The Buy, the Sell, the Public
So Much to Learn, So Much to Teach
By Edward Lewand
So as a dealer you go out to a call on an estate to purchase jewelry, china, etc. The family is there, the daughter, son and the mother. Just your luck one of them is wearing a t-shirt from one of those “reality” shows on buying and selling their jewelry and antiques. The first words out of their mouths is they’ve checked on line with all those research sites for prices and have been watching all those shows and they called you to make offers. You are the third dealer to come out and the last two mentioned prices too low based on their research. You politely try to explain how the industry works, and of course, you ask what they are looking for and what did the other dealers offer. They also mention they had several auction companies out too, you look at everything.
You brought a friend who is a dealer who weighs the jewelry and looks at the stones, etc. You look at the furniture, the glass, china and other small objects. You make notes, adding a little something to items so you can have more room to make up for other items. You check against your catalogs and pricing guides and no matter how you do it you can’t come up with a price that would allow you to purchase the pieces so you can make a reasonable profit.
Even though I am a jewelry appraiser (I come from a family of antique dealers) most of the concepts are the same in the buy and sell. It does not matter how honest you are and how much you try to educate the client, you won’t be able to buy a thing. This has become more common than in the past. The shows on TV show you a person coming in with a rare piece that can be worth a small fortune. They call in a specialist who says the item is worth $5,000 (no mention in which market the item is worth $5,000, whether retail or to sell, etc.) The customer’s face lights up and the dealer turns and says “I’ll do $500” and gives a number of reasons why. The customer then says “but you just said it was worth $5,000” and then the dealer says “yes, but I have to wait for a customer to come in to buy it and it is a difficult sale.” Two minutes ago it was rare and very hot. So logic would be to run after the other guy who said it was worth $5,000 and have him sell it cause he knows the market? But NO! The client agrees to sell it for $800 and walks out. So it is no wonder the customer today is so confused. This is a common practice on every TV show the public sees. They sit there and say to themselves, why did the guy not run after the other guy and then say to themselves, I won’t let that happen to me.
The public doesn’t understand what happens with the dealer. The dealer has to lay out the cash. He has to store the items and inventory them. Then it might be years before the items are sold or the dealer might have to wholesale them out to other dealers and then might just break even.
What can you do? First try to explain to the client how the business works. They really don’t care, but it shows you do. Next you explain how auctions work with fees, etc. Then you tell them to look at eBay and the time involved and some fees and the work to do and sell on eBay (I know my wife does it and she spends most mornings, packing boxes, printing labels, running to the post office and answering questions and emails.) I think it works out for about $2 an hour for all her time. Now when it comes to jewelry this suggestion has worked, and I know there are fine art and household appraisers that also offer the same services too. I have received calls from private clients that a dealer suggested they have the jewelry appraised or valued for sale by an independent person, so they have a basis for the value and learn how the market works. There are certified appraisers in every discipline.
What do appraisers do? They look at the items, photograph them, check the markets and research their network of dealers. They get real offers on the items for either cash sale or auction depending on what the items warrants. I do most of this while I am sitting with the client. Some appraisers prepare a letter and a list while other might only feel comfortable preparing a formal report. It does not matter how the appraiser might do it, the point is an independent person who has no interest in the items gave the insight to the market and showed prices that are realistic.
This might not always work but it does add credibility to what you do. The point is all these TV shows and marketing does help the public by making them aware of the markets and that they should check and it helps the honest dealer. The fact is they hurt the dealer by not educating the public correctly; but at the same time they can give the dealer a good opening.