2013
04.14

Well according to my notes the last time I updated this blog was April 20th 2011. The reason for this is that I put too much pressure on myself to offer expertise about antiques and oddities much like the new television shows. Now a couple years after the Pawn Stars and Storage War shows have begin to mature, we find that most of the stuff the find is planted and they have time to research the stuff before they have to present just how much they know about it. Anyhow I live in a world of buying and selling that requires you to be fast on your feet, knowledgeable and charming all at the same time. When I go on a call to someones home, I usually don’t know them from Adam and they are mostly skeptical about antique dealers and think their stuff is worth a fortune. I get calls all day long from people asking if I want their brownie instamatic. Just for the record, I don’t want theirs or anybodies brownie because they made so many of these that they are basically worthless along with treadle sewing machines. I get tons of calls from people in need of getting rid of junk that nobody wants. So if you have junk, please call somebody else and I mean that in the nicest way possible. What works really well for me is a partnership between me and the client where they benefit from my knowledge and I make some money from the buying and selling of their stuff. I am not in the estate sale business but I know most of the folks that are and can always give a good recommendation based on the type of stuff as to which firm might do the best job for the client. I just got a call from a realtor friend of mine and he asked me to go to see a couple that were potentially listing their home with him and needed to get rid of some things. I called them right away and found out what they had (I try to make sure the items that I will be looking at have value or it isn’t worth the drive) and decided to set up an appointment. So I arrived at the home and they were very friendly and took me thru the house and showed me their treasures. Long story short, I bought an Emil Paidar barber shop revolving sign, two vintage phones and paid them $550. This was a really great amount for the seller. The phones are worth a couple of hundred each and the barber pole is worth around $500. Now both of us were happy with the price and I even called him back the next day and offered to bring Tom the tool guy over to see if they might work out something on his workshop. The Client had a 1950′s shell gas pump that stood about 6 feet tall with a repro glass globe that if I was 20 years younger I would have snapped up right away but I told him exactly what I was thinking that I didn’t want to move the thing and I wasn’t prepared to offer him much. He was understanding but kept pushing the issue to come to some agreement on the pump that he really wanted me to buy and I was dreading moving the thing. So I told him that I was thinking around $250 and I didn’t want to insult him. He mentioned that he had paid $350 for the pump himself, so I offered him $400 but that included the pump and a sax that he valued at $150. So I got on the phone and called my guy (to succeed in this business you gotta have a guy) that deals in automotive and worked out a deal with him for the pump and it was gone at 7:00 that evening. All I had to do was move it to the car and watch it get unloaded in a garage a few hours later. Did I make a fortune on the pump? Nope but it paid for most of the other stuff and I didn’t have to own it but for a couple of hours. Could I have sold it for more? Surely but sometimes quick sales are wonderful. So now I have to list the stuff on ebay and ship it to God knows where…much easier to sell it to you guy, nobody really appreciates how much work ebay really is, but we can save that for another session. So that was how I spent my Thursday and Friday. Oh, Tom was able to buy a 200lb anvil and he was happy. It’s nice when everybody walks away happy!

2011
03.31

This is a story about a trip that me and my family were able to take because of my business and all of our lives are fuller because of it.
First let me say that I have always loved the railroad and steam whistles, bells, lanterns and all types of railroad/train stuff. I always thought I knew a lot about railroad stuff but I met a delightful man that has certainly forgotten more than I’ll ever know about the Railroad. His name is Cody Burdette from Sevierville, Tn. I actually met Cody over the internet. About 8 months ago I was at an auction and purchased a 5 chime Northern Pacific Steam Whistle. This whistle is pretty much one of the most interesting whistles ever made. You can go out to youtube and type in northern pacific 5 chime and you’ll find some great video of the whistle in action. So I put the whistle in the garage and pretty much forgot about it for months. A few weeks ago I put it up on ebay for $1800 and didn’t think much about it until I received an email asking if I would consider a trade for the whistle. I replied to the email that I certainly would consider a trade. So I replied back and said, “What ya got”? Cody replied back that he had a bunch of good whistles and he was sure we could work out a trade. A couple of days later I got some pictures of the available items and my interest was peaked!  So now the question was this, can you really make a trade with someone 600 miles away and both leave happy and not have this turn out to be one of those internet scams you always hear about?  Well you just have to go with your gut and mine said, go for it.

