yet found that buyer. It may be that eBay is the wrong place to look, because buyers of $20K pieces of furniture are more likely to attend Sotheby's auctions than surf eBay. Part of the reason that auction houses exist is that they provide a safe, central location for buyers and sellers of very expensive items.

But it may also be that, right now, that buyer doesn't exist. Maybe its a down market for antiques; maybe there's a glut of similar pieces on the market; or maybe the folks who would buy that piece already have their fill of antiques. Your piece is "worth" $20K in the same way that 1-bedroom apartments in New York are "worth" $600K - that price reflects the market, not the intrinsic value of the furniture (or apartment). And the value can fluctuate, wildly, depending on whether people are willing to pay it or not. So you may have to wait a while for the right buyer to come along.
posted by googly at 10:37 AM on February 15, 2006

The value of something is what a buyer is willing to pay at a given time and place. If you're willing to wait you may sell for a lot more than $8000. I imagine that most buyers want to see such an item up close and personal before they bid on it. The auction houses also earn their money by running up bids,when they can, and bidders get caught up inthe frenzy, just like on eBay. Art/Collectables are a fickle market. The Mona Lisa may be worth $100 million to some, but had I the money, I wouldn't pay $100 thousand if I couldn't profit from it.
posted by JamesMessick at 10:38 AM on February 15, 2006

Question: what is your ebay profile like? I can't imagine anyone would buy a big-ticket item from a seller with a relatively low feedback number. If you haven't done a lot of transactions on eBay, this could be a big hindrance.
posted by frykitty at 10:46 AM on February 15, 2006

Seconding all of the above. As an eBay buyer, I'd never buy something expensive there sight unseen no matter how good the pictures are, or the reputation of the Seller. Its just too risky. Also - eBay auctions are passive - the right buyer has to happen to show up during your auction and search for your piece.

Auction houses are active. They send out catalogues to the right kinds of buyers, they provide a preview session so bidders can see the piece for themselves, and they put their substantial reputations behind their wares. Of course, they will charge you for this, but it is by far your best choice, and likely to get you the highest price.
posted by AuntLisa at 10:50 AM on February 15, 2006

Out of curiousity, can we see a pic of the piece? It sounds really neat.

I do agree with the rest of the posters, the eBay probably isn't the best place for you. Also, selling something that expensive with such niche appeal may take you a looooong time. Think at least a year. Auction houses make money by shortening that window.
posted by mkultra at 10:54 AM on February 15, 2006

eBay is not the right place for you.

I was under the impression that you could pick up cards to contact the apraisers (such as the Kenos'), who can arrange to have the item auctioned somewhere more appropriate (like Sotheby's).

To be frank (and having grown up in the world of antique buying and selling) it sounds like you don't know your market very well. I'd advise you to pick up a copy of something like Antiques Digest and (if you don't like the Keno Brothers) pick a seller who specializes in high-end pieces like the one you own. I assure you that you'll do better, because you'll be selling to the correct market, and also the seller won't have to worry quite as much about the issues of freight (expensive) and trust (an expensive mistake).

Plus a good auction house and/or dedicated antiques dealer/showroom can use some very specific target marketing to make sure your piece reaches the right ears ... they may even know of customers who are currently in the market for pieces exactly like yours.

Good luck.
posted by anastasiav at 11:40 AM on February 15, 2006

For an interesting book that would explain to you why you probably won't get $20,000 for it, check out How to think like a Collector".

Look at it this way, there are roughly three types of people looking to buy something like what you have. The first are absolutely must have it collectors. These are incredibly rare, and they just might not be looking on ebay for it. Secondly, are dealers. Dealers need to be able to mark things up by a large enough amount to make money on the transaction (the markup depends on the item, off the top of my head, I think this one would probably need to be 50%). They want to pay half or less of what the must-have-it collector is willing to pay, so they can make their money back. Right now, they don't think it's worth $16,000 to them. Or else, none of the bidders were bidding because none of the other bidders bid (sometimes the lack of having a bid on an auction can be enough to scare off other bidders).

Finally, there are the people who don't collect what you have, but wouldn't mind owning something like it. $8,000 is usually out of that person's intended price range.


1) As an avid antiques roadshow fan, unless the appraiser is offering you the money, their values are usually to high, sometimes dramatically so.

2) I think some antiques people are wary of buying antiques off ebay as it's easy to get scammed. Ebay is not the first choice for fine antiques.
posted by drezdn at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2006

anastasiav has some really good advice. Finding the right auction house, or the right dealer, is essential--eBay isn't the right venue. Try and find another appraiser--they might be able to put you in contact with collectors or auction houses who might be interested. Check out the Appraiser's Association of America and the appraiser's search function at the Maine Antique Digest, which is the excellent publication that she recommended. Pick that up to get a feel for the market. Also the Newtown Bee.

Has anything like the item you own been to auction recently? That's part of what drives the market. Also, was the piece made by someone in the Morse family or just owned by them? That might be part of the problem--is the provenance more valuable than the actual item? Could it be that it's better suited for a museum?
posted by veronica sawyer at 3:10 PM on February 15, 2006

I'll second the request for a photo: Rube Goldbergesque furniture!?
posted by soviet sleepover at 4:10 PM on February 15, 2006

« Older Broadcast HDTV reception problems   |   Destroying the Dell Partition Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.