Tell me you didn't...

Updated: May 23, 2020

Show of hands, or mouse clicks…. how many of you have reorganized the house twice already? The refrigerator has never been more organized. Did you make it a “family fun” event, to clean out the garage, basement or attic? For my Arizona followers, an attic is usable space in most parts of the world, not an oven, and a basement is a hole in the ground under your house. You can keep things there too. Okay, I will blog on….

If there is one thing that makes me cringe, it’s when I visit a home to assess the value of the personal property in an Estate and the homeowner says, “I had a dumpster come in before you got here and threw away all of the junk.” It’s almost inevitable that someone in the family tossed out something of value. I get it too. You can’t know everything. No one does. But getting a professional opinion can save you from finding out the hard way. I tell anyone that will listen, “Don’t throw anything away until you have a professional examine it.” Even if it’s just a quick estate walk thru. Many experts out there will do this service for free or just a small fee.

One of my favorite stories to illustrate this point goes back many years, when I was called to a home to look at a deceased uncle’s coin collection in Quakertown, PA. I sat at the kitchen table with the husband and wife, took a few minutes to review the set, and came up with a value of approximately $1,000. They didn’t seem surprised or excited by its value and thanked me.

While still seated, the husband went to fetch a bayonet to show me and the wife went to get a glass of water. As I waited, I glanced at the waste paper basket at my feet and noticed a stack of old postcards and hunting licenses in the garbage. Resisting temptation to dig in the trash, I politely asked if I could go through the trash upon the wife’s return. She looked puzzled, but agreed. I was like a kid in a candy store. There were vintage Halloween postcards and old Pennsylvania hunting licenses.

“You have quite a fine little ephemera collection here. What are you going to do with these?” I asked. They looked at me like I was nuts. I then told them that their little pile was worth more than the coin collection. Now I had their attention. I asked if I could auction the hunting licenses and postcards for them. Of course the answer was “Sure!”

Well, they were quite pleased with the results. The hunting licenses realized more than $3,000 with one selling for $950 alone. The postcards brought close to $2,000. I remember finding them more than $5,000 for the contents of the trash can. I think that was worth my trip charge.

Now I must be honest. These were very rare and fine examples, and not all hunting licenses and postcards have significant value, but it illustrates my point well. After their sale, I learned that they tossed their uncle’s old books, car manuals, old tractor catalogs, and more. I shudder to think what the value was of what was now in the Bucks County Landfill. I didn’t dwell on it or tell them, but I think they had a clue from my line of questions.

Recently in Phoenix, almost the same story. The garbage can in the office of a Doctors Estate was filled with “the junk from the drawers” that no one would want. I estimate over $10,000 was found in the trash and donation piles on that job. I also knew from the look on the executors faces, when I pulled things from the trash, tons of other similar goodies had been tossed. They had been working on the clean out for weeks before I was called in.

Again, I just believe this is all to common for many reasons. One, people just don’t know everything. Two, they are perhaps dealing with the death of a loved one or moving, both super stressful. No one thinks clearly in these situations. Throw in time constraints, etc. And last, three. Sometimes it’s just “real estate blindness” as I call it. That’s where you don’t see the value in other people’s “junk” and only see real estate dollar signs. I am sure in a lot of cases, it’s a combination of the 3.