There comes a day when that perfect vintage table, antique vase or retro lamp is no longer the most important thing in your life, and you decide to sell it. But with all of your good intentions, you quickly discover that while it's easy to buy, it can take a bit more time and effort to sell. Don't despair, there are plenty of resources to help you reclaim your space, fatten your savings account, and make another collector very happy.
Begin by Identifying Your Antiques
Collectors have been pursuing their passions for centuries and while the Internet has made the world a marketplace, there are still a few basic ways to successfully sell your antiques and collectibles. First, you need to determine exactly what you have. If you don't recognize what you have, contact LoveToKnow's site What's It Worth? and upload a photo. It's free, and the experts will help identify an item.
Selling Through Second Parties
Many people don't want to do the footwork to sell their antiques and so will sell through auctions, consignment shops, antique shops, or estate sales that utilize the experience of other experts in antiques and/or sales techniques.
An in-house auction is where you consign an item to a sale, and bidders purchase it, then and there. Auctions come in all styles, from formal, high-value "rooms" to specialty auctions and local auction houses.
You can contact auction houses to see if they are interested in your items. An email with photos works best: if the auctions are interested, they may request additional information. Make certain you have sales receipts, photographs, old letters, wills: anything that might help trace the history of an older item (known as the provenance.) Just a few specialty houses to start with include the following.
- Sotheby's and Christie's have been selling high-end antiques for centuries. Check with them if you have items that have been identified as rare or unique. Furniture, fine silver, jewelry, art, and textiles turn up at their frequent auctions.
- Heritage bills itself as the world's largest collectibles auction. They sell comics, ephemera (baseball cards), movie posters, coins, books, and other items. Visit their hall of fame which includes record sales.
- Swann Auction Galleries sells posters, books, fine art, maps, and other paper items. If you have a large, fine quality paper collection, contact them to see if they are interested in listing it.
- Skinner Auctions is known for textiles and folk art sales, among other items.
- Theriault's has one specialty: rare and exquisite dolls and associated items.
Check with your Better Business Bureau or Secretary of State's office to make certain you are working with an auction that is registered, legal, and deals fairly with clients.
Remember to read your newspaper for local auctions announcements: these will tell you about firms that have upcoming sales. Try to spend a day at an auction and get an idea of what the auction specializes in and what items are currently selling for to the public. You can also check the Maine Antique Digest or AntiqueWeek for listings of upcoming auctions in the U.S. and beyond; both are subscription based.
Ask the auction house if you can set a reserve price. If your item is appraised at $5,000, you could set a reserve price of $3,000, meaning that the bidding has to reach that amount before a sale takes place. You will need to obtain a contract with the auction house and make certain you know when and how you will be paid.
Auction houses usually charge the seller by taking a percentage of the sale. That may be in the form of a flat amount (20% of the total sale) or on a sliding scale based on the realized amount (for example, 20% for up to $5,000 and 10% after that.) Ask how the auction house advertises sales, since you want as many people as possible to hear about your items. In rare cases like important art or collections, you might be required to pay for a catalog and the cost is then deducted from your earnings.
Expectations for Success
Auctioneers work very hard to get you (and them) the best price, but if the buyers don't want to pay much, there's little you can do. On the other hand, records have been set over and over again for everything from comic books to carnival glass. With auctions, there's really no telling what you might realize in a sale.
There are antique shops in just about every community, and while it seems logical that you should sell antiques and collectibles to people who make a living selling them, but there are things to consider before you choose that.
- Visit the shop first, and look at the stock: if they sell only glass, they probably won't buy your chair.
- Check the prices. Higher end shops may pay your more for your antique or collectible than a shop that looks like it doesn't sell anything for more than $25.
- Before you bring in something to sell, chat with the manager or owner and see if they are interested in buying. Don't take rejection personally: dealers have money tied up in stock, and it's not always possible for them to purchase on a moment's notice.
- Get a detailed receipt of the sale.
Antiques dealers are in business and are paying rent, utilities, salaries and so on. While they should pay you a fair price for your antique, that might mean less than 50% of the piece's value, so knowing what you have is a necessity.
You should not be charged a fee if you sell directly to a dealer or shop.
Expectations for Success
Negotiating skills will be handy here. If you have done your homework, then you have an idea of what your item is worth but you may be offered an amount much lower than you expected. Courtesy and professionalism are important, on both the buyer's and seller's sides: if you cannot come to an agreement, politely end the negotiations.
At a consignment shop, you place an item for sale, the shop does the work and then takes a percentage. Consignment shops can be low or high priced and usually offer a mix of old and new. Sometimes they benefit charities, so you are doing good, as well as making money.
- Stop in and meet with the manager to see what the shop specializes in, how long they keep your item on the floor, and when or if they reduce the price over time.
- Complete a consignment form.
- Make sure you know if you are expected to bring large items to the shop, or if the shop can arrange for pick-up.
Consignment shops come in many forms, from local groups to designer resale, and you may realize anything from 30% - 70% (in general, the more expensive the piece, the higher your percentage, usually figured on a sliding scale). The agreement should be spelled out in print or online, as in an example from Sawyer Antique Mall.
The shop takes a percentage of the selling price. In the case of clothing or other textiles, the items have to be cleaned and ready to sell, so that might cost you time and effort.
Expectations for Success
Check out how busy the shop is, whether they advertise, what their website looks like: all indications of a shop's success, which translate into a successful sale for you.
Tag or Estate Sales
Sometimes you end up with a house filled with antiques, collectibles, new stuff, and used housewares, and it seems overwhelming, especially if you have to clear it all out. This is when you may consider a tag or estate sale: the professionals come in, organize, price the items, advertise and manage the one or two-day sale.
