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A behind-the-scenes look at the estate sale business

For collectors, antique dealers and garden-variety bargain hunters, there are few happier ways to spend an hour or two than hitting an estate sale. On almost every weekend in the Tampa Bay area you can find a house somewhere with dozens of people impatiently waiting for the door to open and the thrill of the hunt to begin.

For more than 20 years, St. Petersburg-based Interbay Estate Sales has been helping homeowners and heirs of the deceased unload furniture, antiques and other items they don't want or don't have room for. Founder Carol Cadden was a natural for the business: "I come from Louisville, Kentucky, which is the center of the antique world,'' she says. "I grew up with antiques, everybody has them.''

A former administrator in the Pinellas County school system, Cadden began the switch to a new career when a neighbor asked for help in selling some antique pieces. Similar requests soon followed and "eventually it just got to be a big business,'' Cadden says.

Interbay typically holds one or two sales a month — each takes two weeks to prepare — and keeps 35 percent of the proceeds. Cadden's husband Ed handles all of the advertising. They are assisted by a part-time staff of six. Sales start on Thursday and run through Saturday

Cadden, 73, recently spoke with Tampa Bay Times as she prepared for a sale at the Snell Isle home of a St. Petersburg resident who is moving to a condo.

Do clients ever get emotional as the sale approaches?

I think the biggest challenge is they have a hard time making decisions on what to let go, and sometimes up until the day of the sale they still want to remove something. We may have advertised it and people come looking for it, and it's gone and they give us a little tongue lashing. We put in our contract recently that if anything is removed after a certain period, they will owe us a commission because we've already spent money photographing and advertising it.

How do you price items?

A lot of it is just experience knowing what the public will pay. If it's something unusual, we do some research, look online, check auctions results or eBay. In my experience, something can sell one day for a price and the next day, if the same item came up again, it would sell for a different price. If we have to negotiate or reduce on Saturday we do — our job is to liquidate, not be looking at something on Sunday and thinking, what are we going to do with that?

What are people looking for at estate sales these days?

We know what they're not looking for. Victorian furniture is pretty much out, mahogany pieces from the '30s and '40s are just not selling. You get a lot of people from all age groups, all socio-economic backgrounds who come to these sales. They're looking for certain things that are useful — towels, sheets, cookware. Jewelry is a big seller, doesn't matter if it's junky or costume, it's really big.

How about clothing?

Men's clothing does not sell well at all because of all the variety of sizes, sleeve lengths and pant lengths and neck sizes. Women's clothing sells pretty well but just doesn't bring very much compared to other things like jewelry. We do much better with large-size clothes than small clothes. Why? Look around.

What about mid-century modern furniture and accessories?

That's a pretty hot area but we don't see too much of it. A lot of people move down and bring antiques and '30s and '40s furniture with them, but the '50s and '60s is what's really selling right now.

What are some of the better sales you've held?

We did one (in Snell Isle) that had a lot of outdoor concrete statuary and fountains. That was a really interesting sale. Recently we did one in a 100-year-old Spanish home, everything in it was original including most of the furniture. Even though the furniture was not in very great shape we had great attendance. Last year we did an artist's house. He was a docent at the Dalí (Museum) and did a lot of sculpture and painting in the Dalí style. People still talk about that sale.

Do you get more people at one time of year than another?

They increase in winter because you have a lot of people from up north, some of them are antique dealers from Michigan and New York. They rent storage units and they buy all winter and haul it back to where it probably came from originally.

Do you typically have hordes waiting to get in each morning?

It can be more than 50. They know I won't let them in early. I don't give numbers because if you give a number, half of them will leave. I open the door and in they come and in the first hour it's just a madhouse.

Are there ever any fights?

Not really fights, maybe some arguments. We had a perfume bottle collection and two women got into it over who was the first to get to the perfume bottles. People that are anxious to be the first one in the door can be very aggressive, and some are dealers. We don't get that many dealers, though, because we don't price things at a dealer price point. It's more people that have been coming to our sales. I've had them say to me, 'One of these days I'm going to have you liquidate my estate.' I wonder where they put it all.

Do you ever go to sales yourself?

I like to know what the competition is doing, But I think we have primo service because we've been doing it so long. We know exactly how to set up, how to get it priced. To me, if doesn't look good, it's not going to sell so we polish the silver and wash the crystal.

What happens to things that don't sell?

It's up to the family. Sometimes they'll keep them, sometimes they'll give us the authority to donate but we make sure that the charity is one that they like. Our deal with people is that when we sign the contracts we assure them that the house will be swept clean. We charge 35 percent but if there's a lot of stuff that needs to be hauled away we ask the family to pay for a Dumpster.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com. Follow @susanskate.

A behind-the-scenes look at the estate sale business 02/12/16 [Last modified: Friday, February 12, 2016 7:20pm]
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