So I had many emails back and forth with Cody and I could tell by his emails that he was a decent human being. I would later find that he was more than just decent. In one of my emails, I told Cody about a 15 inch diameter bell I had but was missing the clapper. Cody volunteered to have his guys at the shop cast me a clapper. Now with this offer how could I not agree to meet Cody and do some tradin!  The more we got to talking I realized that Cody was born into the Railroad, his father was an engineer and worked on steam engines all his life and Cody not just worked on Steam engines, he loves them. Its nice to be near 70 years old and still have a passion for life and the railroad. Now more of the story, come to find out that Cory lives just down the street from Dollywood. Cody said if we were to come to Sevierville that he would pay our admission to the park. Now how could I not come to Tn. and how could I not bring the family. So yesterday we packed up the car from Elgin, Il and drove the 620 miles to meet Cody in Dollywood.

What a bonus when your business brings your family together and allows you to take your kids on an adventure that they will remember all their lives. Most peoples business drive the family apart but mine is integrated into the fabric of our lives. I know I’m lucky enough to have a business that is also my passion. Anyhow lucky me.  After we got to Sevierville we hooked up with Cody for the tradin session. I was very happy with what Cody offered for my whistle and we quickly came to an amicable agreement. Cody got his new toy and I got mine. After a tour of Cody’s shop and his live steam engine (a ride on engine about 5 feet long installed in his back yard. I had engine envy, this was a really cool setup!  After that Cody took us for a behind the scene tour of the Engine Shop at Dollywood. What an amazing tour! The engines were old rebuilt White Pass narrow gauge engines refurbished and now the sport the Dollywood logo. After that exciting experience we went off to get some dinner. Now we ate at the Old Mill restaurant and the food is extremely rich. We eat mostly healthy cuisine in our normal life and the rich food is the reason I’m up and writing this entry at 3 o’clock in the morning… Heartburn is a terrible thing but I surely earned it.

Now today we are going to Dollywood and tomorrow it is back to Elgin. But what a wonderful man I met by just trusting my instincts and taking a chance. It’s wonderful to be able to mix business with pleasure. I’m hoping that Cody and I get another opportunity to do some more tradin in the future. I guess the moral to the story is that most americans are really good people and if you give them a chance you’ll be rewarded more often than not. The internet gets a bad rap because of the scammers. Now scammers make news and people always tell about the scams so they make news but are disproportionate to the good deals and good people.  In my experience on ebay and other venues, for every 2,000 transactions I maybe get one that I regret.   I try not to dwell on the negative and accentuate the positive and my whole Dollywood/Cody trip has been a huge positive.  Can’t wait to see what big fun we will have at Dollywood today.  And can you believe it?  On Saturday we have out first softball tournament in Rockford Il.  Life is really good!  Thanks for listening! Steve A.

2011
03.11

So in the last couple of days I have visited 5 resale shops, what a colossal waste of time. Do people really find good stuff in these places? Is there a best time to go? I found nothing to buy for all my travels. I’m sure that most of these operators have preferred buyers that they call when anything shows up of any value. I still think that estate sales and calls generated from my website and the yellow pages are the way to go. And with gas at $3.69 a gallon it will be a long time before I purposely drive to another resale shop. ANyhow if you have good luck at these shops, let me know! I’m really curious to hear of your successes at these shops. Thanks, Steve A.

