We were originally attracted to the Estate Sale industry because of our love for art and antiques. We are both avid collectors and developed an ability to identify objects and to appraise their real worth. My specialty is books, records, and other musical items; Christine specializes in art. Our passion stood us in good stead because an overlooked object, like an old book, for example, might be priced at $5.00 when I recognized that its actual value to be more than $800. Or a piece of art might be listed for ten bucks that Christine realized might actually be worth $1,000. Also, we were prepared to start a family business because Christine had worked for years creating marketing collateral, and I had been publisher in a successful magazine publishing business. We realized that we could merge our knowledge of business and marketing together with our understanding of actual value for objects, both old and new, to provide real value-add for estate sale clients.
The Estate Sale marketplace is growing because Baby Boomers, who are in their 60s, are being called upon to handle the estates of their aging and deceased parents. The responsibility is always difficult and, without professional assistance, can be overwhelming. Left-behind children often do not want to put Mom’s stuff on the curb. They get overrun; they have no idea how to price the stuff. Sometimes they simply close the garage doors in frustration.
Another reason the Estate Sale marketplace is booming, of course, is that Americans have a lot of stuff. As George Carlin observed, “That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff.” Then he added, “If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.” We have had seniors shopping at our sales tell us, “You’ll be doing this for me in a few years.” We sometimes push back and ask them why they are collecting objects that they do not need and that before long their children will be burdened with. The inheritors are responsible for disposing of the stuff jammed into houses, garages, and commercial storage units, most of which the parents didn’t really need and that the baby boomer kids can’t take because their own houses and commercial storage areas are running over with their own stuff.
Even worse, in many cases the parents are leaving behind objects that their children, close friends, and even neighbors will fight over unless some dispersal plan is put into place. The situation is made worse by a vulture mentality that sometimes sets in following a death. Neighbors and extended family members come out of the woodwork, often with comments worthy of suspicion such as, “She wanted me to have that.” People in a state of mourning often just give in to such claims. Such people need the services of Estate Sale professionals to provide a barrier between the estate and predators who have no concern for the welfare of the legitimate inheritors.
The solution to such problems is responsible disposal and dispersal of estate items. Families should obviously retain any heirlooms that might have been handed down from generation-to-generation. For the remainder, the best and most equitable solution is usually to sell it. We Estate Sales professionals offer practical solutions for both junk and treasure, and for providing some certainty about what items belong in which of the two categories. For example, one of our clients grew up in his parents’ home with a picture of a farmhouse that hung for decades over the mantel. The son had always despised the picture and decided that he was going to throw it out. Fortunately, Christine kept the piece from going into the landfill, since the picture was actually worth several thousand dollars.
We play the important role of mediator for people who wish to make an equitable division of estate items. Siblings and other relatives who have a claim on some part of the estate need an uninterested third-party to assess actual value, determining, for example whether sister Mary’s taking the China dishes is roughly equal to brother John’s appropriation of the roll-top desk. By making fair assessment of the relative worth of objects, we flatten the playing field and make it possible for inheritors to decide what is fair.
We employ integrity at every level of our business. A main commitment we have to clients and customers is that when we first open the door to a sale everything that was in the house when we began the project is still there. We don’t sell anything early; we never offer presale deals to our buddies. I’ve even told my Mom “No!” when she had her eye upon something that she especially wished to purchase. We could often be tempted by some piece that would fit well into our collections, but never buy from our own sales. Our disappointment in letting some fine piece get away is more than offset by the pleasure we take from getting it into another person’s hands.
We are committed to keeping objects out of landfills and work with a number of nonprofit organizations that are able to convert items we aren’t able to sell into funds for their organization. We’ve chosen various nonprofits that do the best for the community. For example, because of my musical background, we gladly donate some usable items to an Oakland nonprofit, called Uhuru Furniture, that plows revenues into support for local Art and Music projects.
