The Art Newspaper
The Antiques Market
Times are tough for the antiques trade. Storefronts on a stretch of Madison Avenue that was once home to august firms like Kentshire, Florian Papp and Mallett are seeking new tenants, while Bland, Louis Bofferding and the Chinese Porcelain Company have moved to smaller quarters near the Decoration & Design Building.
Although demand for modern and contemporary furniture and all things Tiffany—as highlighted by the December design sales—continues to climb, the market for British and continental antiques is languishing, down 50% by some estimates, says Alistair Clarke, former worldwide head of English and European furniture at Sotheby’s. He now has a gallery with his wife, Blair Voltz Clarke, who trades in contemporary art while he offers antiques.
Indicative of the steep decline, Sotheby’s made $120m in the category in 2007, but last year the total take plunged to $20.5m. “Ten years ago, the exceptional, like a delicately inlaid commode pegged at $250,000, would always sell,” says Clarke. “But now one doesn’t know”.
Tastes, and lifestyles, have changed dramatically. According to the London dealer Thomas Woodham-Smith, “clients no longer want a separate dining room and study”, obviating the need for a suite of period pieces.
What is left of the market is driven not by connoisseur collectors but by decorators like Tony Ingrao, who used to select one splashy commode or console per room—until recently. “Today, for a 20-room house, I will include ten antiques at the most, and the percentage of my budget is but 10%,” says Ingrao.
Sensing this shift, 1stdibs founder Michael Bruno is launching a new site with a tightly edited roster of dealers, Design Carta, selling exclusively to decorators. Online marketplaces like eBay and the just-launched Decaso are stepping in to support a seemingly endless supply as dealers ditch stock.
Those who remain in the game are opting to forgo the bricks and mortar, like Clinton Howell, who closed up his 72nd Street shop a year ago. “I’m saving $250,000 in rent and therefore making far more money than ever before,” says Howell, who now lists inventory on his website and looks to fairs for new clients.
The London-based dealer Justin Evershed-Martin, who left Mallett in the spring to trade online, spends his time on the road in Italy and Spain, connecting with collectors who are seeking to sell or purchase. He recently sold an 18th-century gilt mirror by John Linnell for a six-figure sum. “The market is cyclical and the demand for antiques will rise to the top,” says Woodham-Smith.
He is more upbeat than most. “At the end of the day, no younger dealers are on the horizon,” says Clarke. In other words, there will be no one to teach clients the hallmarks of a great set of Chippendale chairs—nor restorers and gilders to conserve them, yet another by-product of the field’s decline. Clarke adds, “It will be tough for the market to bounce back.”
Old Masters Market
The already soft market for Old Masters took a hit this year as news of a potentially widespread forgery ring gripped the art world.
Works by as many as 25 artists worth around $255 million are among those rumored to have been forged as part of the scandal. The art world was tipped off when French police seized Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Venus With a Veil (1531) in March of this year. The judge who ordered the seizure was acting on an anonymous tip that the painting, part of the Prince of Liechtenstein’s collection, was in fact, a fake. The painting allegedly originated from one Giuliano Ruffini. Ruffini, who some identify as a dealer—and who himself claims to be a collector—purchased at least six of the works including the Cranach; most originated from the collection of André Borie. Another of the initially-identified half dozen works is Frans Hals’s Portrait of a Man, through Ruffini claims that specific work did not originate with Borie. Sotheby’s had brokered a private sale of Hal’s painting in 2011 for some $10 million but in October refunded the purchase and deemed the work forged. Chemical analysis had turned up 20th century materials within the painting, purportedly from the 17th century, despite experts at the Louvre and the Mauritshuis having previously claimed it to be the work of Hals’s .
How to Downsize
Maybe you’re downsizing from a sprawling house in the suburbs to a downtown condo. Perhaps a parent is moving to a retirement community, and you and your siblings are excavating the family home. Or maybe you’re just plain tired of having too much stuff. Whatever the reason, having fewer possessions can simplify your life and put some cash in your pocket. But doing it the right way requires patience and possibly help from the pros.
What’s the right way? That depends on how many belongings you have, your timeline and how much of the work you’re willing to do on your own. For large-scale downsizing, estate-sale and auction professionals can help sift through your stuff, estimate its value and sell it for a good price. If you have a number of valuable items to sell but not enough to warrant a large sale (or if you want a shot at selling things that didn’t go in the first attempt), consider consignment shops and Web sites such as eBay. And don’t forget charitable donations, which can reward your generosity with a tax deduction.
If you’re selling or donating items of significant value—or if you’re not sure whether they’re valuable—call in an appraiser. At the appraisalfoundation.org, you can search for accredited personal-property appraisers by location and specialty. Fees vary by region and by the appraiser’s accreditation level but may range from $125 to $300 per hour. Or an estate-sale or auction company that you hire may have qualified appraisers on staff. Ask appraisers about their credentials (such as accreditation from the American Society of Appraisers, the International Society of Appraisers or the Appraisers Association of America) and how long they’ve conducted appraisals.
Invite family members to take anything you’re willing to give away. For those who aren’t in your region, you could post photographs of items online with a tool that everyone can access, such as Dropbox, suggests Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers. Don’t overlook items that may have sentimental value. “A lot of times, it’s the grandchildren who want Grandmother’s apron or her china set,” says Victoria Roberts, a certified professional organizer and owner of Victoria Roberts Organizing, in Mill Valley, Calif. But in your enthusiasm to clean house, don’t foist leftovers on those who don’t show interest. Chances are, they’ll sneak it into the trash (or sell it themselves) when you’re not looking.