- Word of mouth helps here: ask around to see which tag sale companies are popular, check newspapers or ask your bank or a realtor for recommendations.
- Meet with the manager who will want to see your antiques and household items before they consider a sale.
- If you live where it is impractical to have an open house, ask whether the company can combine your goods with another sale.
- Have a few sale dates in mind, but be prepared to adjust to the company's schedule.
Experts know how to price things and can save you from giving away a rare item for pennies. But if a company offers you a flat fee to purchase your antiques, take the time to think it over and consider having the household appraised before you sell.
Estate sale experts may charge a percentage of the sales for their service (sometimes 35% or more) so you could earn $1,000 or twenty times that: it depends upon what you are selling (rare prints or Tupperware).
There could be add-on or hidden costs, including cleaning, advertising, and others. Ask before your sign.
Expectations for Success
You empty a house, you don't have to do the work, and you walk away with a check. But these take organization, planning, and time, from both the tag sale company and you.
Do It Yourself Sales Methods
Selling by yourself may reap the greatest rewards, but you are also investing time, money, and effort. A few ways to clear out the cabinets include:
Pay for a table, set up and sell. Popular flea markets can attract thousands of visitors on a good day.
- Check out local advertisements, then contact the market director. Established markets may have pecking orders (who gets a table where), so you may not get the premium booth you desire.
- Expect to set up early and break down late. Markets run by rules, and you need to follow them.
- Come prepared with covers for your antiques (in case it rains), sunshades or umbrellas for you, tables, chairs, water, food, etc.
- Mark all items with prices: nothing turns off buyers more than assuming you assign prices based on a whim.
That's up to you and a buyer. Expect to be offered less than the asking price, which you can turn down courteously.
You will pay a table or booth fee, which can range from $10 and up, depending upon the market.
Expectations for Success
Flea markets can be boom, bust, or in-between. It depends on the weather, buyers, time of year, and lots of other variables. These markets are best for low to mid-priced items you want to move while having a bit of fun.
If you have a lot to sell in a range of values, you might want to consider taking a booth at an antiques mall, but this is something to consider only if you have time, energy, and you don't mind investing upfront.
- Visit local antiques and collectibles malls, and see if they are well maintained, busy, and at near capacity.
- Talk with vendors, if possible, and get their opinion.
- Meet the mall managers: you will be working with these folks, so it's good to know personalities and attitudes from the start.
- Determine the different booth sizes, ask about display cabinet space, and what the minimum rental time is.
- Do a budget and estimate how much you need to earn before you make a profit. That could be surprising.
You can ask what you want, but remember that you are competing with other dealers in a limited space. If you ask $25 for a dish priced at $15 in another booth, you may need to adjust expectations.
Talk with the manager about seller's requirements: do you pay a monthly fee? A percentage of sales? Also, there may be time-related fees: find out if you are required to help run the mall, and if so, how many hours a week you will need to put in.
Expectations for Success
Antiques malls are a long-term investment for a seller and are best used if you have a lot of stock to move and are not in a rush to do so.
There are many places to sell antiques, collectibles, and vintage pieces online. eBay is the behemoth of sales site, where you can sell one item or a thousand. If you join eBay, then expect to take photos, draw up listings, watch sales, answer questions and ship sold items. Or you can use local lists, like Craigslist, which lets you post an item for sale in a geographic area. It's free (for most items). There are other online sites as well, including the following that received high marks from eCommerce surveys:
Tias is a well-established online presence, with an easy-to-access website where you can list a few items or many. The cost is monthly (about $35) or a 10% commission fee (whichever is greater.) So if you sell a print for $500, you will pay $50; if you sell earrings for $300, you will pay $35. You handle listings, shipping, and so on.
Ruby Lane has been around since 1998, and you can sell antiques (you must be able to demonstrate that the piece is 100+ years old), vintage, and collectibles. You open a shop and pay a setup fee along with monthly fees ($69 and up). There are set up fees, in addition, so read the information carefully before you agree to become a shop owner. Ruby Lane is known for its upscale offerings, and although you may spend more to sell here, the items sold often command higher prices.
Etsy is best known as a site to sell handmade items, but you can also sell vintage goods (pre-1996). Costs include a listing fee (.20/item), transaction fee (3.5%) and payment processing fee (3% + 25 cents), so, you might owe $6.95 or more on a $100 item. You are responsible for shipping, and the stocking and upkeep of your "shop."
GoAntiques is owned by WorthPoint, and offers sellers a solid platform for moving antiques and collectibles. As with the others, you have to list, pack and ship items. Three different membership levels are available with different features; costs range between $24.99 to $74.99 a month.
Additional Online Selling Resources
Collecting groups exist for everything from glassware to swords, and many have newsletters or posting pages, where you can list items for sale. Some charge a membership fee, so you will need to contact the webmaster or advertising manager for information. Other resources to help you sell your antiques include:
- The American Book Exchange lets you list books, ephemera, and other paper goods starting at $25/month. But remember, you'll need separate listings and descriptions for each book, and it might take time to sell a few items.
- WorthPoint is a subscription site, and allows you to check recent sales and see what an item may sell for. (You can also look at the "Sold" listings on eBay.
- Pinterest was set up to allow users to save and organize their "collections" from textiles to tribal art to Georgian silver. But with some imagination, you can also promote sales on other sites.
Report Your Antique Sales Income
With all the hard work it takes to sell antiques, you might forget something important: check with your accountant or tax agency to know exactly how and what to report as income. You can have a costly surprise if you don't. And while selling antiques may be exhilarating, frustrating, fun, and challenging, there is one thing the activity will never be, and that is dull.