Financial Fitness

Cash in the Attic: How to Value and Sell Antiques and Collectibles

These tips and internet resources will help you get the full value out of your antiques and collectibles.

by Michelle Crouch - February 21, 2018

Maybe you’re downsizing to a condo, or you have more of Grandma’s stuff than you have the space for. Or perhaps you just want to turn the clutter in your attic into a little cash.

No matter what your reason, when you’re sorting through decades-old antiques and collectibles, it can be difficult to know what’s valuable and what’s not. And when you’re ready to sell an item, you’ll need to be informed of its value to ensure that you’re getting a fair price.

That’s why it’s a good idea to do research before you sell. Here are three ways to get a sense of an item’s value.

1. Get a professional appraisal. If you believe a piece is very high in value or your collection contains some true rarities, hire a certified appraiser to give you a written estimate of its value. An appraiser is more likely to give you a fair price than someone interested in buying the item because there’s no conflict of interest, advises Pam Wiggins, an antiques and collectibles expert based in Austin, Texas, and owner of Chic Antiques. Some appraisers specialize in specific fields like books, artwork, or jewelry. However, keep in mind that appraisers typically charge $200 to $400 an hour. If your items aren’t worth significantly more than that, it doesn’t make sense to invest in a professional appraisal.

2. Get a free verbal appraisal. Auction houses and appraisal services often offer free oral valuations to the public on special days. Search the web for the name of your city and “valuation day,” “appraisal day,” or “consignment day;” or call local auction houses to ask them if they hold such events. Another option: Bring your item to a major local antique show. Many shows have an appraiser and allow ticket-holding guests to get verbal appraisals for free. Be advised that there may be a limit to the number of items you can bring in.

3. Research values online. It’s fairly easy to get a sense of an item’s value using internet resources, Wiggins says. First, carefully check the item for any kind of identifying mark. (Don’t forget to check inside the drawers of a piece of furniture.) Once you know who made the piece, search eBay for the item — its size increases the likelihood of finding a similar item for comparison. Use the “advanced search” feature to search only “completed sales” to get a sense of the item’s actual retail value. If you can’t find your item, look to see what similar items have sold for. Ruby Lane and Etsy’s vintage items are two other sites worth checking. Make sure you consider the condition of your item as part of your assessment.

Once you have a price in mind, you have several different options for selling your item.

  •  Seek out a specialized dealer. You can find dealers specializing in everything from antique dolls and coins to cars and clothing. Just Collect has a thriving market for old baseball cards, for example, Replacements, Ltd. specializes in old china, and Poshmark specializes in fashion. Most have some process for buying items, but you can also email dealers directly, tell them what you have, and ask them to make you an offer, Wiggins says.
  • Sell the items yourself. You’ll make the most money by cutting out the middle man and selling the items yourself, but it does take a bit of effort, Wiggins says. To sell items online, Wiggins recommends setting up an account on eBay. If you think you have something special, put it up for auction rather than setting a fixed price. That way, the natural laws of supply and demand will set the price. If shipping will be expensive, consider a local group through Facebook’s Marketplace or OfferUp.
  •  Sell to a local antiques or collectible store. Because you typically walk in with your item and walk out with cash, this is the quickest and most efficient option for selling, Wiggins says — but keep in mind you won’t get top dollar. “Because dealers have to resell your item and they have all of the overhead associated with running a business, you will only get 25% to 50% of what the retail price will be,” she says.

Remember, if you aren’t able to sell your items or if you just don’t want to deal with the hassle, you can always donate to charity. You will have the knowledge that your items will be used to help others and potentially net a tax deduction. And you’ll get the immeasurable satisfaction of living in an uncluttered house.

Michelle Crouch writes about consumer finance, parenting, and more from her home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Parents magazine, and The New York Times.

Image by iStock

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