Hidden (and not so hidden) Treasures

A Lalique rose bowl, a set of embroidered hand towels, picture frames, ladies’ shoes in a size 7 narrow, a vintage fur coat, sterling silver, an original oil painting, bric-a-brac, tools, glassware, antique salt cellars, a 17th-century secretary, a comfy sofa, a lawn mower, bed linens, lamps, books, fine and costume jewelry, a bicycle, kitchen appliances, children’s clothes, dishware, Oriental rugs and more books. These are just a few of the items one can happen upon at an estate sale. Every weekend, avid estate sale-goers scavenge the local papers, forage the Internet and haunt the streets in search of hidden treasures to be unearthed at these popular events. I myself have been known to U-turn in the middle of a busy intersection upon spying a yard sign pointing the way to an estate sale. There is just something about the endless possibilities an estate sale holds. What could they have that I might need? What bargains would I miss out on if I were to drive by without stopping? My car invariably finds its way to the curb, and I rush to the door, eager to see what treasures await.

The women in this article have built strong reputations in San Antonio and the surrounding areas when it comes to estate sales. Their vast knowledge of residential content, antiques and fine art, plus their empathetic natures, have taken them to the top in their field and provide San Antonio with a much-needed service from which many can benefit.

Joy Curnutt and Peggy Calhoun
Professional Estate Sales, LLC

Joy Curnutt and Peggy Calhoun are more than just sisters; they are partners who share a passion for business, a love of fine things and a heart for people. “Even though we are very much alike, we are very different, too,” Joy says. “We have different strengths. We complement each other.” The new kids on the block, as they refer to themselves, held their first estate sale in 2006 and never looked back. According to the sisters, the key to their success mirrors their company name: professionalism. “We saw a need for outstanding customer service in the estate sales business, so we made the decision to open an office and have a very professional business,” says Peggy proudly. “We put together a team of individuals, such as Maryanne Leeper, who were very knowledgeable in all aspects of this business from Scrivener’s, Bering’s, Frost Bros., and others who know the prices of items and have knowledge of collectibles, antiques, Texas primitives, books, jewelry. We brought on board a variety of people to support what we wanted to do because we felt that no one person in an estate sale company knows everything.” With over 15 members available to assist them as needed, Joy and Peggy have quickly earned a reputation as one of the top estate sales companies in the business, and they are not slowing down. “Our philosophy is that every sale is different and unique,” says Joy. “A sale is really a museum of someone’s life. We are respectful of that. We consider ourselves the professional company with compassion.” Extending that compassion to those in need is an aspect of their business that Joy and Peggy take great pride in. “Not everyone has antiques, fine art, sterling and china,” states Joy. “It’s about what a person needs and how we can assist them. We‘ve done sales when the bottom line wasn’t profitable, but we felt good about it because we helped someone.” In the end, the sisters agree, it’s all about customer service. “Our goal is that our customers are very satisfied. With happy customers, referrals come, and referrals build your business,” they say.

Apparently so, as Professional Estate Sales conducted 41 estate sales in 2010 alone. “We average about one sale per week. Besides referrals, we get much of our business from our website and the Internet,” says Peggy. As the sisters’ previous business was an online company, this was a natural progression into the estate sales business. “The Internet is everything! All of our employees have laptops so that we can quickly and easily research things as needed. This is just another aspect of the professionalism we want to portray.” Peggy also writes a weekly newsletter that goes out to over 7,000 recipients with information and pictures of upcoming sales items. Joy and Peggy stress the importance of professionalism in the actual sale. “We do sales of all sizes,” Joy says. “When you have a great-looking sale and everything is organized, you are doing a better job for your client. We price to sell the first day. The more we sell on the first day, the better.” And according to Peggy, “We want the sale to be efficient. We wear uniforms during our sales so that we are easily identifiable and limit the number of people in the house at one time. Most sales last three days, typically Thursday through Saturday, although this can differ according to the needs of the client. “Everyone’s needs are different, and we really try to go in and identify exactly what their needs are,” says Peggy. ”If they are moving or downsizing, we can help them with their new floor plan and deciding what to take. We can pack up their things and get them moved if that is what they need. We are a full-service business. We try to customize each sale for that individual liquidation.” Joy reiterates, “It’s really about guiding and directing.”

