Appraising – The Business of Things

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by Barbara Pickett, MCA 

At first glance, the occupation of an appraiser or estate sale facilitator appears cut and dried. The appraiser takes a scientific inventory, researches values, compiles a report and submits it to the client. In an estate sale, the terms are agreed on, items are prepared for sale, sold in an appropriate manner and the monies disbursed. However, there is a dimension to this work, which even professionals in the antique and collectible field do not consider, that emerges when dealing with individuals, families and groups of people who are going through an emotionally difficult and often-stressful life passage.

There are many reasons for seeking out an appraiser or estate sale facilitator that may include: facing the recent or impending death of a loved one, coming to terms with one’s own mortality and needing to tend to personal belongings, a move into an assisted living facility, dealing with the loss of a home after a severe financial reversal or simply a need to convert household belongings into cash.

The reasons one decides to become an appraiser or estate sale facilitator are also many. Some find it enables them to fulfill a desire to help people or they may have had a negative experience with their own family and choose to support others in the decision-making processes so they will avoid similar pitfalls. There are those individuals who come from trained religious, psychology or law enforcement backgrounds and who wish to see clients treated fairly after becoming familiar with the market. Others enter the profession simply because they envision the potential profit.

The connecting links between the individuals and professionals in this business are things. Personal belongings, furniture, artwork or special collections are the things that the client needs valued, distributed or sold. They are also the things for which the professionals train themselves—through their acquired knowledge, training and skill—to be of service.

The accumulation of things may be deliberate or happenstance. When we are younger, the ownership of certain things appears to signify success so we attempt to cultivate a particular lifestyle and then collect things that reflect success in this chosen lifestyle. We are all given things as gifts that seem “too special” for every day and end up stored in the back of the closet waiting for a suitable occasion. Or, we may develop an interest in art, period furniture, toys, figurines, musical instruments or other types of items that have historic or personal importance to us and we begin collecting things connected to this interest.

Correspondingly, we may choose to surround ourselves with material things in an effort to alleviate loneliness, elevate feelings of self-worth, remind us of people or events, or to serve a specific purpose. Often we are unable to dispose of the item after this purpose is accomplished “just in case” we need it again. Countless numbers of us have lived through periods of material or financial need and we feel comforted when surrounded by things.

The recurring theme here is that the connections people hold to physical things are emotional and irrational. These things are no longer objects but receptacles overflowing with feelings of happiness or a reminder of a special time in their lives, such as love that was bestowed upon them or the triumph in an embittered rivalry. Being forced to dispose of these things causes anxiety, dredges up old hurts and may trigger surprising and unexpected behavior.

Over time, appraisers or estate sale facilitators devise their own means for handling the various client situations that arise. It may be as simple as lending a shoulder to cry on for a faceless voice sobbing on the other end of the telephone line. Some of us see the various needs our clients have and compile a referral list of attorneys, real estate agents, psychologists, animal adoption groups or medical and religious aid organizations. And, of course, there are those who choose not to get involved in the interpersonal details, preferring to carry out a clean, professional business transaction. Whatever methods are chosen, as long as the client is treated as fairly as possible under the prevailing circumstances, one is free to take the path best suited to his or her individual temperament.

Legacy is another quality with which things are imbued. Personal legacy is the foremost reason for accumulating things along with family, social, cultural and historic legacy. Many envision themselves as caretakers of the past, preserving a precious thing, idea or event for future generations. A significant document or unique invention may be rescued from the dust bin, finding a safe haven until the one who will best appreciate it can be located.

Many of our clients leave us—by means of their things—with legacies that include strength of spirit, courage to face our mortality, a deeper appreciation of life, a desire to preserve part of the past for future generations and an appreciation of things as more than what they appear to be.

The legacies that appraisers and estate sale facilitators can hope to leave behind when helping our clients value or dispose of their things are compassion, trust and the alleviation of some degree of suffering for those we came into contact with as they navigated through a difficult life passage.

Barbara Pickett has been a Certified Appraiser for 20 years. She trained at the College for Appraisers. She performs written and verbal appraisals and manages estate sales. She does verbal valuations at events such as the Pasadena Rose Bowl Flea Market and also speaks at local events. Her website has lots of info: and she can be reached at This article originally appeared elsewhere and this edited version is printed with permission of the publisher.

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