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Editor’s Note: Next Avenue columnist Richard Eisenberg has advice for boomers desperate to unload family heirlooms. You can read the original post here.
After my father died at 94 in September, leaving my sister and me to empty his one-bedroom, independent-living New Jersey apartment, we learned the hard truth that others in their 50s and 60s need to know: Nobody wants the prized possessions of your parents — not even you or your kids.
Admittedly, that’s an exaggeration. But it’s not far off, due to changing tastes and homes. I’ll explain why and what you can do as a result, shortly.
The stuff of nightmares
So please forgive the morbidity, but if you’re lucky enough to still have one or more parents or stepparents alive, it would be wise to start figuring out what you’ll do with their furniture, china, crystal, flatware, jewelry, artwork and tchotchkes when the mournful time comes. (I wish I had. My sister and I, forced to act quickly to avoid owing an extra months’ rent on our dad’s apartment, hired a hauler to cart away nearly everything we didn’t want or wouldn’t be donating, some of which he said he’d give to charity.)
Many boomers and Gen X’ers charged with disposing the family heirlooms, it seems, are unprepared for the reality and unwilling to face it.
“It’s the biggest challenge our members have and it’s getting worse,” says Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.
“At least a half dozen times a year, families come to me and say: ‘What do we do with all this stuff?’” says financial adviser Holly Kylen of Kylen Financials in Lititz, Pennslyvania. The answer: lots of luck.
Heirloom today, foregone tomorrow
Dining room tables and chairs, end tables and armoires (“brown” pieces) have become furniture non grata. Antiques are antiquated. “Old mahogany stuff from my great aunt’s house is basically worthless,” says Chris Fultz, co-owner of Nova Liquidation, in Luray, Virginia.
On PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” prices for certain types of period furniture have dropped so much that some episode reruns note current, lower estimated appraisals.
READ MORE: Column: Broke baby boomers, it’s time to face reality
And if you’re thinking your grown children will gladly accept your parents’ items, if only for sentimental reasons, you’re likely in for an unpleasant surprise.
“Young couples starting out don’t want the same things people used to have,” says Susan Devaney, president of National Association of Senior Move Managers and owner of The Mavins Group, a senior move manager in Westfield, New Jersey. “They’re not picking out formal china patterns anymore. I have three sons. They don’t want anything of mine. I totally get it.”
The Ikea generation
Buysse agrees. “This is an Ikea and Target generation. They live minimally, much more so than the boomers. They don’t have the emotional connection to things that earlier generations did,” she notes. “And they’re more mobile. So they don’t want a lot of heavy stuff dragging down a move across country for a new opportunity.”
And you can pretty much forget about interesting your grown kids in the books that lined their grandparents’ shelves for decades. If you’re lucky, you might find buyers for some books by throwing a garage sale, or you could offer to donate them to your public library — if the books are in good condition.
Most antiques dealers (if you can even find one!) and auction houses have little appetite for your parents’ stuff either. That’s because their customers generally aren’t interested. Carol Eppel, an antique dealer and director of the Minnesota Antiques Dealers Association in Stillwater, Minnesota, says her customers are far more intrigued by Fisher Price toy people and Arby’s glasses with cartoon figures than sideboards and credenzas.
Even charities like Salvation Army and Goodwill frequently reject donations of home furnishings, I can sadly say from personal experience.
Midcentury, yes; Depression-era, no
A few kinds of home furnishings and possessions can still attract interest from buyers and collectors though. For instance, Midcentury Modern furniture — think Eames chairs and Knoll tables — is pretty trendy. And “very high-end pieces of furniture, good jewelry, good artwork and good Oriental rugs — I can generally help find a buyer for those,” says Eppel.
“The problem most of us have,” Eppel adds, “is our parents bought things that were mass-produced. They don’t hold value and are so out of style. I don’t think you’ll ever find a good place to liquidate them.”
Getting liquid with a liquidator
Unless, that is, you find a business like Nova Liquidation, which calls itself “the fastest way to cash in and clean out your estate” in the metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C., and Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia. Rather than holding an estate sale, Nova performs a “buyout” — someone from the firm shows up, makes an assessment, writes a check and takes everything away (including the trash), generally within two days.
READ MORE: America’s boomers and undocumented immigrants need each other
If a client has a spectacular piece of art, Fultz says, his company brokers it through an auction house. Otherwise, Nova takes to its retail shop anything the company thinks it can sell and discounts the price continuously (perhaps down to 75 percent off) as needed. Nova also donates some items.
Another possibility: Hiring a senior move manager (even if the job isn’t exactly a “move”). In a Next Avenue article about these pros, Leah Ingram said most National Association of Senior Move Managers members charge an hourly rate ($40 to $100 an hour isn’t unusual) and a typical move costs between $2,500 and $3,000. Other senior move managers specializing in selling items at estate sales get paid through sales commissions of 35 percent or so.
“Most of the people in our business do a free consultation, so we can see what services are needed,” says Devaney.
8 tips for home unfurnishing
What else can you do to avoid finding yourself forlorn in your late parents’ home, broken up about the breakfront that’s going begging? Some suggestions:
This, it seems, is 21st century life — and death. “I don’t think there is a future” for the possessions of our parents’ generation, says Eppel. “It’s a different world.”
Richard Eisenberg is a senior web editor at Next Avenue. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping and CBS MoneyWatch.
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