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Old 02-03-2014, 06:53 AM   #1
Holden OP
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Valuing older furniture?

Grandmother recently passed.

She has a house full of nice furniture that we would like to sell. (Couches, dining room set, tables, etc)

Anyone know how to gauge value of these items? Is there a KBB for furniture?


Thanks,
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Old 02-03-2014, 07:16 AM   #2
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Furniture pricing is anybody's guess as far as I can tell. Given that every stick of furniture in our house except a bed and a couch were bought used we have done a bit of this over the years. My wife's MO is to buy used high end stuff at estate sales and from local consignment shops. She gets nice stuff very modestly priced that way.

My wife's go to place when she wants to unload stuff and start over is a local consignment shop that deals in nice furniture. They will only take the better pieces that sell well. We have had good results buying and selling there. You take a hit compared to CL. But you also don't have to deal jackasses or get raped by an estate sale company.

Our local consignment shops will only take what they can turn around quickly and generally know the market. So their prices reflect that and are generally fair given that they are doing the work. Otherwise we just watch CL to get a feel for prices and sell things ourselves. Nice stuff fairly priced usually sells the first weekend we post it.

Actually even crap sells fast as long as you price it like crap. But I think you are going to be surprised at how little even nice used furniture is worth unless it is really very, very nice or popular antique pieces.
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Old 02-03-2014, 07:36 AM   #3
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Nice furniture or "made to look nice"???? Even back then there was plenty of that "made to look nice" stuff around.

Big difference in quality for sure. Some of the better pieces do have maker's stamps. Start looking under the tables...chairs, behind dressers or even under the drawers for clues.

Just so you don't get taken by the lowballers able to recognize the better quality.
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Old 02-03-2014, 07:51 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Grreatdog View Post
Furniture pricing is anybody's guess as far as I can tell. Given that every stick of furniture in our house except a bed and a couch were bought used we have done a bit of this over the years. My wife's MO is to buy used high end stuff at estate sales and from local consignment shops. She gets nice stuff very modestly priced that way.
(snip)
Sorry about your grandmother's passing. I hope you and your family are taking it OK.

When I settled my brother's estate last year, I was in charge of cleaning out his house. There are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Used furniture isn't worth much. Even nice stuff, unless you try to sell it all yourself, count on taking a bath on it. I know the professional buyers and consignors have to make a buck on it, and unfortunately you will likely be shocked/disappointed at the numbers they give you. I wish it were different, but it's just the way it is.

2. Some nice stuff can bring some good money, but they had better be truly exceptional, collectible, and rare pieces. My step grandfather passed about 8 years ago, and he had a very long (16') George Nakashima dining table with 12 chairs. The table, and set of chairs, both drew over $10k each, but a set like that rarely comes up for sale.

3. If you plan on selling it yourself, you're going to have to do a lot of work. You need to know furniture well, and what the market for those pieces is like. Dealing with buyers off the street will be a hassle. There are a ton of lowballers out there.
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Old 02-03-2014, 08:35 AM   #5
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A friend inherited a shitload of "fine" furnishings in a similar manner; from what was probably an 8K to 10K sqft home. Not knowing what to do with it all, he rented an empty retail space in a strip mall for 30 days, he had everything moved from the home and had a garage sale every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for that month. Made a shit-pile o money, gave what didn't sell to charity.
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Old 02-03-2014, 08:46 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Holden View Post
Grandmother recently passed.

She has a house full of nice furniture that we would like to sell. (Couches, dining room set, tables, etc)

Anyone know how to gauge value of these items? Is there a KBB for furniture?


Thanks,
Others have expressed the state of things pretty clearly. Lately, I've been selling a few pieces that were professionally restored and I took it in the shorts on some nice items. The market is still down, which doesn't help.
You can cruise some of your local consignment and antique shops to see prices on furniture similar to yours but that won't tell you what people are paying.
Also, furniture called antique is often factory-made that was offered in the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalogues during the 20's and 30's. It can be decent stuff but not in short supply.
In the end, you might want to consider what your time is worth and, quite frankly, anything you get for the furniture is profit.
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Old 02-03-2014, 09:02 AM   #7
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In addition to th good advice given you by some others, I would recommend you see if any of the furniture is considered "design". Not jut quality name, but design with a name attached. Usually an architect. This stuff pops up in some of the damnedest places so don't dismiss the idea.

