Stephen Ranger walked into "one of the worst houses in the city" and found a rolled up blanket under the bed. The find -- a Second Phase Navajo chief's blanket worth more than $100,000, -- was unexpected. A find such as this is rare, says Ranger, vice-president of Waddington's Auctioneers in Toronto, but it does happen. So when you decide to downsize or purge, it's a good idea to call in an expert before you toss everything in the trash. "There's never a downside to calling in a local auction house to do a quick walk through," Ranger says, adding a Waddington's expert costs $200 per hour. "It gives peace of mind."
"If you think something is worth money, chances are it isn't. If you think something is worthless, there's a possibility it may not be," says organizing company Downsizing Diva co-founder Karen Shinn. "Two sisters asked an antiques auctioneer to visit their house and look at their most valuable possession, a dining room set. It was the biggest thing in their house, they had spent the most money on it and used it for important times -- it had emotional value.
However the auctioneer told them it was worth about $400. Then he asked about the two vases sitting on the buffet. The sisters were going to donate them to a church yard sale. Those vases were Moorcroft," Shinn says.
Old magazines, postcards and even vintage cereal boxes are among the items people think are worthless but can actually have value, she says.
"When you're downsizing and want to make sure you don't get rid of valuable items, the best advice is to do your homework. There are a lot of resources out there -- the Internet, antique and art appraisers, books, senior move managers -- so check to make sure you have an idea what something is worth before you let it go. Items may have ‘heart value' to you and your family, but when you're talking about ‘dollar value' do your research."
If you have something that's been in the family a long time, you may want to have it checked out, Ranger says. "Send a photo to your local auction house." The auction house should give you feedback about whether it's worth auctioning or not.
Larger cities usually have qualified specialists working for established companies. "What you want to avoid is someone who comes in and scoops up that van Gogh in the closet," before you know what's happening, Ranger says.
However be prepared for the negative too. The value of most household goods has depreciated, he says. "The next generation doesn't collect like the last one.
Millennials are not collecting figurines or traditional furniture." That said, there are collectors for just about everything, antique, vintage, new and everything in between.
"Every fall when our crews go into homes during back-to-school season we come across valuable items that parents were ready to toss that are actually worth quite a bit of money to collectors," says Mike Thorne, president of St. Catharines, Ont.-based JustJunk.com.
JustJunk and Shinn have been in the business for 15 years each and put the knowledge they've gained over the years to work to help their clients spot treasures. It doesn't mean they'll catch everything of value, but a seasoned eye is an asset to your downsizing/purge project.
Here are some of the top kids' items with money-making potential that JustJunk tells parents to look out for when decluttering:
Pokemon: Pokemon Go may have taken the world by storm this summer, but there's plenty of money to be made from the original Pokemon for Nintendo Game Boy. Original game cartridges in good condition are selling to collectors for a few hundred dollars.
Polly Pocket: These tiny dolls and play sets that were popular in the early ‘90s can fetch $500 or more if they're in top condition.
Furbies: Launched in 1998, these strange owl-like robotic creatures are still highly sought after. Collectors will pay about $600 for one of these guys in mint condition - sometimes even higher if it's in the original packaging.
Harry Potter: If you happened to get on the Harry Potter train early and bought a 1998 first edition of the first book in the fantastically popular series - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - you could be in for a payday. Copies in great condition are currently selling for about $6,500 each. Add a signature from author J.K. Rowling and the price more than doubles to about $15,000.
LEGO: Some LEGO sets and mini figures can sell for hundreds of dollars to the right collector. Before getting rid of any LEGOS, it's a good idea to check online to see what's hot on the collectables market.
If you have the time and the inclination, you can search items on the Internet to get an idea of their worth. Consignment shops, selling items online and garage sales are ways to cash in on your unwanted items. But you have to gauge whether the time spent will be worth it.
When they are downsizing, people typically make three piles -- keep, donate and toss. Adding a fourth pile could make good financial sense.