Tue July 8, 2014
In A Tough Market For Old Furniture, Manage Your Expectations
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now it's time for our Money Coach Conversation. That's the part of the program where we talk about the economy and personal finance. If you have a child moving into a new apartment or going off to college, you might be looking to downsize your home, move into a smaller place. But before you start celebrating your cute new townhouse, you might think about how you're going to get rid of that old couch or grandma's good China. It turns out that the antiques and secondhand furniture market is on the decline and many people are finding themselves stuck with unwanted items. We wanted to talk more about this so we've called Kate Grondin. She is the founder of Home Transition Resource. Welcome, thanks so much for joining us.
KATE GRONDIN: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: So why is it becoming more difficult to get rid of used furniture and other items?
GRONDIN: I think people are just sort of living differently. They're not wanting their parents' used furniture. Our parents bought things that were going to last them a long time and when they're trying to get rid of it, the children just don't want it. I'm working with a client right now for instance, who's cleaning out her home and she has three children. They've gone around and identified some of the things that they want and when they found out how much it was going to cost to ship the items to their new - to their home - they reconsidered. So it wasn't worth it for them to keep some of those items.
MARTIN: What kinds of items is it that - what kinds of items are people - I don't want to say turning their noses up at, it seems so harsh - how about choosing not to acquire these days that might have been highly sought after in the past?
GRONDIN: So there are a few things that are difficult to get rid of. And one of the things is, like, a dining room set - a dining room table, a hutch, a buffet. Those things are so difficult to get rid of because nowadays people have kitchens with large islands where people gather. Families eat around the island and the dining room table is just sort of in a room not used. So people are not inclined to purchase that, you know formal dining room set that used to be so popular. That's one of the items that we're faced with that is very difficult to get rid. People are getting pennies on the dollar and it's heartbreaking but that's what's happening today.
MARTIN: And I'm told that armoires and those big bookcase things that people would put big televisions in because...
MARTIN: ...Guess what? People hang televisions on the wall these days, right?
GRONDIN: That's right, you don't have to hide your TV anymore. And I have a client also who has an armoire that's been on Craigslist for a year. And he paid thousands of dollars for it - but honestly, we're probably going to end up donating that piece. That's how difficult it is.
MARTIN: Are there items that are still selling - that people still are looking for and will pay money for?
GRONDIN: Well, you know, yard equipment for example, is popular. Some rugs are popular - we can get rid of those.
MARTIN: Wait, yard equipment? A lawn mower?
GRONDIN: Yard equipment yes, surprisingly.
GRONDIN: You know, if you have - if you're cleaning out your garage and you have a nice riding lawnmower, that's going to sell. If you have, you know, washer and dryer, those things sell. Furniture is just difficult. It needs to be a unique piece, it needs to be light - brown furniture doesn't sell. And it needs to be something that can fit into someone's decor which, nowadays people go to the Internet and to magazines for inspiration. And so it needs to be a unique piece. So we're having a difficult time helping people identify resources for their used furniture.
MARTIN: What is the hardest part of all this? Is it having to discuss with clients that people don't want something that they may cherish, that they have a lot of memories wrapped up in? Is that - what's the hardest part for you?
GRONDIN: Yeah, you said it...
MARTIN: Have you had people cry?
GRONDIN: (Laughing) Absolutely, it's so heartbreaking. But honestly, the - managing the expectations is probably the hardest part. If you can get a client to understand that their furniture isn't worth what they paid for it, and it's not even worth a quarter of what they paid for it and manage those expectations, you're going to have a more positive outcome than, you know, someone who is demanding a certain price or expects a certain price and holds on for that price - it's not going to happen. So I think you're right, managing the expectations is extremely important.
MARTIN: You know, it's kind of hard though when you still hear about people being ill housed or having families, for example, who've had a fire or families who have been, you know, put - forced into homelessness, for example, and don't, you know, have adequate furniture to live on. It just seems - it just seems that there's something wrong there. So what do you recommend?
MARTIN: That people can donate things that they should feel better about donating things to people who really need them? Is that - is that a strategy?
GRONDIN: Exactly. One of the things that we like to do is to help people feel good about what's happening with their things, whether they get money for it or not. And, you know, having something gone is worth a lot of money whether you get money or not because if it's not gone, you're going to have to pay to get it gone. So what we try and do is work with our clients to identify charities - and some of our clients would rather donate than get pennies on the dollar. And so identifying charities that could use - you know - like you just said, it's a great option. People feel good about that.
MARTIN: Is there any other advice that you have for people? What about Craigslist, or those kinds of - some neighborhoods even have neighborhood listservs, for example, where people can pass on information like that. Does that...
MARTIN: ...work, and are there some things that tend to be perhaps more desirable on something like a Craigslist than going to say, a consignment store or something like that?
GRONDIN: Exactly. If someone has a piano - really, the only place to sell it is Craigslist. In my opinion, it's just a great way for you to get it on the market, have people identify and see it. So there are certain things that do better on Craigslist than some of the other options that are out there. But one of my tips for people is, you know, start early - start now. Getting rid of those items that you don't want because the longer you have to make decisions or to sell something, the better outcome you're going to have. If you're doing this in a short timeframe, you need to sort of employ some other strategies.
MARTIN: We'll let you go. Do you mind if I ask - how did you get involved in this - in this work? You seem very patient and pleasant and...
MARTIN: ...I'm sure that that's a good quality to have in this work.
GRONDIN: Thank you.
MARTIN: How did you get involved in this?
GRONDIN: Well, my background is as a social worker. But my business started when I helped my own parents, who are downsizing from a home that they had lived in for over 60 years and they needed to get rid of a lot of things. And it occurred to me at that time that, you know, they couldn't be the only people in this situation. So I looked online and identified the National Association of Senior Move Managers, where, you know, these are people that help people in transition and have the resources available to help people get rid of their things and feel good about what's happening to those things.
MARTIN: OK, you know, I'm going to put you on the spot here - what was the hardest thing for your parents to get rid of? What would be the hardest thing for you to get rid of?
GRONDIN: For my parents, it was a book collection because it was very near and dear to them. My father spent a lifetime in books. And so parting with that was very difficult and identifying the right resource and the right buyer for his books was really important. So we allowed a lot of time to do that and ultimately found the right resource. Oh gosh for me, I try not to get too attached. I do this for a living so (laughing) I try not to get too attached to my things because it's more about who you are and less about what you have.
MARTIN: Yeah, OK.
GRONDIN: So I try and live by that.
MARTIN: All right. Well, I'm going to take a peak in your shoe closet and then we'll have another conversation about it. We'll see what happens.
GRONDIN: Sounds good.
MARTIN: Kate Grondin is the founder of Home Transition Resource. She joined us from member station WGBH in Boston. Thank you.
GRONDIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.