Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Over the weekend we held at Estate Sale at grandpa's house. It ran from Friday through Sunday and we did better than expected-- both from the perspective of getting rid of 50 years worth of *stuff* and from the perspective of proceeds. I had been the designated internet advertiser and I posted ads on Estatesales.net, CraigsList, NJ.Com and Yardsales.com (or something thereabouts).... through the magic of the internet webcrawlers picked up on our ads and cross listed them on some additional websites as well.

On the Thursday before the sale we had put aside the things we wanted to keep and we had priced the bulk of the stuff (or so we had thought-- turns out estate salers are very good at getting into the nooks and crannies and finding things that you didn't even know you had, let alone had the time to price).

Despite our efforts, the Mom was still feeling like we were unprepared. Hell, we had a folding table, a cash box and two hundred dollars in mixed change and coinage. I told her we were as prepared as we were going to get and that we seemed a lot more professional than some of the teams we encountered at other estate sales we visited during our research and development phase.

On Friday morning we wore our matching yellow sweatshirts (so we would be distinguishable amongst the sale goers) and when we pulled around the corner we looked to see whether we had a line or no one.... (we ended up having about only 10 or so people in line at first, but the foot traffic never ended).

I parked and Mom went inside to turn on the lights and get things set. I unlocked the shed, opened the garage and pulled out the 2003 Taurus (with 20,300 miles on it) and put it out in the driveway on display for sale. (This actually sold pretty quickly to the neighbor across the street)...

When mom was ready we opened the doors and the first guy in was a nice fellow about my age named Tek. Tek headed straight down to the basement for the lot of Lionel Trains.

Prior to the sale I had received some email traffic through Craigslist about the trains and I had told folks that they were selling for $750 (and I included some photos). My dad collects Lionel and he had merchandised the stuff very nicely for us. He told us, however, that at the end of the day while there were a few good pieces, he would only pay about $500 for what was there. Tek paid $675 and was happy to do it. (But again, I note, Tek was my age-- not necessarily someone who has been collecting these things nearly as long as my Dad has.... I think Tek kind of had the same idea about this stuff that I did-- there was an awful lot there, good, bad or indifferent-- it just *looked* like more than $500!) So, I helped Tek pack up the trains and also stood around the table warding off potential poachers while he carried the stuff out to his car (this was a bit of a throwback to my youth when I had done the same for my Dad when he would go on the occasional "train buy"). I helped Tek carry the last boxes out and he gave me a $10 tip-- to buy lunch. I thought it was a very nice gesture on his part (and I certainly wasn't about to tell him that I was a lawyer perfectly capable of buying my own lunch.) ;)

Some of our other customers? There was Chad who drove all the way from Queens. Chad was also in his thirties and he is a private teacher/tutor who freelances in Manhattan. He must have spent at least two hours scouring the house (which is approximately 900 square feet)... he walked away with just about all of my grandfather's old Budweiser uniforms, a Budweiser snow hat, Budweiser glasses, beer labels and a tray, a vintage Lacoste Golf Cardigan, a really cool chair that turns into a ladder and all other kind of wacky stuff. Chad was totally planning on rocking out the old Budweiser shirts in a very Brooklyn-y hipster sort of way. He was very excited to have an "instant collection" of stuff.

Then there was the ultra hip couple. They were the nicest dressed people I have ever seen at an estate sale or flea market or just about any shopping experience, really. The man looked just like Constantine Maroulis and his girlfriend had gorgeous black curly hair and was dressed to the nines. Constantine was wearing aviator sunglasses (indoors) and had a blazer and fancy jeans. These two looked like they had just stepped out of Studio 54. And can I just tell you, they found the *best* stuff! They got some really neat old books, the bought the "Hustle" records from the 70's and they even made vintage plaid luggage look cool. I have to say I was very pleased that these two walked away with what they did-- I knew it was the most fashionable that that plaid luggage was ever going to get.