For many seeking the services of an estate sale company, the compassion that Joy and Peggy promise is key. “We do a lot of hand-holding and really try to walk the family through the process,” Peggy says. “When people have had a loss in their life, sometimes they are so emotional they can’t make decisions. They absolutely do not know what to do. And there have been times when we have said, ‘It’s too soon. You aren’t ready. Call us in six months. We will be here when you are ready.’” When the sale is over, and the last trinket sold or donated, Joy and Peggy promise their clients three things: a clean and completely empty home, a check and a tax receipt for all donated items. Though they will set up the final donation to the client’s charity of choice, Joy and Peggy are great supporters of the Assistance League of San Antonio. “They have many worthy projects,” Joy says. One special project is Operation Schoolbell, which provides clothing to needy children in San Antonio. “The Assistance League told us that since we have been assisting them, they have been able to clothe over 1,000 more children in San Antonio. We are very proud of that.”

Joy and Peggy are members of the Better Business Bureau, the American Society of Estate Liquidators and the Alamo Heights Chamber of Commerce.

Marcia Harris, ISA AM
Marcia Harris Antiques & Estate Sales, LLC

For Marcia Harris, the estate sale business was a blessing that came later in life. “Many people, as they get older, just sort of retire and don’t do a lot. I didn’t want that to be me,” she recalls. After her husband’s death in 1988, Marcia spent five years traveling the world and indulging her love of antiques and fine art. “Finally, I came home from a trip, and said to myself, ‘You can’t be on a trip the rest of your life, so what are you going to do with yourself?’”
With a 30-year background in art and interior decorating and a wealth of knowledge from her travels, she found the antique business a natural choice. In 1993, Marcia opened Marcia Harris Antiques in Antique Connection, a flourishing antique business that eventually led her to expand her business into estate sales in 1999. “I saw a need and knew that I could meet that need,” she explains. “Doing estate sales really takes in every aspect of every job, volunteer or professional, that I’ve ever done.” In 2006, Marcia studied with the International Society of Appraisers and earned her credentials as an accredited member with a specialty in antiques and residential content. Known for her compassionate nature and knowledge of antiques, Marcia has flourished in the estate sale business, on which she now focuses full time. “Because of the different work experiences and volunteer experiences I have had, I am well equipped to do what I do. An estate sale is most often an opportunity to help people through a very difficult time,” she says.

Though she appreciates the fluff money she makes doing estate sales, Marcia’s true reward comes from helping people: “I work because I love to work. I come from a volunteer life, and this is an opportunity to help people through a very difficult time. I care. I want to do something to make a difference in people’s lives and to make it easy for them. As estate sales are often the final chapter in the life of a loved one, they can be traumatic and difficult for family members who must part with a relative’s possessions while dealing with their own grief. “My No. 1 priority is the client’s comfort. What are they telling me? What are their needs? I tell people if they are in doubt about selling anything, don’t sell it. I’ll be happy to take it in on consignment at a later date, but I can’t get things back once they sell, so be certain.”

Marcia’s desire to help make the family’s transition as easy as possible is what she believes sets her apart in this business. “I’m a straight shooter. I only want to be hired if the family is very happy with me,” she says. Of course, not all estate sales are due to a death in the family. People downsize or move out of a city. Divorce is a also a situation where assets may need to be divided or liquidated. No matter what the reason behind an estate sale, they are often quite stressful on those involved. “I don’t want the family to be any more stressed out than they already are. I try to make the transition and the process as easy as possible. Hopefully, that is what comes across,” she says.

Preferring to stay small, Marcia relies on a handful of loyal associates. ”I have a great crew that I work with,” she states proudly. “Most are older; the youngest is 54, and the oldest is 78, and they have all been with me for years.” She can’t accept all the work she is offered, limiting her sales to one or two per month, and doing 10 to 12 estate appraisals per year. Marcia prides herself on being involved in every aspect of a sale, pricing all items, staging the house, working each sale, and personally going through every sales check, which can number from 400 to 800 per sale. All sales checks are accounted for, and clients are paid within two weeks of a sale. Security is also a No. 1 priority for Marcia. A security table is set up for small and better items, including sterling, collectibles and jewelry. Only after a paid receipt is shown are items released to the buyer. She says, “I limit the number of people in the house at one time, as well as having two or three security people spread throughout the house.”

At 73, Marcia continues to be one of the most popular appraisers in the business. Although she no longer advertises her services and all referrals are word-of-mouth, her 20-year reputation in the community keeps her busy with more work than she can handle. She says, “I look at this as a gift and a blessing to be able to do this at my age and have the energy to do it. Estate sales meet a great need in the community, and I’m proud of what I do.”

June Hayes, ISA AM
June Hayes and Associates

With more than 15 years of experience in the appraisal and estate sales business, June Hayes is one of only four ISA-accredited appraisers based in South Texas. Her previous career as an antiques art dealer, as well as extensive travel abroad throughout her life as a military wife, have garnered her extensive knowledge in antiques and fine art and given her a unique advantage in a business that requires knowledge on so many levels. “When you are appraising, people often ask if you conduct estate sales, so it dovetails very nicely,” June states. Over the past decade, estate sales have become one of the most popular weekend pastimes, as well as a vital service in communities all over Texas. “Estate sales are popular because you never know what you are going to find. You may find something very minor that you have been searching for, or you may find a treasure,” June says.

