- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Ellen Boyer of Alexandria has an expensive hobby — hunting for beautiful things. For 40 years, she has frequented estate auctions. After decorating and redecorating her own home, she has run out of room for new items.

So now she shops for her children.

At a recent Tuesday auction at Adam A. Weschler & Son Inc. in Northwest, she bought a rust-colored rug for her daughter.

“I have people who say to me that they would like to be my child,” Ms. Boyer says. “Sometimes you pay too much for something because you want it, but it’s different than buying a piece of furniture at a store. It’s like a car. If you buy it, you can sell it again.”

Estate auctions and tag sales, also known as estate sales, can be a good way to furnish a home with high-quality items at a reasonable price. The only danger is making too many purchases at once.

Most buyers come to an auction or tag sale with a plan, says Michael Weschler, an auctioneer at Adam A. Weschler & Son Inc. Before the sale, they usually research the value of the items they want and decide what they are willing to pay for those items.

Most of the goods sold during the Tuesday auctions at Adam A. Weschler & Son Inc. are from various estates that need to be settled. The merchandise can be previewed the Monday before the sale. Throughout the year, catalog auctions feature more expensive items.

On Tuesdays, the auction house presents an assortment of pieces, such as pots and pans, dishware, carpets, silver, coins, furniture, fine art and jewelry.

The company charges the client for whom it is holding the auction a 25 percent commission on whatever is sold, Mr. Weschler says. In addition to the “hammer price,” the person purchasing the item is charged a buyer’s premium, plus sales tax. The buyer’s premium is 15 percent of the price for the first $50,000 and 10 percent above that.

“When liquidating an estate, some people have yard sales,” Mr. Weschler says. “Other people don’t want the general public coming to their house. This way, they don’t have to deal with anyone but us.”

While some people enjoy the excitement of estate auctions, they can get caught up in the bidding and spend too much money, says Randy Florke, author of “Your House, Your Home.”

At an estate auction, the auctioneer goes after the highest bid, while a tag sale has a fixed price. Because of the set price, tag sales are easier for novice shoppers to navigate, Mr. Florke says.

“There’s not the frenzy that comes with an auction,” Mr. Florke says. “The danger with auctions is there are a lot of professional people involved, not just the ones running the auctions, but the people bidding. You’re in a different league. Buyer beware.”

A person should know exactly how an item will adorn a home before it is purchased, he says. Measuring the piece and comparing it to the available space in the house is preferable. Viewing the items during a pre-sale event also is wise.

“You never go to the supermarket when you’re hungry,” Mr. Florke says. “You don’t go blindly to an estate sale. Don’t go wanting everything.”

The benefit of a tag sale is that the price can be controlled by the party selling the items, says Margaret M. Burds, president of Emerald Estate Sales in Sterling.

After evaluating the value of the objects in an estate, Ms. Burds, who specializes in tag sales, temporarily creates a shop setting in the home of the person with the goods. She charges a minimum of 25 percent of the gross income of the sale. Along with other tag sales, she lists her sales in the classified section of newspapers.

“We have a pretty good handle on how much household goods cost,” Ms. Burds says. “With a tag sale, an owner can say, ‘If it doesn’t bring $5,000, I don’t want to sell it.’”

By going to estate auctions and tag sales, a young couple could furnish a two-bedroom apartment for less than $2,000, says Thom Pattie, president of Bull Run Auction Inc. in Manassas, which holds weekend auctions.

“You could save a tremendous amount of money,” Mr. Pattie says. “If you get tired of a certain style, you can trade it. You can sell your old pieces and buy other pieces.”

John Enggren of Vienna frequently visits Adam A. Weschler & Son Inc. looking for oil paintings of merchant ships on the high seas. About six months ago, he bought a wooden filing cabinet.

“It’s a matter of coming every week until you find what you want,” Mr. Enggren says. “If you’re new, come and bid and buy something so you get experience.”

Donna Nickum of Antiques of Clifton hardly ever buys anything from a department store, buying instead from estate auctions and tag sales. While buying things for her business, she has decorated her home. Of course, everything in her house is for sale for the right price, she says.

“Sometimes, I even find brand-new clothes this way,” Mrs. Nickum says. “I have quite a collection of hats for my husband — fireman hats, top hats, derby hats, straw hats.”

Buying used items at an estate auction can be a tremendous value, says Stephanie Kenyon, president of Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers in Chevy Chase.

The company’s next exhibition of items for auction is Saturday through June 16, with the auction on June 18 and 19. The firm also will hold many tag sales this summer.

“It’s a way to get unique pieces of extraordinarily high quality,” Ms. Kenyon says. “Most new furniture cannot compare to quality older pieces. The craftsmanship of the older pieces is exemplary.”

People should attend estate auctions and tag sales for an enjoyable time, says Carol Oshinsky, owner of A Carol Oshinsky Sale in Bethesda.

“It’s fun sifting through other people’s things and getting to see how other people live,” Mrs. Oshinsky says. “You find something that you knew you needed and never got around to buy, and it’s one-fourth of what it would have cost you if you bought it new.”

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