Helping your parents clean out the family home or, even worse, taking on the task after they’ve died can be heartbreaking – layers of history to be sorted through; decisions to be made about what should be saved and what to do with the rest.
While no one wants to look on the exercise as a money-making venture, taking the time to sell items that have some value not only helps cover the costs involved with moving, but also has the benefit of being more environmentally friendly than sending everything to the tip.
The first step is to work out how much time you have. If you and your siblings already have full plates, you can call in an expert team to do the clearance, once you’ve removed items – keepsakes, photographs, documents – you want to keep.
Rebecca Mezzino operates Adelaide-based company Clear Space, which offers downsizing and estate clearances. She works with local dealers and auction houses to sell whatever has value, donates usable goods to charities and disposes of any rubbish. She also has some tips for doing the job yourself.
“Most of the services you need are quite separate,” says Rebecca. “So, you can get a second-hand dealer to come and take what they want, you can get a skip to put rubbish in, and you can take things to the Salvo’s, but it’s quite difficult to get it all done in one go.”
Of course, the average person won’t know whether a piece of furniture will be worth anything to someone else. Auction houses, advises Rebecca, will look at photos of your goods and tell you whether it’s worth selling them. Second-hand dealers, too, will visit and take away what they think they can sell.
“Anything that’s mid-century vintage is in demand,” says Rebecca. “Things like Dad’s old tools that are 50 or 60 years old will sell at auction, too. People will say to me, ‘It’s rusty and it’s old,’ but it should be sent to auction. There are often surprises.”
Of course, with all sorts of information at your fingertips, you can use Google to get an idea of what people are paying for certain items. For instance, stamps on the bottom of vintage dinner sets or a silver tea set can help you date them, which is helpful when you’re talking to auction houses. Bids on sites like eBay (“not what sellers are listing them as a Buy Now price,” warns Rebecca) are also a good indication.
Antiques such as this are always popular at auctions, but you may be surprised at what else can sell for large sums
For anything that isn’t considered a collectable – furniture and working white goods, for example – you can use a website such as Gumtree, where you’ll often get a better price than if you sell it at auction.
“At auction houses you’ll get a bargain basement price,” says Rebecca, “but you do need to put effort into Gumtree. We always tell people not to throw anything away because you’d be surprised at what can be sold or what people will collect for free. Free stuff on Gumtree goes really quickly.”
If your family has specific types of collections, it’s often worth contacting a specialised dealer. Nicole Jenkins from Circa Vintage Fashion in Melbourne often assesses collections during house clearances.
“Many vintage fashion items are valuable not for their age, but for their quality, uniqueness and how favoured they are by the current market,” she explains. “There are a lot of points to consider, so if you think you’re handling a collection that might have exceptional value, it’s best to call in the experts for advice. It should be remembered that age does not necessarily equate to value, especially if it's in poor condition.”
Nicole says couture labels, such as Chanel, Dior and Balenciaga, and garments from the 1960s and 70s – Australian labels such as Tullo, Prue Acton and House of Merivale, as well as Biba, Thea Porter, Pucci and Halston – are particularly sought after at the moment: “As a general rule, if it was expensive when originally purchased and it’s been maintained in excellent condition, then it should retain an element of that value – subject to the vagaries of fashion.”
Similar experts can be sought out if you find a number of what could be rare vinyl records, antiquarian books or other well-maintained collections.
As for sentiment, Rebecca says you should keep what means something to you and can’t be replaced. “I always say to clients, ‘What emotional need is this meeting?’ then ask how much is enough so they have all their emotional needs met.
“Another good idea is to take photos of rooms and everything that leaves the house, then to put together a photo album of memories of the house. A lot of people can have their emotional needs met with just that.”
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