Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2019

If You Want to Sell Your House, Get Rid of the Antiques

I occasionally receive an email from Romona and Richard Wise, two regular “Rinker on Collectibles” readers who live in Charleston, Illinois, that contains a link to a recent newspaper article they recommend I read. Their September 28 email provided a link to Sara Clemence’s “When the Antiques Have to Go” that appeared in the September 24 edition of “The New York Times” and was updated on September 27 when posted on line. It is a must read for every collector.

The gist of the article is that if you want to sell your home, you need to get rid of or greatly reduce the antiques. In fairness to Ms. Clemence toward whom I bear no malice for reporting the story, the byline reads: “With spare interiors and light colors all the rage right now, selling a home filled with period pieces can be a challenge.” Since I define an antique as anything made before 1980, this byline applies to a home filled with antiques ranging from early American period furniture to a collection of Hopalong Cassidy memorabilia.

I have a simple response to the advice – over my dead body. I am a crusty old fart. I just celebrated my 78th birthday. There is no way on God’s green earth that I am going to pack/store or sell my antiques and collectibles collections in order to facilitate the sale of Linda’s and my Michigan house or Florida condo. I do not want to and never will sell to anyone who has no appreciation or respect for the past and the finer things associated with it. If this approach prevents the sale of my home or condo. I will die in one of the two locations. I can think of plenty of worse places to die.

The get rid of the antiques advice resulted from interviews Ms. Clemence conducted with several New York City interior directors, auction gallery representatives, antique dealers, and individuals whose flats were decorated with antiques. I commend her for her thoughness.

The phrase “interior decorators” is equivalent to waving a red cloth in front of a charging bull to anyone who loves antiques and collectibles. I harbor a detestable loathing for the impact interior decorators have on the antiques and collectibles industry. These gods and goddesses of high-style design view antiques and collectibles only as decorative accessories to be touted or cast aside at whim. They change their minds constantly as to what is in and out. Their profession requires this. It is the only way to maintain their lofty high-throne status.

[Author Aside #1: I have lost count of the number of times my wife Linda has suggested we consult an interior decorator about a specific project at our house and condo. It is not necessary to count how often my answers were yes or no. There is only one answer – NO! I have never been nor will I ever become a slave to ever changing interior decorator dictates. I know what I like. I have no intention of deviating from it. Let the interior decorators bilk those clients who are not intelligent enough to think for themselves.

My vehemence toward interior decorators is warranted for a second reason. I no longer accept any appraisal requests from clients whose homes have been furnished by an interior decorator. When I tell these clients that the contents of their homes are worth pennies on the dollar, they accuse me of not knowing about the true secondary value of objects as opposed to blaming the interior decorator for taking them to the financial cleaners by selling them a false bill of goods. Forget what they paid for each object. The issue became worse when the antiques and collectibles sold by the interior decorators turn out to be fakes or heavily altered pieces. Interior decorators sell a look, not period authenticity.]

Time to step off the soap box and return to Ms. Clemence’s article. “Right now” are the key words in Ms. Clemence’s byline. Right now is not forever. In 10 years, there will be an entirely different set of decorating norms. If a Victoriana revival occurs, light and airy will be replaced by stuffed and overwhelming. By 2024, America will start celebrating the 250th anniversary of its independence. Expect the County look to be back in style by 2026. Although a long shot, the 250th anniversary celebration may revive an interest among younger generations for objects from the distant pass. As my wife Linda often says “from your lips to God’s ears.”

[Author’s Aside #2 and totally unrelated to the theme of this column: The correct Latin term for a 250th anniversary is Sestercentennial. Other terms are Semiquincentennial, bicenquinquagenary, or quarter-millennial. I recently saw a reference to sesquibicentennial, a variation of sesquicentennial for a 150th year anniversary. I can hardly wait to learn what the “official” term will be.]

When I teach writing, I always devote a week to recognizing and avoiding fallacies, one of the most prominent of which is generalization. Generalization is an unsubstantiated assumption that purports to apply universally. Ms. Clemence’s article is filled with generalities. I agree with some and disagree with others. Of course, I am generalizing as well.

Ms. Clemence reports that the value of antique furniture has dramatically dropped in value. The modern phrase is “brown furniture is out of favor.” Not all furniture is brown. The more correct statement is that “old furniture is out of favor.” The article contained a quote from a New York auction house representative indicating that the decline in the secondary brown furniture market has bottomed out. If true, this is good news.

The Southern (I expanded the concept to include Texas) antiques market has dried up. Forget the old advice of “if it will not sell anywhere else, send it to Texas.” I saw evidence of the former when I visited a large antiques mall in Houston and could not help noticing that little was selling.

Clemence also reported the rug market is down 90 percent. This is true if one is selling but not necessarily true if one is buying. The growing importance of hardwood floors in home interiors will have a positive impact on the rug market. The situation is not as bleak as it seems. Rug dealers conspire among themselves to keep secondary rug auction prices low. Federal and state law enforcement agencies apparently have no interest in breaking up these rings.

Currently, there is an emphasis on a less formal life style. It will not last forever. This pendulum between a formal and informal look swings constantly.

Finally, interior decorators now are telling everyone to paint their walls white. Collectors have known this for time immemorial. White walls display things best.

I disagree with the advice of one interior decorator that no decorating scheme should feature more than 25 percent of antiques or collectibles. From which part of the decorator’s anatomy did this 25 percent rule originate? The decorator asserts that antiques and collectibles date a room. I disagree. Antiques and collectibles add ambiance and individuality to a room.

A couple I know are in the process of selling their house. At the advice of the relator, they removed all their family pictures and much of their wall art. Ms. Clemence article contained similar advice. The couples’ house has been on the market for several months. The last time I talked to the wife, she lamented: “I just want to sell. This house is no longer the one in which we lived for the last 20 years.” Houses have personalities. Sterile environments belong in hospitals.

The latest technique to sell a house is the do a visual staging. A visual staging is a photo shopped alteration of the room settings to remove all the furnishings except the walls and then insert furniture and accessories designed to appeal to specific market segments. Relators do not like to sell empty shells. Furnished houses sell better. Should the realtor’s interior decorating determine what belongs in any person’s empty space? I think not.

Ms. Clemence suggested that if the brown furniture stays, consider painting it white. Is she kidding? This might be good advice for 20th century veneered Colonial Revival pieces but not those a seller is planning to take to their new home. Paint the walls and not the furniture.

Ms. Clemence’s article focuses on big city condos and the assumption that the principal buyers for them are young buyers in their 30s and 40s. In this context, much of what she reports has value. Large urban areas and their suburbs are not the rest of the country. The selling parameters are very different in the Midwest, Mountain, Plains, South, and Southwest states and when the buyers are in the over 50 age group.

I recommended Ms. Clemence’s article as a must read because whether it applies directly to my readers or not, the points are worth considering. I love reading anything that gets my blood boiling. Mrs. Clemence succeeded.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Selected letters will be answered in this column.  Harry cannot provide personal answers.  Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned.  Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI  49512.  You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

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