2011
03.05

Many times people tell me how good I am at selling (30 years at IBM) and I stop them and explain that the selling is the easy part. Anybody can build a website or sell on ebay, it falls under the certain inalienable rights thing. But getting someone to part with their treasure/family heirloom is a skill necessary for success in this buying/selling stuff industry. You really have to have a strategy for almost every kind of seller. And sometimes it is best to just walk away or never engage with some people. The ideal situation is someone calls me and they explain over the phone what they have and I have an interest. I next ask if they know what they want for the items. If they do, then this is gravy. You either agree with their price or try to negotiate a better price. I usually don’t dicker with anyone if the offer me a price that I know I’m going to do well with. Just pay the money! I look at myself as a goodwill ambassador, if I leave my clients happy I’m more likely to get calls from their friends and family. So it is always in your interest to be nice and especially if the prices are good to start with. I once bought about $300 worth of brass fire nozzles from a nice lady, she was delightful and I paid her the price she asked. She called me back about two weeks later with 24 leather firemens shields all pre civil war. The cheapest one sold for $325. If I had been the least bit tough to deal with, she wouldn’t have called. This happens all the time. So do like your mother said,”treat people like you would like to be treated. Just one more point on this. I once got a call from a guy with a ton of Nazi stuff. I went to see him and he had a couple of tables of stuff laid out and he said, “Make me an offer”. What do you do then? I looked and saw two things, 1 double decal helmet and a luftwaffe dagger. I know these would bring easily $800 so I offered him $800. He said $900 and I said sure. Included in this lot was an original Blue Max medal that sold for $2200. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, what I found out later was that I was the third dealer to see the stuff. He threw out the first two because they low-balled him. There was easily $10,000 worth of stuff that I eventually bought from him. I came back at least four times and he would just tell me to give him a fair price. If your customers trust you there is nothing better. And low-balling will maybe work once or twice but in the long run, you will lose most of the battles.

So what do I do the ensure when I go on a call I will have success in buying what I want? I qualify my prospects over the phone. I always ask them what they have to sell and then I ask them what else they have and then I ask them again. You have to engage people and get a dialog going with them and they will loosen up and tell you what you need to know. After I ascertain what they have or may have I try to understand why they are selling. This makes a big difference. If someone has inherited a house full of stuff and they just want to get it gone, drop everything you are doing and run to their front door. They will work with you especially if you agree to buy lots of stuff. I have always said that the best way to buy is in aggregate. If you are taking a bunch of stuff and you give them a price for the entire pile, it doesn’t matter how much stuff you put in the pile the price doesn’t go up because you are helping them to get to “end of job”.

Next if someone calls me with one or two items, I get a description and I ask them what else they have. If they don’t have anything else, I usually back out gracefully and explain why I am not interested at this time and give them some advice on where they could sell their stuff and offer if I can be of assistance in the future then please call back. I do this because, when I buy 1 or two things, unless they are spectacular we usually get to the “how much are you giving me for that” conversation. I rarely give individual item pricing because it usually ends up in the “leave a bid and I’ll call you” they never call you just gave a free appraisal. So if someone doesn’t tell you over the phone how much they are asking for something then it more than likely isn’t for sale. When you are on the phone with them you have to ask them do they have things priced? If not ask them how will we arrive at a price if there is something I want to buy. If they can’t answer the question, then I’d probably steer clear. We are looking for a motivated seller. We don’t want to go to an auction. We want to buy stuff. I know it is exciting when you get that call and get to go on the treasure hunt but don’t go unless you have a better than 75% chance of being able to buy in bulk. I get lots of calls for furniture. I always ask them to walk out of the room and walk back in to the room and look at the piece of furniture. I ask them did you say WOW when you walked into the room? If you didn’t, then I’m not really interested. I explain that most of my items are shipped and if your item is something that is available in most cities then I wouldn’t be able to sell it and ship it at a profit. I usually send them to a local auction (Bunte) with their furniture.