We also had a "found materials" artist come (she bought lots of the old benches my Grandfather made) and we had two teachers come late in the day-- one of them bought more of the vintage luggage and the other bought pencil sharpeners right off of the walls they were screwed into. (She also got these neat little tool chests that she was going to put craft supplies in). Then there was the guy who looked just like Hulk Hogan. He came by on all three days, at various points bringing his wife and kids. He was super nice and bought all of our old brass fire extinguishers and all of the old vintage bakelite rotary telephones.

And let's not even discuss the Portuguese couple who had a live squirrel in the trunk of their car (they had captured it in a trap and were planning to release it in the wild far enough away from their own home so that the squirrel wouldn't be able to find its way back). They actually attended the sale on all three days and bought stuff on each day.

Al from South River came on Friday and Sunday and by the end of the day on Sunday he was showing us the tattoos he has of his basset hounds.

Now mind you, I'm not necessarily a people person. I have to say I did good for the bulk of the sale-- being cordial and patient, as I was, after all, trying to sell things. But on the last day my patience began to wear thin.

This one woman came into the house and she looked around and after a while she came by with a small brass desk lamp. The lamp was one that my grandfather had still been using and so it even had one of those newfangled ecofriendly bulbs in it. She brings it to me and asks the price. I tell her $5. She says to me: "Can you plug it in and see if it works?" Now mind you, I'm standing at the cash box, dealing with other customers and also watching Miss B. who is sitting on a chair next to me. I point out an outlet on the wall and let the woman know that she can feel free to test out the lamp.

She plugs it in and it works. Okay, now she asks me if I'll take $3 for it. Can I just say that the fricking bulb is worth more than $3?? But okay. I tell her, sure I'll take $3 for it.

Then, two minutes later she comes up next to me and turns the lamp upside down to show me that the brass lampshade has corrosion or something under it-- and she starts by saying "well, I'm going to reconsider because look at this."

All this registers to me is that this woman is now asking for a further discount on something that I already didn't really want to sell for $5, let alone $3. So I say to her that I don't really care what condition the item is in. The price is $3. If you don't want it, nobody is forcing you to take it, so just leave it. Needless to say this got her pissed off and she left the sale in a huff.

Part of the reason why this happened was that earlier in the day I had told a man (who had come back for a second day after having tried to get everything on the first day that he could for a quarter) that the vacuum attachments he wanted to buy were $2.50. When he thought I was out of earshot he says to my mother "$1 for the attachments". To which I loudly responded: $2.50! Now mind you, there were many people who bought things and then kept buying things and then when they would find yet more things to buy we would just tell them to take it. We had many people who got great package deals and then some. I was more than happy to tell the nice people to just take stuff. But the people who tried to nickel and dime? I had no patience for that.

Moral of this story? I think the first thing to take away is we all probably have way more stuff than we need. If you have something that you've been saving for some special occasion or otherwise (like the countless pairs of brand new pants my Grandfather had, or all of the prints that were never framed, or all of the nuts, bolts and screws never used) just go ahead and use that stuff. The special occasion is now. If something gets used up, buy more when it runs out. If something nice gets damaged, buy a new one then but don't just let stuff sit in a closet for thirty years when you or someone else could be enjoying it. AND, reduce, reuse and recycle. Want to go shopping? Looking for something to collect as a hobby? Looking for old books? Check out estate sales, garage sales, thrift stores, consignment shops and flea markets. There is a lot of interesting, neat stuff out there and why let it go to waste? I love the fact that someone is going to be using my grandparent's old luggage. It's been up in the attic since 1970-something. It still had tags on it from the last time it went through EWR, but now maybe it will get to go somewhere again. Likewise, in your own life, have a garage sale, or donate stuff to the Salvation Army or Goodwill or, sell things on Ebay. Take a look around your house and see if there is stuff sitting around that you just don't need/use/want. I can guarantee you there is someone out there who would/could use it, or love it.

Case in point, one woman bought all of my grandfather's old clown paint by number paintings(!) She told me they were going to a good home where they would be loved for their kitschy value. Better that than being thrown away and better that than being put away somewhere never to see the light of day. If you ever see a skinny guy with a shaved head walking around Queens wearing a Budweiser shirt that says "Mike" over the left pocket, tell Chad that we said hello. ;)

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