“Estate sales are a wonderful way to recycle things. The beautiful things in the home are finding additional worth because they are now giving someone else pleasure. Whether giving a young couple a fresh start, a college student a nicer apartment than they thought they could afford, or an avid collector finding that perfect addition to their collection, estate sales offer something for everyone. “You will find things from one dollar to thousands of dollars,” June says. ”We try to price so that things appeal to a broad spectrum of the community. Of course, everyone wants the lowest price they can get, but our obligation is to get the best price we can for the family.” According to June, estate sale fair market value falls somewhere between the wholesale and retail price. “It’s a lower price than you would find in a store, even a discount store, in most cases. That’s why people love estate sales. They know they are getting a good deal,” she explains. One of the most important aspects of an estate sale company, stresses June, is an emphasis on principled practices. “We are a team of honest and experienced people who are working in a person’s home. We are extremely honest and ethical,” she states emphatically. “This is imperative when you are given the responsibility for caring for other people’s possessions and for representing the closing of a chapter when someone in the family dies. We are especially experienced in presenting their loved ones’ possessions in a dignified manner. We have found money, traveler’s checks that have never been filled in, major jewelry and many other valuable items that the family didn‘t know about. We turn in every single thing we find. This can be a very confusing and stressful time for a family, and having someone in the home that is trustworthy is essential. These are possessions that many times mothers and fathers have worked 50 or 60 years to accumulate. That must be respected.”

These principled practices extend throughout every aspect of June’s business. “We don’t have a company that is also an antique shop, so there is no conflict of interest,” she notes. “We are very professionally run. We write receipts for every single sale. We can verify our deposits with our receipts. We don’t mind the family being on site during the sale. There are companies out there who will not take a sale if someone is living in the home or if one of the family members wants to be on site during the sale. I don’t agree with that. It’s their home, after all. It’s their possessions. This is one thing that sets us apart.” Though many sales follow a similar format, June insists that each sale is unique. “Each situation is different so you can’t have a cookie cutter plan ahead of time. Each situation is important to that family, whether it is a large sale or a small sale, or simply selling a few things for them. We also advertise extensively so we get good results for our families. I have people who go in and only research books, art, jewelry. Estate sales may not be the answer for every item, and I have numerous resources all over America to sell things in whatever venue is appropriate,” she points out.

According to June, some of the most popular items at an estate sale are jewelry, clothing, kitchen items, books and records. For men, it’s the tools in the garage!

June‘s tips for choosing the right estate sales company for you:

1. Hire a reputable company with a proven track record and references.

2. Don’t wait until the last minute to contact a company.

3. Don’t let the lowest commission structure be a deciding factor in the selection of the company.

4. Find a company that will quote you a commission, and that’s it. Other expenses should be absorbed on the company’s side.

5. Make sure the company you choose has a written, well-thought-out contract that will protect both parties.

Most important tip: Don’t throw away anything other than the obvious trash. Let the company decide what should be thrown away. Families often clean out drawers and cabinets before calling a company. They think estate sales are just for furniture. It‘s all the little things that add up for the bread and butter!

Anne Alexander

Like fine wine and cheese, appraisals go hand and hand with estate sales, and no one knows this better than Anne Alexander. With over 26 years in the business, Anne is one of the most sought-after and well-respected appraisers in South Texas. She is a member of the International Society of Appraisers and is certified in the appraisal of antiques and residential content — the only certified appraiser in South Texas. Anne’s vast knowledge of fine arts and antiques takes her to all parts of South Texas, including Kerrville, Austin, Uvalde and Del Rio, as well as San Antonio, for appraisal jobs. “My true love is fine art,” she says. “I appraise lots of fine art and donations to museums all over the state. And often I do appraisals just because people are curious to know what their collection or painting is worth.” Her latest job: a 1,000-piece collection of folk art being donated to the McAllen Museum in McAllen, Texas.

Recognized by the Chubb Insurance Company as a preferred provider, Anne appraises many taxable estates for tax purposes, equitable division and insurance, and also does donation appraisals for people who are giving art to museums for tax deductions. “Many of these appraisals go directly to the IRS arts review panel,” she notes. “Donors as well as attorneys and bank trust departments want someone with the most credentials they can find and lots of experience.”

Not only is Anne exceptional at her job, she enjoys it: “It’s all very interesting; part detective, part connoisseur. My curiosity keeps me going. I never know what the next phone call will bring!”

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