We are still collectors. Business and hobby both bring us into regular contact with items that are like tiny bits of preserved history. In one San Ramon house we found an envelope with old photographs that included actual pictures of the famous raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. The pictures were worth a lot of money, but I told the family, “Your uncle took these. I am not going to let you sell them.”
On the other hand, we sometimes break hearts. Some of the worst art investments take place in those glitzy art sales conducted on cruise ships. After a few margaritas, the passenger imagines that he has bought a masterpiece. When it comes time to include the piece in a sale, the proud owner is chagrined that his work of art can’t be sold for a tenth of its original purchase price. We’ve known homeowners who took pride in artifacts that they had imagined to be hand crafted by some African tribal leader but are cheap knock-offs available by the carload. Sometimes clients become angry with us for destroying their beautiful illusions. When the hundreds of customers disperse and no one has purchased that item they realize we were right.
Christine and I grew up six blocks from each other, and became acquaintances at age 13 when we were taking classes together at school. Following graduation we both embarked on practice marriages. Following that phase, I got Christine’s contact information from a common friend, and was delighted to learn that she was back in circulation. The fact is, I had entertained a schoolboy crush on Christine almost from the first time we met. Only after we began dating and my daydreams actually began to come true did I learn that while we were schoolmates Christine had actually attempted to connect with me. She thought it was cool that I was a musician and felt rebuffed by my painful shyness and embarrassment, assuming that my reticence to engage in conversation was because I was stuck-up and conceited. (Holy cow!) The previously unimaginable became reality in 1998 when Christine and I tied the knot.
I had developed a career as a professional musician and teaching guitar lessons to private students. Following marriage, I segued into a position as publisher in a magazine publishing business. Christine was working as a project manager doing marketing design for a local company. Both of us were working more than 70 hours a week and were caring for our two children in the best way we knew how.
Everything changed when our youngest child, Ty, was born. A birth trauma caused scarring on the brain resulting in multiple seizures. The doctors told us that our little baby was going to die. Soon, however, they upgraded their prognosis to a dreary prediction that he would spend his life in a vegetable state. Then they said he would never be able to walk. However, they put him on phenobarbital and two weeks later he seemed perfectly normal. The whole event had been baffling and scary.
We brought Ty home and for a year everything was normal, but then he started having seizures. At first the episodes were monthly, then they began occurring on a weekly basis, and finally became daily events. When he was two he had a seizure that lasted for over a half-hour. We rushed him to the ER where they intubated him and put him into a medically induced coma. The doctor uttered the frightening words, “I’ll do everything I can to save him.” They put Ty on a series of test medications until finding one that stabilized him, and for the next three years he was free of seizures, except for one each year. But when he was in kindergarten, he had another bad one and his seizures grew steadily worse.
We realized that we had to make some serious life-style changes in order to remain involved with Ty and give him whatever support he needed. We began to think about what we could do as a family business that would give us the freedom to “be there” for all three of our children. We made an assessment of our strengths and realized we could do estate sales. We started J And C Estate Sales almost five years ago. It was a rocky start; we were competing with established companies. However, we landed a job the first month we were in business. Each subsequent sale provided a basis for further sales, because of the good experience we provided for both clients and customers.
We have grown the business to the point that it is keeping us really busy time Ty has been free of seizures.
Christine practices Kundalini Meditation. We are both practicing Catholic but she wanted to learn meditation. She met a guru from India at the Dhyanyoga Center. The woman, who spoke no English, performed a “Shaktipat energy touch” resulting in Christine experiencing what is called a Kundalini awakening. She experienced a sense of bliss and enlightenment. It was a life changing experience, through which she felt as though she had looked upon the face of God. Whatever the explanation, Christine had a genuine renewal experience, which was religiously neutral but that imparted to her a new purpose and reinforced her desire to help others.
The best part of our business is the satisfaction we take from the service we offer both to clients and their customers. We will never take a job simply based on size. Our leading question is not “What do you have?” but “What can we do for you?” Then we plunge into doing the best job we can for the client and take satisfaction from bringing some light into what is often a dark period of time indeed.