As an example, we inherited some early 1970's chairs designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in 1933. They are a matching pair called "Chair 401" (brilliant architect, not so much on names i guess ) but you may know them by their cheap ripoff versions produced by Ikea and other manufacturers. Here is the chair I mean:

http://www.artek.fi/fi/products/armchairs/30


Now, you look at that and say WTF that is just like half the college dorm rooms in America. And youre right...except those are knockoffs worth a goose egg but these are original Aalto design produced in the real way by the authorized factory. Point is, ikea sells them for a hundred bucks and they are worth 25 used...but these chairs retail at around 2k new and an older version, in good shape, will bring much much more than that.

So if she happened to own something like a LeCorbusier chair ("common" in older homes of the mid century), something by Eames (America has a lot of these), Eero Saarinen (he of the St. Louis arch, JFK terminal, Dulles, etc.) or Frank Lloyd Wright, you could be sitting on some serious collectors prices. Some of the stuff even looks downright ugly to many people who do not like mid century modern, but before you huck it thinking its worthless plastic junk, check around. Sometimes they fetch thousands, and in a set....lots. even the new versions of these pieces fetch thousands, so actual vintage, the sky is the limit on some of that stuff.

Other than that, pre-1960's in good shape can commonly be very collectible.

If its just old, or good craftsmanship, follow the advice of greatdog. That stuff is sellable and may fetch a good price, but it won't be "design".

Edited to add: the same design recommendation goes for glassware as well. You would be shocked at how much some of that stuff will fetch. Buddy of mine bought a vase at an auction for five euros...it is now sitting in a glass museum north of here as a long term loan. Turns out it is one of the last of its kind and worth tens of thousands.

FinlandThumper screwed with this post 02-03-2014 at 09:14 AM
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Old 02-03-2014, 10:49 AM   #8
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My mom had a professional appraiser come to her house last year and he did an inventory of all of her antique furniture and glassware. She used to be an interior decorator so she picked up a few nice pieces over the years. None of it is stupendously valuable but collectively it adds up to a fairly nice sum. The appraiser provided a notebook with photos, descriptions and values of the contents of her home - something that will come in very handy for us kids when the time comes since none of us has any idea what some of these things are worth. I think the report cost her around $800 -$1000 and it will prove to be money well spent.

An appraiser may also know of some antique dealers that specialize in particular eras or styles that will be more willing to pay market value (typically 40-50% of appraised value).
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Old 02-03-2014, 11:21 AM   #9
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My mom had a professional appraiser come to her house last year and he did an inventory of all of her antique furniture and glassware.
PM me her name if you can get it. I have to deal with my parents home.
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Old 02-03-2014, 11:41 AM   #10
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I get a lot of pieces in the shop for restoration. Most of it is just worthless old junk that costs far more to repair than it is worth. I always make sure people understand that; sometimes the piece has sentimental value or they just like it, and sometimes they just don't believe me.

Part of the confusion for people comes from a lack of knowledge of period furniture. A Chippendale style chair made in 1920 is not the antique Chippendale chair collectors are looking for.

If a piece is of it's period, and is a good representative of the style, it's likely worth something to someone. If it's a later reproduction, it's really not worth anything; it's just old.

I had a piece in last year. Didn't look that closely at it when it came in; it just looked like a quant Chippendale style small occasional table. When I went to work on it, I quickly realized that it was an 18th century piece. I called the client who informed me it was Irish Chippendale. So what is something like that worth? Well, it is a period Chippendale piece, but it's Irish; that's not as desirable as an American piece. It's had some rough repairs over the years, which I corrected as best as was possible, and it had been refinished more than once, but it really was a charming piece. These are the kinds of questions a skilled appraiser would have to weigh in order to estimate the value of a piece.

