New Career for Boomers

collectiblesWhat’s the difference between a garage sale and an estate sale? An estate sale is a garage sale with an attitude.

When disposing of the contents of a house or lifetime accumulation, “estate” is appropriate, as opposed to a spring cleaning offered in your driveway. In reality, the distinctions are blurred, and the ambiguity began with enterprising baby boomers in the 1970s.

So much antique merchandise suddenly became valuable in those years, the average seller was at a loss where and how to cash in. Business abhors a vacuum, so enter the Estate Liquidator, a pop culture mover and shaker, and a new baby boomer career.

Why go to a professional? Here’s a “To Do” list for your “estate” sale:

  • Determine prices for the merchandise
  • Tag and describe each item.
  • Display all the merchandise for maximum impact and convenience.
  • Construct a mailing list of interested dealers and collectors.
  • Write advertising copy for newspapers (Al Gore had not invented the Internet yet).
  • Figure out where to place ads.
  • Make signs and put them up in the neighborhood.
  • Recruit friends to help organize and control the crowds as well as watch for shoplifters.
  • Find someone who will let you use his credit card machine and check verification service.
  • Clean up the mess.

Overwhelmed? And you still haven’t put the kids to bed. A pro would do it all for around one-third of gross. You can take a vacation that weekend. I’ll get a third more, she says, so our service really costs nothing in the end.

It’s held in your house – the “estate” – and you don’t have to supply anything more than what would be at an average garage sale. The Liquidator will “supplement” the sale with merchandise to “fill out” and “juice” the event. Advertise a signed Babe Ruth baseball or Victorian beaded purses and watch the crowds converge. In the mob frenzy, your ordinary dining room set might go for a “silly” price.

The show is a win-win-win. The seller wins because her stuff is upgraded by the whole, and showcased. The Liquidator wins because she has an“estate” venue. And the public wins because it always wins when it spends money.

When stuff was plentiful, an ESTATE SALE! could be a pyrex bowl setminor sensation. Advertising laid the groundwork. Planners organized antsy buyers into small groups and permitted additional entry only as customers departed.Usually heldon busy garage sale weekends, experienced dealers might dash to the next opportunity unless part of an early “let-in.”

Some of the best merchandise was liquidated to liquidators at bargain prices before doors opened, to be placed in shops or shows. A few select dealers got a pre-sale opportunity to buy, which usually meant one must take chaff with the wheat. Yes, you can have the rare Mettlach stein decorated with pictures of beer-guzzling frogs if you “eat” a dozen practically worthless tourist drinking mugs.

Professional estate sales still exist, but the bounty of the good old days has shrunk dramatically. At least there’s no waiting in lines.

Terry Hamburg writes the Boomer to You blog about the exciting and revolutionary baby boomer years.

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