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By: Patricia Ann Chaffee

Nelson Clayton

Thoughts on personal property appraisals

During many life transitions, the value of personal property can come into question. When you begin to wonder if the items that your family loves may have more than sentimental value, consider calling in a trained personal property appraiser. These highly skilled professionals can guide us not only in determining the value of our treasures, but can suggest how we might best liquidate when downsizing or just cleaning out is on our agenda.

Nelson (Ned) Clayton is an experienced appraiser, and his interest comes from his own family history. He has traced his family genealogy back to the mid 1600’s. 800 related families gather in New Jersey annually to reunite, celebrating their family history, and Clayton was a part of it. His home has furniture laced with boyhood memories. Among an eclectic blend of contemporary pieces and antiques, a crazy quilt made by his family in the 1890’s adorns a wall, filled with symbols representing his family. History and family means a lot to this Old Lyme, CT resident so it makes sense that as he neared retirement in 1991, he decided to pursue an art and antiques appraisal certificate program at Long Island University. With lots of inherited items, and family dating back to the American Revolution, Ned and his wife Stephanie pursued training together and the pursuit of education in this field hasn’t stopped.

Clayton is an Accredited Senior Appraiser with the American Society of Appraisers, Inc. and is a graduate of the Winterthur Institute at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. Prior to retiring, he traveled the world as a banker for Citibank and brings his well- traveled experience to this second career. Despite his many years as a personal property appraiser, he continues to attend educational programs through professional appraisal organizations and museums worldwide, but some of his best learning experiences come from a least likely source. “Every time I go into a house I learn something new,” he says. “If I don’t know or can’t figure out what something is worth, I’ll find someone who does.”

Although he has encountered many unique items over the years, he recognizes his limits as well as the gifts of others, so he calls in specialists as needed, people who specialize in carpet, fine art and jewelry. He can handle everything else himself, including glass, furniture, decorative items, china, silver, collectibles, even vehicles, and he specializes in antiques and decorative arts, especially American antique furniture and silver. Sometimes he is called in to look at one item, a handful of cherished heirlooms or even a whole house, and he is called upon for a variety of reasons. “Everyone has something, but they may not know what to do with it,” says Clayton, who doesn’t deal in antiques himself but can advise his clients in liquidation.

The majority of people who contact him have had some kind of loss in their life or want to protect against loss. Typical reasons to call on a personal property appraiser include estate planning or estate settlement; insurance protection or claims; donations; and divorce.

People may be surprised to hear that the value of an item varies depending on the reason for the valuation. For example if there is the loss of an item that needs to be replaced, and if it was a rare or one of a kind item, it will have a higher value. In an estate scenario where things are likely to be distributed among heirs, one person might want an item and a sibling might want the cash equivalent, so the value will determine the equal share. During divorce, the value is needed for equitable distribution requiring a value that is fair for both parties involved.

The state of the economy factors into values. Since 2008, Clayton has seen significant changes, reducing values in the household marketplace. He also sees generational effects as younger family members have increasingly less interest in items that used to hold significance. “The younger generation doesn’t sit down for dinner anymore so there is no need for silver,” says Clayton. “They don’t want to wind clocks, so old grandfather clocks are no longer wanted or they replace the mechanism so they don’t have to wind it. They aren’t interested in carpets because they want to have hardwood floors. They want pretty, not history. For the first time ever, a new piece of furniture costs more than antiques.”

With estate planning or settlement, decisions need to be made about what do with the things you have. People may choose to keep it, give it to the kids, donate it, or sell the item. The emotional factor is the biggest issue according to Clayton, and one of the hardest things to get over. Clients often believe in the story of an item, and that story may not be more family lore than accurate. “George Washington could only have slept so many places,” he jokes. But once he helps clients to get past the emotional factor, he can assess a piece of furniture for example, by looking at its patina, period and construction.

For folks looking to donate a piece, it is useful to find an institution such as a library, museum, or educational organization with a common purpose aligned with the object. For tax deductible donations, an item may have higher value, especially for items that are rare and will be on display in this setting. Another thing to consider in parting with an item is the location and whether it’s worth it to ship something, as that can sometimes be costly.

It is important to call in an appraiser in several scenarios. For insurance purposes, a documented appraisal of value for expensive items can be crucial in the event of theft or fire. Or in the case of sibling disagreements during estate settlement, he becomes an arbiter. He advises parents to talk with the kids in advance to eliminate disagreements later. Or when folks are downsizing, sometimes preparing a move into extended care facilities, there is much to get rid of because where they are going doesn’t have room for all the things they cherished in their home.

old typewriterWhen considering calling in a professional, it’s important to consider credentials and how much experience they have. Typical scams that folks should be leery about are when an individual will come in, take a look around and throw a number out. “Their main purpose is to get it cheap,” he says. “They run tag sales.” Auction houses are a bit more selective and tend to give a range that they think an item will sell for. They tend to be fairly accurate.
When Clayton goes out to a home he follows up with a thoroughly researched written report of appraised value. He charges by the hour, and what he charges is in no way affected by the value of an item, and if people don’t know where to begin he is happy to come out for a consultation. A consultation involves a walk through, discussion to make a plan as decisions are made about what has emotional or monetary value, and he offers suggestions on how to dispose of the items which may be needed to pay off bills in a situation such as estate liquidation. An appraisal follows.

The thing he likes best about this work is the people he meets and finding things he’s never seen before. His greatest discovery was a desk belonging to an early Connecticut family. He appreciated the value of it because of its history.

Because he enjoyed this interaction with people so much, he has done presentations at Senior Centers where he would bring four items and ask the seniors to value them. The closest guess received a prized. He invited them to bring their own items to try to stump him. Only one audience member was successful, with a lighthouse light lighter that looked like a smudge pot.

Clayton clearly enjoys the work he is doing in his retirement years, bringing insight, education and value to the people who call on him. He enjoys viewing interesting items that always have a story and helping folks determine value and sometimes direction in their lives. And every now and then he gets stumped and reaches into his cadre of research skills and relationships with colleagues to find the answers people need. With a great appreciation for the history of each heirloom, while understanding its sentimental value, he helps clients gain clarity about the true value of each treasured piece.

For more information contact Nelson O. Clayton at (203) 561-8298 or visit www.AppraisalsOfDistinction.com.

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