Time to sell the family silver
With the housing market in a slump, increasing numbers of people are turning to the contents of their homes for income, says Ross Clark
First of all, the Georgian silver goes,” said Harold Macmillan in a memorable speech attacking Mrs Thatcher’s privatisation policy in 1985. “And then all that nice furniture that used to be in the salon. Then the Canalettos…”
In hard-up Britain, selling the family silver is an act to which more and more of us are being driven. Far from using our homes as cashpoints, as we were little more than a year ago, increasing numbers are being forced to make ends meet by auctioning off the contents. According to a recent survey by the charity Shelter, one in nine British households have had to sell possessions this year to make ends meet.
Anyone looking to fill their homes with artefacts on the cheap is having a field day. The number of antiques auctioned on eBay has increased by 25 per cent over the past three months to 18,000. Even more dramatic is the rise in the numbers of people using websites which offer a discreet valuation service. Ronald Pepper of antiqueshunting. com says that the number of people having items valued has doubled since the spring. “It is particularly the case with jewellery,” he says. “It is easy stuff to move. If you need money quickly, you think the easiest thing I can do is to sell watches and rings. But inevitably as more stuff gets dumped onto the market, prices start to fall.”
Stuart Blay of Bath Antiques Online also runs a confidential valuation service, where antique-owners can have an estimated value put on their antiques by supplying photographs and descriptions. He says there has been a sudden surge in enquiries over the past three months. “We have seen an increase of 30 to 40 per cent in business over that time, all from private individuals,” he says. “There has been a particular interest in selling medals.”
Not all of them are dusty heirlooms won in the Boer War. In May, while Chelsea’s multi-millionaire footballers flew off to Moscow to face Manchester United in the final of the Champions’ League, former Chelsea star Alan Hudson was moved to auction his 1971 European Cup Winner’s Medal for £25,000 – which he won by beating Real Madrid in a 2-1 play-off. “I’m a little bit short and I could do with the money,” he explained.
Whether now is the best time to be selling your family heirlooms is another matter. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors collates a quarterly survey on the antiques market which until the middle of this year showed steady prices. However, in the third quarter the antiques market appears to have started to follow the housing market downhill, with two per cent more dealers reporting a fall in prices than reporting a rise. The biggest disappointment is likely to come with your Georgian table and Victorian corner cupboard: the market for “brown furniture”, says Stuart Blay, has been in the doldrums for several years, as wealthy home owners have cleared out what they see as stuffy interiors for something a little more modern. There are also signs that the real boom market of the past few years – contemporary art – has stalled too.
It is very easy to be fooled by the value of your possessions. My own experience in trying to raise cash from an unwanted artifact ended in disappointment.
My cast iron Victorian-style fire surround looked incongrous in my living room but surely it had to be worth good money to somebody? Alas not. When I hawked it around antique shops the most I managed to get for it was £10 – hardly enough to pay the petrol. Crucially the fireplace was missing the hearth which reduced its value from what would otherwise would have been a £70-£100 haul. HOW TO SELL YOUR HEIRLOOMS
VIA A DEALER
The easiest way to raise cash from your heirloom is to take it to a local antiques dealer. Assuming the dealer takes a liking to your artefact, you will receive your money instantly in order to pay next week’s mortgage instalment.
Common sense, however, dictates that you should do some homework beforehand, and seek the opinion of several dealers before making the decision to sell. The Antiques Trade Gazette has an online directory of antiques prices (www.thesaleroom.com) which will give you a rough idea of how much your item is worth.
VIA AN AUCTION
You may well get a better price by holding out for an auction, particularly one which specialises in the kind of item you are trying to sell. If the auction turns out to be a damp squib, you are not committed to sell: you can set a reserve price, below which the item will not be sold. The bad news is that if you thought selling a house via an estate agent is expensive, auctioning antiques is more so. Auction houses typically take 10 to 15 per cent plus VAT online.
Assuming your antiques are not too precious, the internet is a cheap way of advertising them to the widest possible audience. There is always the chance that grandmother’s glum old clock will be bid up to a silly price. eBay is the best known site, with an international audience, although there are a number of dedicated antiques auction sites such as www. bathantiquesonline.com.
Second time around: in the past few months, large numbers of people have turned to selling valuables including medals, dolls and dining chairs to raise money