Selling Residential Contents to Pay for Your Parents’ Care


Part of my job is paying attention to trends and values in the personal property market.  We are seeing changes, not only in the marketplace and in values, but also in how families are approaching the selling of items/heirlooms when mom or dad require long-term care.  They are running out of money because the high cost of care, and living so long, has taken its toll.

I have had an unusual increase in calls this year from boomer children asking me to sell almost all of the possessions in mom’s home because “we need to keep mom’s care going and we have to sell everything and we need as much money as possible.”  Mom might be in assisted living, nursing care, in-home care, etc. and the costs are so heavy; the children are now turning to the sale of personal property to cover the costs.

Let me be the first professional to be honest and as open as possible with you.  Families think the sale of the home contents might glean them $50,000 and this is far from the truth in better than 90% of the estates I see.  It might surprise you to know that unless you have something extremely rare and extraordinary that can be sold at an upper-tier auction house, chances are very good that you will be grossly disappointed in what the sale brings.  The average is $10,000 or less, and we know this won’t cover mom’s care for very long.  The biggest mistake I see is people selling sterling, gold, and jewelry for scrap.  First, if you have the luxury of a little time, do your research and don’t sell to the first person you go to.  Compare.  Look for a company as close to the refinery as possible.  Secondly, wait until these metals peak again before you sell (if you can).

The children pull out the heirlooms, or what they perceive as heirlooms because they are old pieces, only to be shocked that the Victorian oil painting is actually very common for that period, or have trouble believing the antique walnut table that’s 150 years old is only worth $300.  Believe it.  This is what we are seeing.

Each day, my phone rings with people asking me to come to the estate and separate the junk from the valuable “antiques.”  Today, many antiques are not worth that much and this comes as a shock to the family, who’s thinking they had a way to keep mom comfortable for another 6 months or a year.

Sometimes we do find treasure in homes, like the time I found three $25,00 vases in a basement.  The family was overjoyed at this find and it helped them tremendously, but this type of find is rare.  Sadly, some of these cable shows give the public the wrong idea.  They give the viewer the feeling that what they have is valuable, but we professionals in the field know differently.  True, you never know what you have until a professional comes out to look, but the majority of the time, it doesn’t amount to as much as you think it will.

Next week, I’ll share some specific options for disposing of your parents’ possessions to pay for their care.

© 2012 Julie Hall

Published in: on August 13, 2012 at 10:39 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dear Julie:

    I hope this finds you well–

    Your timing on this publication is perfect!  I am simultaneously publishing a “Calibration of Expectations” post–

    I’ve turned down more sales this year after speaking with prospective clients and knowing there is no way they will be happy with the return I can achieve.  I’ve had more consultations where circa 2000-2002 appraisals are produced.  Though written on replacement value, it’s been difficult to get clients to understand marketability of their assets in a declined economy. 

    You’re spot on with the reference to the unrealistic television shows, in particular those focused on the antique market; too many folks watching American Pickers and Antiques Roadshow without understanding how they are staged and produced as entertainment, and without an understanding of the antiques market in general.

    At the end of the day, I’m happy to be in a position where I can accept clients with realistic expectations and am thrilled to publish their recommendations of our services.  They speak to the professionalism we bring to the experience, along with their delight on receiving a healthy, and realistic, return on their assets.

    Best to you!  Enjoy the rest of your Summer and keep your posts coming!

    Best Regards,

    Shannon Aubin Asset and Estate Liquidators, LLC 603-325-2991

    Click to read my blog

    • Thanks, Shannon. I enjoyed reading your response to my blog and it sounds like good, old fashioned common sense to me. It is difficult for others who are not in the profession to understand just how soft it’s getting out here, probably because they grew up hearing how valuable everything was/is. But times have changed and the economy has changed and I don’t ever want anyone upset with me either! We just need to keep telling our clients the truth and advise them accordingly. Keep up the great work! Julie

  2. This is one of the best articles I have seen on this subject. All of us in this profession know this to be true, but it is very difficult to convince the family otherwise. Some even put “minimums” on items (like “valuable antiques”) and then they don’t sell and this family is left with them and there is no place they can take them that will pay them what they feel they are worth….the TV shows in my opinion, are doing such a disservice to this industry it is ridiculous. They show “value” before any of the items even have a buyer and that is key. Buyers today are overloaded with used goods that they can buy cheaply, antiques, collectibles and otherwise. And yes, unless something is very rare, it will not fetch a lot of money. So many clients I see say “this is very old….it is from my great-grandmother” thinking that makes it valuable and when I tell them the truth upfront, they are so very disappointed. And yes, many of our clients now are counting on this money to keep an elderly parent “going” in some type of care. You are also right on target about the value of most estates. Julie, once again, a wonderful post that is timely, honest and very helpful.

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