Monday, October 25, 2010

The things ya learn...

I know that in our appraisal class last April in Paducah they said to be prepared for some unusual experiences...I think I may have a good teaching point for them next year.

A few days ago I got a call from a woman who does estate clear-outs. In the past I have looked at a few things for her customers but so far nothing has really warranted an appraisal (value less than $200.) She had a customer who had a "lot" of textiles and quilts and wanted a specialist to evaluate them. She told me two things that I later appreciated - consider charging by the hour and remember that the executor is the decision maker.

I will not go into specifics but picture this: a large two story house full of stuff, a sister and two brothers who barely speak to one another, and quilts and textiles in every corner of every-room. When I arrived I asked the sister/executor what she wanted appraised and why she wanted an appraisal. She wanted all of the textiles "looked at" to see if they were "worth anything" because her brother was convinced they were valuable and didn't trust the folks handling the estate sale. "So let me get this straight," I asked, "you want me to go through the entire house, find textiles and provide a valuation on each of them?" "Yes," she said, "and if you could fold them and put them into one of the bedrooms that would help us when we make out decisions this afternoon on what each of us is going to keep."

This was not an appraisal situation this was more like a textile version of the TV show "Picker." Just then the two brothers arrived. I knew I was in trouble when the first one through the door asked, "don't women pay lots of money just to look at quilts? So why would we have to pay you?"

My proposal to them was that I would charge a flat hourly fee to locate the quilts and quilt related items. I would tag the items and put a suggested sell price on the items. If I found an item worth more than $200. then I would put them in a separate area and we could discuss them before I left. The sister/executor agreed...the brothers grumbled and rolled their eyes a bit.

It only took the brothers a minute to realize that if I had to do the digging then it would take longer and be more expensive...that lit a fire under them! I ended up standing in one room while these guys ran around the house dragging anything made of fabric or related to sewing back to me. Total insanity!
All I can say is they got their money's worth...In three hours I must have valued almost two-hundred items....If I saw one wedding ring quilt I saw 10 (I began to wonder if maybe they were bringing the same quilts back to me as a test?! And with every quilt Brother #1 would say "I think this is from the Civil War.") At the end of the day there was one small singer child's sewing machine still in the box, two Featherweight's in good condition, a pineapple applique quilt circa 1850, and a large box of early printed feedsack in perfect condition in the "valuable" stack.

My brain feels like mush, my legs are exhausted, and I am covered in dust. So what did I learn (this blog is supposed to be both adventures and learning after all....)

1. Be confident about putting a value on what you know. I'm fine with helping out a friend or fellow quilter if they have a question on buying a quilt at a show or if they want help dating a quilt they inherited. However when people call with the express purpose of hiring me to do an appraisal and then try to get my knowledge for free...that isn't cool.

I briefly considered walking away from the whole thing. What kept me? There is that curiosity factor. Maybe there would be something interesting. Also, it was 0630 in the morning (did I leave that out of the story...they wanted to start at sunrise! I gave up sunrises when I got out of the army.) I already lost a good morning sleep to be at this house so darn it I wanted to get something out of it!

2. Taking the time to be very specific with the client up front on what they expect and what I can provide is crucial. Do not assume that everyone understands what an appraiser does. These folks saw the clear-out crew and an appraiser in the same light! In the end they walked away happy - there were some items "worth" money and the brother got a "civil war era" quilt (even if it wasn't the red, white and blue polyester one that he really loved....)

ps...they did give me permission to use this story as a teaching point however they did not allow me to take photos. The photo at the top of this post is a quilt in my own collection and the sewing machine is a similar one to the one in the story.


  1. Sio, it sounds to me like you handled this well from the start or you could have been there for days. By charging per hour they wanted to help your job move right along. With all your quilt knowledge, it seems like the perfect path and I think you'll make a great appraiser!

  2. Wow, what an adventure and sounds like great practice. I hope you mean they wouldn't let you post photos- not that they wouldn't let you take photos for your records. That should always be a dealbreaker so you can document what you saw and what was and wasn't worthy of appraisal.
    Take care.

  3. It's a challenge to earn respect for your expertise, and it looks like your careful deal making at the start worked in your favour. Well done!