Fads effect value, as well. There has been an influx of European antiques being sold to new money; their value is what people will pay for them. The pieces are sometimes effectively destroyed as they are repurposed, so their value as investments is low. Empire was popular a few years back, and so the value went up.

Some styles that can be good to collect that aren't extremely old include Stickley/mission oak, pressed back oak chairs, Empire, Hitchcock chairs, primitives, blanket chests, Moderne, Art Deco, and anything that has an interesting and original painted finish.
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Old 02-03-2014, 12:16 PM   #11
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I get a lot of pieces in the shop for restoration. Most of it is just worthless old junk that costs far more to repair than it is worth. I always make sure people understand that; sometimes the piece has sentimental value or they just like it, and sometimes they just don't believe me.

Part of the confusion for people comes from a lack of knowledge of period furniture. A Chippendale style chair made in 1920 is not the antique Chippendale chair collectors are looking for.

If a piece is of it's period, and is a good representative of the style, it's likely worth something to someone. If it's a later reproduction, it's really not worth anything; it's just old.

I had a piece in last year. Didn't look that closely at it when it came in; it just looked like a quant Chippendale style small occasional table. When I went to work on it, I quickly realized that it was an 18th century piece. I called the client who informed me it was Irish Chippendale. So what is something like that worth? Well, it is a period Chippendale piece, but it's Irish; that's not as desirable as an American piece. It's had some rough repairs over the years, which I corrected as best as was possible, and it had been refinished more than once, but it really was a charming piece. These are the kinds of questions a skilled appraiser would have to weigh in order to estimate the value of a piece.

Fads effect value, as well. There has been an influx of European antiques being sold to new money; their value is what people will pay for them. The pieces are sometimes effectively destroyed as they are repurposed, so their value as investments is low. Empire was popular a few years back, and so the value went up.

Some styles that can be good to collect that aren't extremely old include Stickley/mission oak, pressed back oak chairs, Empire, Hitchcock chairs, primitives, blanket chests, Moderne, Art Deco, and anything that has an interesting and original painted finish.
From my own experience, I would also add that if the furniture is verifiably and genuinely an antique from a sought-after time period...it can be insane how much it's valued at, in the right audience. I came across a dresser built over 200 yrs ago. The hardware from that timeperiod is pretty distinct. Square finishing nails. from the back of the piece gave me a clue that it was old. It was given to me free. I posted it for sale, and some guy offered me more than a grand take it off my hands. This after years of abuse, chipping veneer, and a leg fixed with large amounts of wood putty. He said he could probably find someone who'd want it for nearly double that, after a little work. I was amazed.
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Old 02-03-2014, 02:00 PM   #12
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My only rule of thumb is if it has:

screws
staples
plywood
mdf

and is not obviously a designer piece it goes craigslist.

Of course, cracked ice formica tables with chrome edging and matching vinyl chairs are going for ridiculous prices right now...
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Old 02-03-2014, 02:59 PM   #13
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Like Dave said, if it's not truly collectible, it will be hard to monetize the furniture for very much.

The thing about furniture is that it is usually hard to find the right buyer who wants what you have and is near enough to come get it and pay a good price for it.

When my mom died, I claimed one piece of old furniture and my daughter two. Then I brought down my daughter's big goose neck horse trailer and made two trips to the hospice thrift store, where we donated it. For the rest, I had the local garbage service bring in a big truckbed dumpster.
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Old 02-03-2014, 03:10 PM   #14
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When my mom died, I claimed one piece of old furniture and my daughter two. Then I brought down my daughter's big goose neck horse trailer and made two trips to the hospice thrift store, where we donated it. For the rest, I had the local garbage service bring in a big truckbed dumpster.
Yep!
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Old 02-03-2014, 04:19 PM   #15
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You might try photographing the furniture and email the photos to the nearest auction house (Christies, Sothebys, Bonhams or Leslie Hindman)

They have experts on their staff who can decide at a glance if there is anything of high value in the collection. They are generally reputable, and they get a percentage of a sale, so they have an incentive to consign any really promising pieces in their next auction. If they pass on it, that's a good sign that there's nothing astounding in the collection.

They are a good way to get some expert eyes and opinion on the collection without paying an appraiser.
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