Another tact I use often is when I go to a home and they have something incredible for sale that I really don’t want to take posession of, I offer to sell it for them. I charge 40% and it doesn’t take me but a few minutes to list something on my site or ebay. I recently sold a 1949 Buco motorcycle for a delightful couple for $1575. It took me about 1/2 an hour of work total and I got 40% of the 1575. I’m not reccomending doing consignments for anything but be aware that there is easy money for selling other people’s stuff. The best one I usually do is pool tables…nobody wants to move one so I either buy them and sell them out of the basement or consign it out of the basement. Either way I don’t do but an hours work and get paid hansomely. If I had to sum up the buying game it would be that you have to know that making a trip is worth your time and you have to know that when you get there that you aren’t there to give free appraisals but to buy stuff. You must always be very nice and respectful so you get invited back and get references. When you are buying try to never give individual prices. Because you want to be able to buy as much as you want for one price, you’ll always make out better this way. When you make a pile of stuff you want, put some stuff that is nice in the pile that you could care less if you get. The reason for this is after you ask how much for the pile, you might get an answer much higher than you were anticipating. If you have extra stuff in the pile, you can start taking stuff out that you could care less about. Take some stuff out and ask now how much? In fact I often ask what is in that pile that is so expensive? Ask them to take out whatever is driving up the price so high. Hope they guess wrong. Anyhow as one wise old man once told me, “if we don’t get what we came for, we have nothing to talk about. So make sure you arm yourself with everything possible to maximize your return on your investments. Thanks for listening and good luck! Let me know if any of this stuff works for you! Good Luck and happy hunting!!! Steve A.

2011
03.04

Who Wudda Thunk?

So this mornig at 3:30 I wake up and head off to Elmhurst Il to a small estate sale. No the only reason I’m going is I have to be in Elmhurst anyhow at 10:30 to meet a potential client. Anyhow we get to the sale at 6:00 and of course the usual suspects are already there and have started a list. Tom and I get number 9 and 10. For the Estate Sale newbies, there is this honor system that we use to see who gets into the sale when. The first person there starts a list and as people come they are added to the list. Usually about a half an hour before the sale the people running the estate sale pass out their numbers which correspond to the temporary numbers that were given out by the first person there. Now there are so many problems with this system that I could spend hours but to sum it up…people pad the list with all their friends etc. so you really have to be lucky to get into the sale in the first wave. And if you’ve ever been to one of these sales, you know that all the good stuff is usually gone in the first couple of minutes. So the “early bird” really does get the worm in this case. I bought a couple of trinkets of no consequence which will probably sit around my office until I get up the energy to take them to a local auction. Sometimes things are prices so cheap, I just can’t resist. Anyhow, the point of this story is the second place I went. I had been talking with this gentleman for a couple of weeks. He had some WW2 German stuff including a bone handled bayonet. I really wanted the bayonet so I put the stuff I needed to buy with the bayonet and we started to negotiate. The negotiations ended like this; I got everything I wanted except the Bayonet which I offered $350 for and the seller wouldn’t take it. I did get a nazi arm band and about 30 1937 baseball pennants, a 1939 Iron Cross and a bunch of other small stuff. The really good thing is that I’m lucky the seller didn’t take my offer on the bayonet…It turns out that it was worth about exactly what I offered him. In this business I call that Buying work…you have to spend about an hour or so selling whatever just to get your investment back. Nobody wants to do that. Anyhow when I got home I looke up all my treasures and it turned out I did fine. I paid the seller a good buck and I stand to make some money…That’s what makes the world go round. I’ve probably mentioned this before, the best buying situation is where I get a call from my adds and I go to the sellers home and buy directly from the seller. I like estate sales because you don’t have to spend all day there and your competition can’t look everything up on ebay before they buy. And you don’t have to bid against other bidders at auction. All you have to do is get the appointment and show up with some money and negotiate a price and go. That sounds easy but of course it isn’t. I spend a couple of hundred dollars a month advertising. I’m on the internet, the yellowbook and Dex yellowpages. Between these strategies and referrals and repeat business, I keep pretty busy. The next post I’ll talk about the pschology of buying and qualifying potential sellers on the phone before you drive 50 miles for nothing. Thanks for listening! Steve A.

2011
03.02

Boy, what a subject!  Ebay is the company you love to hate.  They continue to astound me with rules on what you can and can’t sell.  I remember when they cancelled my 1860′s barometer because the dial was ivory.  That whale had been dead for almost 150 years, I don’t think he cared anymore.   Actually killing whales is very offensive to me but if they were killed before any of us were born maybe it would be ok for us to sell their remains.  Perhaps ebay should set up a fund to donate some percent of your profits to greenpeace so they can make sure the whales benefit somewhat for their ancestors loss.  

