Thoughts on selling furniture; auction vs dealer?

mtnrdredux_gwFebruary 13, 2013

I am helping with the sale of household goods from an estate in the Philly burbs.

I don't think there is anything highly valuable, though there is a fair amount of good quality Stickley furniture (not Arts and Crafts, the traditional stuff).

One of the people involved contacted Stephenson's, a local auction house, and also contacted Stenella. Of course Stenella buys it from you on the spot, whereas the auction is whatever it sells for, less commission. Which route would you go?

This post was edited by mtnrdredux on Wed, Feb 13, 13 at 16:04

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In this market I might go with the dealer.

I think most L & JG Stickley from the last 20 years or so would go in an unreserved auction and the results will be highly variable.

My 1995 Stickley table was just in an auction and the Estimate was much higher than what it realized. But it was a weak auction day. I probably got about the same as I would've from a dealer--little less.

If there are a lot of dealers at the auction they will get the pieces at slightly higher, competing dealer prices but then the commission will be subtracted. If you have it in a reserved auction, it may not meet reserve, and then you would have to pick it up and go to dealer anyway.

I would probably do a dealer unless the offer from the dealer is really low.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 2:22PM
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Thanks very much, Pal, I was hoping you'd be one of the responders since you are local to that area and I know you buy and sell at a lot of auctions.

If I can indulge you for one more question. How do you know if the dealer price is "really low"? Do you just have to get a bunch of dealers to opine? Or ...?

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 2:42PM
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I would look at their website and see what they sell things for and compare. I don't really base it on anything but a feeling. Also some dealers will try to bundle a whole bunch of items together and really get a lot for a low price.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 2:48PM
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Bottom line is auctions are a crap shoot - a lot depends on the mood of the audience that particular day and there's no predicting that. It can be a windfall bidding war or a deafening silence. A dealer is a bird in the hand. Unless I had something highly sought (or the terms with the auction house were really flexible and allowed for a re-auction at another time) I'd pick the dealer.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 3:20PM
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People around here seem to have estate sales when they have a lot of household items to sell. Are there any local companies you could contact for such a sale?
They can usually be found online or in the newspaper classifieds.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 4:27PM
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No one involved seems motivated to go through the work of an estate sale, and I don't think it is a big enough sale to warrant the expense of a third party conducting an on-site sale.

I think our choices are dealer vs auction.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 4:40PM
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I'd go with the dealer.

I've purchased from Stenella. My piece looks brand new. All the folks were nice, though the delivery people were a bit, um, rural. They have a lot of good stuff in good condition, so they are a go-to source for people looking to buy traditional furniture. They also advertise on eBay. A brisk market is better than a slow one.

I have also sold at and attended auctions, and you really have no idea what you'll get. Your entire buyer universe is the people who happen to be in the room that day. You may be selling a Baker bonnet-top cabinet that retails for the price of a midsize car, but everyone in the room is just waiting for those Toledo stools, so you go home with $45. Personally I would avoid auctions unless I was selling a marquee piece or needed to dump a lot of stuff at once.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 5:08PM
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What do you have? I may be interested because Stickley has discontinued most of the popular mahogany pieces from their traditional series. Do you have two bedside tables in the Hampton (#1) mahogany finish by chance?

I think you know that I've bought stuff from Stenella: the old Ethan Allen canopy bed, highboy and beside table in the guest room and the Stickely mahogany table in my new dining room. The rest of the Henkel Harris and Stickley I have was brand new.

Here's what I'm trying to find bedside tables for (if the price is right). It would either need to be Henkel Harris in the cherry #24 finish (the newer color, not the older, oranger coloring) or Stickley in mahogany #1 (Hamtpon) finish, which is the same as the dresser (the two companies' finishes, even though different woods are nearly identical). I have living room end tables in there now, and they're too deep for a bedroom/bedside table really.

I think Stenella also sells on consignment, so you may want to check that out, too (if you don't have what I want...).

This post was edited by KevinMP on Wed, Feb 13, 13 at 20:01

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 7:45PM
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Auctions rarely make sense. The exception is antique collections, multigenerational heirlooms, and very large and high end estates.

The auctioneers, in my experience, always inflate their prices in order to entice you. They have to give you a reason to chose them over cash from the dealer. Once it goes to auction, well, they'll say ... we only estimate, the market is the market. Truth is, they say whatever they can to maximize the throughput. They want to get their 20% of the largest volume of goods they can push through (especially the small regional houses,IMHO).

And guess who is at the auctions. The dealers. Maybe a few retail buyers, usually those willing to devote huge amounts of time to really rare arcane things, or dirt dirt cheap things. Get rid of the movie images you have of an auction.

I think an auction gives you a lot more downside then upside. It's unlikely a bunch of cynical seasoned dealers, barely getting by buying inventory on their Visa cards these days, are going to work up in to a frenzy over anything you might have. So they will end up buying it for about what theyd have paid you for it --- best case. Worst case, no one else there wants it or has the room for it or the dough, and the dealer closes in for the kill, buying it at the starting bid. You lose.

Your best bet is to educate yourself. It's not easy, but you can get a sense. Ebay, Craigslist, etc. Or ask the dealer how they arrived at their value. Be careful, online you can find a lot of inflated values to, or just values that are not comparable.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 11:00PM
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I've gone both ways and have had the best success with a good auction house. Of course good weather comes in to play with an auction.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 11:06PM
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Hi KevinMP,

Sorry, we don't have any nightstands at all. Thanks for inquiring, though.

And thanks everyone for your input.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 9:53PM
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I've been out of town and thus late to the party. But for what's it's worth, three more points. First, and I'm sure you're aware of this already: sellers pay a commission to the auction house, and that will cut into whatever they net. Second, I do have to disagree with marcolo on the statement that the buying universe consists only of the people in the room. It probably depends on the auction house, but most of them enable bidders to place phone bids and/or offer online bidding. That's not to say that you're not right about the end result, marcolo.

Final point is cost of transporting the furniture. Unless the furniture is high end, perhaps the amount charged would be basically the same whether auction house or dealer, with the only other difference being the distance to be transported. Still, it'd be something to check into. Ditto on any storage fees, with the auction house - if the next upcoming auction is months away, who pays to store the furniture?

BTW, this: "though the delivery people were a bit, um, rural"? Careful there, OK? Those are my neighbors you're talking about. ;)

    Bookmark   February 19, 2013 at 9:12AM
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