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Use these tips to take the guesswork out of finding the value of inherited and antique furniture.


What to Do with Furniture and Other Things You Inherit

Aunt Minnie, bless her heart, put you in her will. That’s the good news. The not-so-good-news is that you don’t have clue whether that purple velveteen settee is a valuable antique or just a really ugly piece of truly uncomfortable furniture. The following tips will help you take the guesswork out of dealing with furniture and other items left to you by the dearly departed.

Have It Appraised

No need to wait for Antiques Roadshow to come to your town. Leslie Haggin Geary, a writer for CNN/Money, has a better suggestion. “It takes an appraiser to know whether you’ve got a one-in-a-million treasure or a run-of-the-mill trinket. But finding such a pro can be daunting.” Appraisers are not licensed, so anyone claim to be one.  She recommends the following steps for picking a pro:

  • Don’t rely on an Internet appraisal. A professional will need to see the actual item to value it.
  • Ask for references and check them out.  A legitimate appraiser won’t be offended. Reputable auction houses and professional associations such as the American Society of Appraisers are good resources.
  • Hire someone who specializes in what you need appraised. You don’t want a furniture specialist appraising a coin collection.
  • If the appraiser offers to sell your item, walk away;  that’s a conflict of interest.
  • Get the appraisal in writing, with a clear statement, not an estimate, of your item’s worth, along with a description of the methods used to make the appraisal.

Geary points out that a reputable appraiser will typically charge by the hour, with rates ranging from $100 to $300 per hour, depending on where you live. So you might want to do a bit of your own research, using general references such as Ralph Kovel’s book, Know Your Antiques before you decide to invest in a professional appraisal.

Resist the Urge to Restore or Repair Your Items

While you’re waiting for the appraiser to come, you may be tempted to spiff up your inheritance. After all, if you fix that little scratch in the tabletop finish, put a fresh coat of paint on that armoire or rub off that smudge on the painting, won’t it increase your item’s value? No, it will not. According to Kate Miller-Wilson, an avid antique collector and contributor to LoveToKnow Antiques, “improper antique restoration can decrease or even destroy the value of some pieces. Understanding which items you should have restored and who should do the restoration will save you from making a major mistake with your ancient treasures.” Only after the appraisal is done should you consider restoration or repairs, Miller-Wilson warns. Your appraiser can tell you whether restoration or repair will affect your item’s value.


Keep, Sell, Toss or Store It?

Once the appraisal is complete, it’s up to you to decide what you’ll do with your inherited piece. You can keep and enjoy it, fully aware of its worth (or lack thereof). You can sell it via an online auction service, a consignment store or an auction house. Or you may decide to donate it out of the goodness your heart or because you’d rather have the tax deduction than look at that hideous piece for one more day.  If it’s totally worthless and void of emotional or aesthetic value, you can toss it in the trash.

READ ALSO:  How to Store and Organize Collectible Items

However, if you love it but can’t quite fit it into your current lifestyle, you also have the option of putting it in self storage. Look for a self storage facility that offers climate-controlled storage units. That’s especially important if you’ll be storing wood furniture, musical instruments, works of art, quilts and other fabrics, or anything that could be damaged by extremes of temperature or humidity – conditions you can’t control in a home attic or basement. According to the experts at Vermont Woods Studios, wood has its own moisture content, It is constantly expanding and contracting and is very sensitive to changes in relative humidity. “Wood does best in moderate conditions of around 70°F to 72°F and a relative humidity of about 50 to 55 percent.” Sudden changes can cause wood to crack or split. They also recommend that store your items away from direct sunlight.

Zachary Chetchavat, writing for the SpareFoot Blog, offers some basic furniture storage tips that also apply to any valuable items you intend to store. “Be sure to raise all furniture off the floor for ventilation. [Doing so] will reduce the chances of mold and mildew developing. Also avoid placing pieces in direct contact with the walls of the unit.” They also advise against wrapping anything in plastic, which can hamper ventilation. A canvas or linen dust cover is preferred.

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