I started selling on ebay in 1998.  It was the dark ages of ebay.  I used a snappy card that plugged into my serial port and then plugged into my 8mm camera.  Then you took pics with the movie camera and the snappy card freeze framed the image and wala a jpg file.  Back then digital camera’s cost about $900 so you had to really want one to invest that much cash.  I now am on my fourth digital camera.  I use a nikon 8700 and it is on it’s last legs.  If I buy a new one, I will most likely get a canon G11.  My wife has one of these and it is incredible.   The key to ebay cameras is that the zoom has to be exceptional.  My old nikon could actually film the inclusion in a diamond, pretty neat? 

I am sitting in my living room with my photo studio set up.  I use a couple of those CFL lights with the white umbrella for reflection and a portable backdrop supported by two bar stools.  The reason I go thru all this to shoot ebay pics is that I am a firm believer that pics sell the item.  Additionally, if you put lots of info about your item then you get less questions which makes your life tons easier. 

I have been actually getting some comments from readers out there!  This is great and I really appreciate the feedback.  Please feel free to ask for specific topics.  I am especially versed in how to buy stuff, I have tried just about everything possible to get people to sell me their antiques and oddities.  I advertise in the yellow pages and have a large ad that specifically mentions things I buy.  The phone rings a couple time/day and I try to qualify potential sellers as to what they have and how much they want.  If they don’t know how much they want for something, I ask them if I find something you have that I want to buy, how will we arrive at a price.  If they can’t answer that question, they are just looking for a free appraisal and I don’t give them.  I have been to enough houses and seen enough stuff and been told to leave a bid that I know that leave a bid really means “appraise my item for free and I won’t call you back”.   So why make the trip especially when gas is $3.50/gallon.  My point is that if you advertise, you have to have a way to seal the deal over the phone.  I have my favorite phone call story which I will pass on to you right now.  I got a call from a nice lady years ago.  I asked her what she had and she said she had an oil painting.  I asked her who it was by and had she ever had it appraised?  She said, ” it was appraised for about $350 and I told her I probably wasn’t interested.  I then asked her what else she had and she mentioned a clock and a compass in a teak box.  I told her I would be interested in those and got her name and address and went to see her.  She was a delightful lady and I bought the painting, compass, clock and assundry other stuff.  When I was leaving I noticed a wonderful painting above the couch.  I asked if it was for sale and she replied, “it was appraised and it wasn’t worth much”.  So I told her I had about $300 cash left and she sold it to me for that.   Turns out the painting was not signed on the front but it had a pencil signature on the back of the piece.  It was signed, “Edgar Alvin Payne”, and I’m sure if you take a minute to look up Mr. Payne, you will see that his work is highly desirable.  Mr. Payne studied at the Chicago Art Institute in the 20′s and sold his work at the Gold Coast art fair.  He is a california impressionist but some of his best stuff continues to show up in Chicago.  This painting was probably the best work I’ve ever had.  My son was 7 when I bought it and when he first saw it he said, “WOW”.  I know this post is somewhat rambling so I’ll stop here, but remember to ask lots of questions when you get the opportunity to go to someone’s house.  You never know what they might have.  Thanks, Steve A.

2011
01.16

I’m sitting here erasing hundreds of spam entries from my blog.  Where do they come from?  Is it the same guy that passes you on the expressway and then gets back in your lane and goes slower than you are going?  Could it be the phone solicitor that you pissed off from a recent phone solicitation?  Just who the hell has time to be so annoying?  Well you got me, I’m annoyed, I’m so annoyed that I’m not going to do anything about it except vent like normal people do when the are aggrevated.  OK I’ve got it all out of my system, now I can go back to being a normal happy go luck guy.  I forgive all you spammers and hope God forgives me for wishing all that bad stuff on you!  Thanks, Steve A.

