June 2024

Michelle Knows Antiques

Liquidating the family home – Part II

by Michelle Staley

Many of you have already experienced the task of deciding what to do with the contents of the family home or at least the home in which your parents lived for many decades. Some of you have yet to find yourself sitting in the home office staring into the abyss of a closet overflowing with miscellany of operating two business out of the home, three printers, a scanner, Costco-sized bundles of ledger books, and stacks of items so deep that you can’t see the back wall.

My father is 91 and still living in the house they purchased when we moved to Kansas in 1985. It has four levels, four bedrooms each with extra large closets, eight additional closets, and a darkroom in the basement which has been used for storage. I have learned that closets are capable of hiding all types of goodies that should have been donated decades ago. He is wanting to move out of the big house and will be moving in with me or my oldest daughter hopefully this summer.

Mom was an antique collector and dealer. Due to daddy’s job we had the privilege of living or visiting locations around the world, and it was not unusual for mom to have a wood crate or large boxes of purchases shipped back to the U.S. It was a huge thrill when the transport truck would deliver a large wood crate. They had to place it in the front yard where we would dismantle the crate, toss excelsior all over the yard until the beautiful items inside were revealed. Think about the movie “A Christmas Story” when the leg lamp was delivered, that was us.

Needless to say, though the house is neat and tidy, it is filled to capacity with stuff. One helpful and important thing that mama did over the years was place little notes with items she felt that we needed to know the provenance or history. For instance, she has a child’s roll top desk and chair. One day while dusting I came across one such note. It told the story about seeing the pieces in a shop window and how she stopped to look at them. My granny noticed mom’s interest and months later on her birthday she presented the desk and chair to my mama. The chair is a child’s Windsor back chair. This poses a big quandary for myself and my daughters as none of us really have the space to bring the desk and chair home, but it apparently had significant meaning for my mama. Do we keep it or sell it?

Since my daddy could use the money, we have decided to sell these two pieces. The desk should sell for $250 and the chair around $100.

My family doesn’t have many heirloom pieces but the few that we do have will come to my house or the home of my oldest. We both have glassed-in cabinets in which to place them. They have a 1950s or 1960s Brunswick three-piece slate top pool table with cushion bumpers. It will include all accessories, The two family members who want it haven’t thought things through. One is living in my basement and the other in an apartment in Chicago. This has a resale value of around $3,000 but my price is half of that and I drew the short straw on who is going to inform these two that a full sized pool table just isn’t going to work with their living space.

A Lambert push plow. (Image courtesy of the author)

Child's Roll Top Desk

This 1920s child’s rolltop desk was passed down in the family but doesn’t have sentimental value, so it will be sold, along with many other items collected over the years by the author’s parents. (Image courtesy of the author)

A Lambert push plow. (Image courtesy of the author)

Child's Roll Top Desk

Inside of 1920s child’s rolltop desk. (Image courtesy of the author)



One thing that I have found to be very important is to let your parent(s) assist in the sorting process, to a certain extent. Daddy is struggling with severe dementia and is afraid that we are just going to throw everything in the trash. So we are letting him go through certain rooms and pick what he wants moved with him. Many years ago I conducted an estate sale for a neighbor who also suffered from dementia. I allowed her to help with the sorting process but when the sale started she would literally chase people down the driveway who had made a purchase. Needless to say, I had to call a family member to come get her.

This is a time consuming, overwhelming, and at times emotional process. I have found that you have to distance yourself from the sentiment, and let common sense run the show. There are so many items you would love to have because of the emotional attachment, but the reality is, none of us need all of the stuff, and the goal is to make some money for your parents or the estate. This is hard for anyone to do. But don’t just go throwing items away thinking that they might be junk because they might have monetary value. A box of onion skin typing paper, $35.

 These are the walls that get in your way when liquidating the family home. There are some options if you don’t feel comfortable holding a living estate sale yourself. You can hire an estate sale company to do it for you or if you have plentiful high dollar items you can go with a reputable auction company. Both of these come with caveats, such as most estate sale companies will not touch small estates and have a minimum dollar amount so you may not make any money. Auctions are a crap shoot. The auctioneer must have a large list of regular customers because without a crowd your items will sell for pennies on the dollar. Most importantly, get references and check them. You will find many estate sale companies that really don’t keep up with prices and selling trends. This is great for the consumer but not for you, the seller. My family is fortunate because I can do the sale and get the best price. I also know what will sell better online than at an estate sale. Mom collected elephants and paperweights. While most have little value there are some that are quite costly and I will sell them online.

Remember that at an estate sale you can ask a bit more for the items than a garage sale, but you don’t want to price yourself at full retail. Cater to dealers especially if you have furniture.

I hope this has given you a bit of guidance so that you don’t find yourself sitting in a chair staring into a closet filled to capacity. One last little piece, don’t get overwhelmed. I started this process in November and have gone through two rooms. Ask for help.
If you want to be notified when I finally have the sale please send me an email.

*All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop, or other resale outlets. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawn shop prices are about ½ or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade.

Send questions with photos to Michelle at michelle@discovervintage.com or TXSmichelle@gmail.com. Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. There is no guarantee that your question will be answered or published.

Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to www.michellesantiqueappraisals.com for a one-on-one appraisal. Please note new web address.