Mr. LaPedis has been urging people to hold onto most of their valuables until the economic slump is past and prices rise again. But in these hard times, his message is sometimes drowned out by hard realities.
"More people are offering to sell me stuff than wanting to buy, because they're in trouble," says LaPedis, owner of Fascination St. Fine Art. "For $10,000 paintings that they bought five or six years ago, they're lucky to get $1,000 or $1,500 for them. That's how much devaluation there's been, [but] they just want enough to pay their rent or pay their mortgages."
It's a familiar tale. Dealers in a range of luxury goods and collectibles say sellers strapped for cash are unloading cherished items, sometimes at significant losses. Yet those who must sell can boost their compensation considerably, observers say, if they'll only do a little research and compare offers.
Dealers, especially those specializing in high-end or hard-to-find goods, can afford to be choosy.
More and more jewelers, motivated by record-high gold prices, are buying gold from jewelry owners who need cash, according to Amanda Gizzi, spokeswoman for Jewelers of America, a trade organization based in New York. Henry Cowit Inc., the nation's largest fur dealer, has seen inventory jump about 10 percent this year as more sellers from wealthy neighborhoods seek to raise quick cash, according to co-owner Larry Cowit, in New York. Traveling brokers from Ohio Valley Gold & Silver Refinery have extended their purchasing events again and again – to 18 weeks in a row in Laurel, Miss., and 26 weeks in Sarasota, Fla. – as locals wait as long as seven hours to market their attic treasures.
This might be a fine time to sell certain types of items. With gold topping $1,400 per ounce in November and silver flirting with record highs, too, one might get more than ever before for an old ring or broken necklace. But to get fair deals, sellers need to come prepared.
With gold jewelry, would-be sellers should check markings to see how pure it is: 24-karat is 100-percent pure gold. They should know its precise weight, too, and then calculate – based on the day's market price for gold – how much their gold would command if melted down at a refinery. A jeweler is likely to offer a bit less in order to make a profit, but sellers can improve their bargaining positions by comparing a few offers.
David Small of Randolph, Mass., recently learned how much prices can vary when he brought a 14-karat Baraka gold bracelet to a Quincy, Mass., jeweler. Mr. Small says he paid $3,000 for it a few years ago. The jeweler offered him just $300, he says, even though the gold weight alone was worth more than $600 at today's prices. He then put it up for sale on eBay, where one bidder offered $800, and also offered it on Craigslist. He's holding out for the asking price of $900.
"Everyone's doing the same thing now: buying gold and trying to make a fortune from it," Small says. "Jewelers say they're going to melt it, but as soon as you're out that door, they're on the phone trying to sell it as a premium item."
Certain hard-to-find goods are commanding strong prices, too. Example: high-quality, rare guitars. Decades-old Martin guitars in good condition have been fetching between $60,000 and $300,000, according to Matthew Enright, vice president of media for Ohio Valley, based in Springfield, Ill. One reason: Floods in Nashville earlier this year damaged many a Martin guitar and created a sense of scarcity among collectors.
Those who must sell valuables to raise cash should begin with items whose prices have risen recently. LaPedis, author of "The Garage Sale Millionaire," points to gold coins and damaged gold jewelry as reasonable items to sell now. That's because strong gold prices help sellers do well, even in a weak economy.
But he warns against unloading items whose artistic value won't be appreciated in today's market. For example: a table set of heirloom silver.
The reason? In a good economy, the seller would be compensated for the craftsmanship as well as the silver's weight. But today, buyers generally aren't competing to own fancy silverware, so a seller would likely get a low price for just the silver as a raw material.
Figuring out what to charge for valuables is no easy task, especially in difficult economic times. To discern a ballpark figure, Small checks how much similar items have commanded in eBay's list of finalized sales.
Hire an appraiser, LaPedis says, only if an item could likely be worth several hundred dollars. Otherwise, the appraiser's fee will consume too much of the proceeds to be worthwhile.
Because many collectors feel pressed to sell now, buyers might find good selection and prices in certain market segments – but not all. California antique dealers, for instance, aren't getting a look at much high-end merchandise these days, according to Glen Wright, vice president of Richard Gould Antiques in Los Angeles.
"If we're talking about a $14,000 armoire, people are choosing to sell it at a different time," Mr. Wright says. "But if we're talking about Grandma's five mismatched silver-plate spoons, then they're selling those to try to raise a little money … maybe $5."