Selling a lot of stuff
Temper your expectations about how valuable your old furnishings may be. Preferences for furniture and decor, especially among younger families, have shifted from traditional and antique to modern—and easy to transport (think Ikea or Crate and Barrel’s CB2). Heavy, dark furniture is flooding the market as more people downsize, and the supply is outpacing demand. Flat-screen TVs and digital music are making entertainment centers obsolete, and dining suites are disappearing along with formal dining rooms.
“I’m in the position of telling people that the market for their wonderful furniture isn’t what it was 10 or 20 years ago,” says Kathleen Orozco, owner of appraisal and estate-liquidation firm Kathleen Orozco & Associates, in Denver. “The buyers aren’t there.”
Despite the challenges, you can find a good home for your castoffs—and cash in on some of them, too.
Host an estate sale. If you have a houseful of items to sell that add up to several thousand dollars in value, hosting buyers in your home through an estate sale is a prime option. Ideally, you’ll have plenty of time to choose a company and have the liquidator prepare your home and belongings for a sale. But if you’re on a tight deadline, a pro should be able to help you wrap it up quickly.
Keep in mind that if your possessions aren’t worth at least, say, $10,000, a company may not agree to hold your sale. And estate liquidators take a sizable chunk of the proceeds—typically about 35% to 40%, says Julie Hall, director of the American Society of Estate Liquidators. But they will also take a lot of the work off your hands. They often have connections with local, regular buyers of antiques and other items to whom they can advertise your goods (and they’ll promote your sale to the general public, too). They’ll price items and set them up in your home in a way that’s attractive and that avoids bumps and breakage as buyers pass through. And a staff present during the sale can control crowds, run the cashier stand and keep an eye out for thieves. “An estate sale is not a glorified yard sale,” says Hall. “There’s a lot of sweat equity.”
Although many antiques, carpets and furniture aren’t the draw they once were, they may have a better chance of selling from your house than from other venues because buyers can more easily visualize them in their own homes, says Orozco. Utilitarian items such as tools and kitchen supplies often appeal to buyers. If having the sale in your home isn’t realistic—say, because you’ve sold the home and are in a rush to remove the items—look for a company that will take away the goods to sell them.
You can look for an estate liquidator at www.aselonline.com and www.estatesales.net, or ask for referrals from a professional organizer or real estate agent. Select at least three companies to invite for a walk-through of your home, and ask about credentials and training (such as for appraisals) and any required licensing in your area, as well as for references.
Check with the Better Business Bureau as well as consumer review sites such as Angie’s List for a history of serious complaints. Ask whether there are additional fees beyond the standard cut, such as for advertising, cleanup or appraisal. If you have time, attend a sale to see how a liquidator runs the show. And plan not to be at home during the sale, lest you cringe at the sight of strangers rummaging through your stuff.
The auction option. The estate-sale company might send valuable unsold items to auction, especially if they’re likely to be more popular in a different region. Or you can send them to auction yourself.
Auctions come with both the potential upside of a higher price than expected and the possible downside of a disappointingly low price. Often an auction service comes to your home and takes items to a gallery to sell along with other goods. If you have enough high-value items, an auctioneer may have an off-site sale exclusively of your items or host an auction at your residence (especially if you are selling the house along with all of its contents). As with an estate sale, you’ll likely need several thousand dollars’ worth of items to justify a sale from your home.
The fee to sell at auction varies depending on where you are and how the sale is conducted. Generally, the higher the value of items being sold, the lower the commission, says Tim Luke, an auctioneer and valuation expert with TreasureQuest Group. Commissions that auctioneers charge commonly range from 10% to 25% of the “hammer price” but may be as high as 50%. Plus, there may be fees for transportation, storage or marketing.
Ask for referrals to a good auction service, or comb local listings. At www.auctioneers.org, you can search for an auctioneer by location, specialty and professional designation. A Graduate Personal Property Appraiser has completed classwork to conduct appraisals and keeps up to date with continuing education; a Master Personal Property Appraiser has had more-advanced training. Interview several candidates, check reviews and licensing, and compare fees. Once you’ve chosen a service, a representative will outline the structure of the sale with you. If you can’t stand to see certain items sell for less than a minimum price, they can be sold with a “reserve price”—if they don’t capture a specified minimum bid, they don’t sell.
To get a sense of potential moneymakers you may have on hand, search the listings of sold items on eBay. Click on “Advanced” in the upper-right corner at www.ebay.com and enter keywords such as the brand name and type of item. Check the box for “Sold listings” and click “Search” to find final selling prices. They’ll help you decide whether an item is worth posting and what price you might expect to capture.
EBay takes a 10% cut of your sale (unless you have an eBay Store), and PayPal takes 2.9% plus 30 cents per domestic transaction (up to $3,000 a month) to process payments. Plus, you’ll want to estimate how much to charge a buyer for shipping. You can use tools on the Web sites of the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx to estimate shipping prices.
Posting and selling household goods on Craigslist is free, but you’re limiting your audience to locals. Lower-value goods and bulky ones that you’d rather not ship are good candidates for Craigslist because buyers can come to you to pick them up. Holding a yard sale may also be worthwhile for unloading those items.
Consignment shops are a brick-and-mortar alternative for selling high-quality furniture, antiques, clothing and other items. Typically, a shop will display your goods on the floor for 30 to 90 days, and it may discount the asking price as time passes. Stores take a cut of about half of the price of anything that sells, but you won’t have to put in the effort of trying to peddle it yourself. Call local shops to ask about their policies as well as what types of items tend to sell well and which aren’t worth the effort.
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