Florida - Not that many years ago, there were very few people conducting estate sales in North America. For the most part, estate sales (or tag-sales, as they're commonly referred to in the UK), had almost always been the domain of the English and Europeans. A common practice of disposing of one's finer goods and chattels when an auctioneer either wasn't required, or one didn't have the requisite volume of goods to necessitate the auctioneer's services.
Fast-forward a decade or so, and today estate sale agents and representatives have literally become the go-to service for many aging North Americans wishing to downsize and liquidate their personal property collection. However, in the race to one-up the liquidation offerings provided by garage sales, and smaller auction companies, many estate sale agents and companies have become trapped in a dilemma of their own making.
As more and more baby-boomers seek the services of estate sale agents, their requirements for professional appraisal credentials from these agents has also risen, making the days of operating an estate sale business with little or no decorative arts knowledge, somewhat problematic in today's marketplace. Nancy Johnston, an Asheford graduate who operates an estate sale services business in Raleigh, North Carolina, summed it up best by saying, "Fifteen years ago when I started out, no one asked me about my appraisal qualifications when I advertised estate sale services - nobody cared - today, that's all they ask me about."
For many, the main shift of focus in this industry, from glorified garage-sale to professional service, has been the change in the quality of goods being presented. "Most of the baby boomers who contact me today," said Johnston, "want me to prove that I can evaluate their antiques, collectibles and vintage items correctly... that's their first requirement before they even consider hiring me."
Nickolas Brown, another estate sale agent from the bay area in San Francisco, echoed Ms. Johnston's sentiment, and said that he'd watched people come and go in recent years as many tried to jump on the estate sale bandwagon without any formal training in the decorative arts or appraisal field. "If I didn't already have the knowledge of antiques and collectibles from my family antiques business, I'd be out of the estate sale business," said Brown. "Clients now want credentials - they want to see some kind of professional certification before I even walk in the door... it's all just part of the changing landscape," quipped Brown.
Many within the estate sale liquidation business recognize the need for change. "There's a huge divide," said Sally Walker, a certified appraiser who represents a number of estate sale companies in the northeast. "I get a lot of my business from liquidators who are simply over their head when it comes to providing accurate evaluations - but they still won't turn down the job." Walker went on to say that even though she's glad to be of service, she still thinks there needs to be some form of standardization in the industry when it comes to evaluation techniques and procedures.
While there is no specific formal qualification standard on the horizon just yet for estate sale liquidators, most in the industry feel that the personal-property appraisal designation issued by professional societies, and internationally recognized schools such as Asheford, would be more than sufficient to cover the knowledge base required by those in the estate sale business. However, as Ms. Walker pointed out, "Showing them the way is one thing - getting them to sign onto a regulatory code of professional conduct is another..."
- AIA Staff Writers
*NOTE: For those looking for more information on why product knowledge and appraising credentials are so important in today's estate sale marketplace, we recommend that individuals visit the Institute's page on Conducting Estate Sales as an Asheford graduate, in order to fully understand the benefits behind professional-level credentialing within this field of endeavor.
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