At Home With Marni Jameson: Memories for sale: What's a household worth?

When it’s up to you to liquidate your parents’ treasure-filled home, you need to price the priceless.
By Marni Jameson Published: March 8, 2014
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It’s so true: Some things in life you just can’t put a price on — until you have to.

When it’s up to you to liquidate your parents’ treasure-filled home, you need to price the priceless.

How much for that baby grand piano Mom used to play? How much for the sideboard that served up every Thanksgiving dinner you can remember? How much for the porch swing Dad built?

When selling is both unthinkable and necessary, it’s nice to have outside experts.

Such reason did not prevail last year when I cleared out my parents’ home several months after they had moved into assisted living. I did not have experts. I had myself, my sister-in-law, one week and a learning curve that didn’t curve but shot straight up like a flagpole.

Who else could do the job justice? I reasoned. Plus, I didn’t want to give anyone a cut of the profits, which were going straight into my parents’ long-term care fund.

But looking back — which is another way of saying wising up — I see the value of experts.

They knew then what I know now, and wish I’d known. For starters, they know how emotional, irrational and deluded those of us selling our parents’ belongings — heck, even our own stuff — are when estimating value. But those were our baby bibs!

MaxSold founder Barry Gordon put it bluntly: “Things are worth what people will pay.”

A 4-year-old Canadian company now in seven U.S. states, MaxSold (www.maxsold.com) clears out homes. The company sends in a team that organizes household items in batches or “lots,” photographs them, then uses social media to sell them locally through online auctions.

“People think that when they put their price on items, they have control of the price. They don’t,” Gordon said. “The buying market will determine the value. Holding out for a price can leave you holding onto the item.”

I know! I turned down several offers for my parents’ antique marble-topped nightstand, which I now have parked at a family friend’s house across the country.

Clinging has its costs, especially if you need to ship an item, move it, or heaven forbid, put it in paid storage. (Dear readers, please, before you get a storage locker, call me. I will talk you off the ledge.)

Gordon cited this example. Say someone has a dining room set and would feel awful if they sold if for anything less than $2,000. A buyer offers $800, which the seller turns down. Then, because there’s no room for it, the set goes in storage. Three years later, at $100 a month, the seller has paid $3,600 to hang onto it and finally sells it for $500.

Better to yank the Band-Aid off now, even if it hurts. And it will.

Although no two households are alike, in Gordon’s experience, the contents of the average North American home, after the family has taken out what they want to keep and paid the liquidator, yields from $3,000 to $10,000. He’s heard other liquidation professionals say the average house yields about $5,900.

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