2011
01.07

WOW… What a couple of TV shows can do to a business. You undoubtably have seen ads for Storage Wars and Auction Hunters? These two shows shed some light on the business of auctioning off contents of lockers to offset the cost incurred by non-paying renters of these lockers. I have gone to many of these over the years, more for entertainment than actually finding viable high end stuff for resale. What people don’t realize is the amount of stuff usually contained in one of these lockers is huge and you the buyer have about 48 hours on average to remove it all. Sounds alot like buying work to me… Anyhow the point of this post is to mention that yesterday I went to see a couple of pods auctioned off and there were a couple hundred storage king wanabes hoping to get one of the three pods. I didn’t buy a pod beacuse for me to buy one, I have to see something of substantial value to base my decision on. Most of the buyers are just gambling and in a year or so will burn themselves out and we will be back to normal. Although one of the buyers owns an auction house and has the option to auction off anthing of value but most people don’t have a outlet for what amounts to a dumpster full of stuff. I guess I’m suprised no one is knocking on my door wanting to pick thru my stuff trying to buy it for pennies on the dollar to sell ala American Pickers. Anyhow these shows try to make a tough industry seem glamorous and they seem to be succeeding. I am in this business because I have a passion for the thrill of the chase! I should conclude by saying I love these shows but you must understand that if you don’t know what you are doing, you can buy yourself out of business and be worse off than when you started. Is there gold in them there hills? Yep but it is rare and few will find it and others wll go broke looking for it… Just like the gold rush! That’s all for now…Steve A.

2010
11.27

Well, here I am trying to change my internet service from Comcast to ATT. Why you might ask? I hate comcast and their service due to many reasons but I now have decided to do something about it… I have signed up for ATT’s internet service for 19.99 for a year. I am also trying to install ATT’s service and have spent most of the morning on the phone hitting many dead ends with the ATT company. I get the feeling that ATT is just as bad as Comcast. These monopolies are amazing! ATT say’s that they do not deliver service to the home? How does it get there? Whew…Anyhow I believe I am getting a service call started and maybe then I can use the service, but probably not. Anyhow what a mess!

Now I have to go back to best buy to exchange the digital antenna that I bought because it doesn’t get but one or two channels. Anyhow trying to reduce your home expenses is a losing proposition. It is amazing how ATT can offer no service to a new customer. Back in the old days, service meant helping people, today it must mean just get them off the line…And it worked! I finally got to talk with a real person and they quickly transferred me to an answering machine. Thanks ATT for less than nothing! Steve A.

2010
11.23

Well has it all come to a quick end? All the rushing to get from estate sale (A) to auction (B) and then to that house call 40 miles down the road??? Let’s hope so! I sometimes feel like a squirrel, gathering all those wonderful artifacts so that I can earn enough to get thru the winter. What lies ahead is the opportunity to go stand in line in the freezing cold with some other nuts trying to get a couple of morsels to sell. Is it all worth it? Of course it is!!! Every time I leave the house in pursuit of more stuff, I remind myself that this is fun! And ultimately it is fun, just doesn’t meet with most peoples definition of fun. Enough of that.

Thanksgiving! I certainly have ton’s to be thankful for, there’s that wife of mine…what a wonderful woman and as she say’s, “It takes a special woman to be married to Steve”. And of course my wonderful kids! Both of them are unique in their own ways and I get great joy watching them segue into young adults. And of course Buster our dog. Buster makes you wonder if dogs really are man’s best friend or just the fulfillment of man’s need to have something to take care of and find a place for them to stay when we leave home. I am thankful for all the stuff I have had over my lifetime and hopeful that I continue to get more great stuff. I got over the stuff collecting thing years ago, now stuff is inventory not treasured items that I can’t live without…it is all expendable. The only thing not for sale is the wife and kids, the jury is still out on Buster. I’m thankful for my retirement check! I hope that the IBM company keeps sending it forever! I’m thankful for my friends, especially Tom! Tom is my auction/estate sale/other adventure buddy. We have been friends for over 10 years ever since he beat me out of a 604 Bedrock plane (mint in the box) for $150…I only paid $15 for it so we both made some money and both got a friend out of the deal. Enough of the thankful stuff, I am blessed and I know it! Hope God see’s fit to keep all the gifts coming! Thanks, Steve A.