Every year, I evaluate about 20,000 objects both at antique appraisal events and in private homes. Many of us are leaving ourselves vulnerable. With every object comes a story and I hear a lot of these stories. These stories come from people who I have met who have suffered a personal property loss. We have to protect our personal property from potential thieves.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been conducting one of my public appraisal events and all of a sudden I will see a person just whip out a miniature photo album or cell phone pictures of every valuable item they own. Then they just show the photos to someone sitting in the crowd next to them who they hardly know. They flip through the pages recounting how or when they acquired that oil painting, pair of crystal vases, or piece of estate jewelry. Stupid!
I hear someone ask someone else, where does that lady with the photo album live? It seems harmless but I see this happen in the produce section of the grocery store, at the library, etc. Remember the old military saying "loose lips, sink ships" from American history class? It applies here. Keep your mouth shut.
Don't leave Visitors Unattended
This tip is borrowed directly from my mom's instructions when we were young and she was stepping out for a quick trip to the store. The cardinal rule was don't let anyone into the house. And, running a close second was her command to always stay with your guests.
A variation on this tip is don't let anyone in the house while you are having a yard sale too. In Philadelphia, PA, a woman hosted a yard sale and allowed a gentleman to use her bathroom while she was outside taking care of other buyers. Sounds reasonable, but...Two weeks later, her house was robbed. The man posing as a yard sale shopper was actually casing her home during his trip to the bathroom. Also, if people are in your house to fix a leaky pipe, install new kitchen cabinets, or take that old exercise bike you are donating, don't leave them unattended either.
Don't keep Neighbors in the Dark
There have been numerous reports of neighbors who noticed something strange happening at the house next door but decided to do nothing about it. Fearing that they would be considered rude, the neighbor sat idly by while the house next door was robbed in broad daylight. Give a trusted neighbor the 411 and the green light. Share information about your vacations, a significant schedule change, or a relative's extended visit.
A neighbor could assume that the elderly woman living next door had decided to move in with her adult daughter. While the homeowner was away, her neighbors just watched as the so called movers--actually robbers--loaded a van with her stuff. They robbed armoires, chests, and other large furniture items right before neighbor's eyes. Give trusted neighbors the green light to call the police if they see something unusual happening around your house.
As an expert antiques appraiser and established scholar in the field of art and antiques, I have heard many stories about valuable works of art, antiques, and valuable collectibles.
Don't Leave it without Proof
If you decide to consign your antiques, art, or collectibles to a dealer or an auction house, take a photograph and get a detailed receipt for each item before you leave it in their care. Document condition of each item on the photograph at the time of the exchange and make sure someone of authority at the dealership, consignment shop, or auction house signs, dates, and prints his or her name on a receipt indicating that they assume authority over your property.
Ask about insurance coverage of your item if it is lost or damaged while in their care. I have heard numerous stories of how an object does not sell at the auction or in a shop and then suddenly, that object is mysteriously lost. The consigner is told that they have no recourse because they do not have any proof regarding the specific item. I have heard some people recount that when this happened to them, the consignee wanted to see a receipt demonstrating that the piece was left with them in the first place.
If your car mechanic lost your car when it was in the shop, you would expect them to be responsible for the loss and get you a car. Do not leave it up to the dealership or the auction house to protect your items. Protect yourself--snap a picture, document the condition, and get a signed receipt. If you don't get results, take action.
Many people enjoy their part time online auction business as they happily sell that old coffee grinder online to make a few extra bucks. For you online auctioneers, be sure that you know the actual value of your objects before you post them. The online marketplace is not always an accurate indicator of value as this real life story about a $60,000 bottle indicates. You can't assume the asking price on someone else's online auction is the correct value for a similar item. Don't publicize that your late Aunt Polly's Staffordshire platter that you are trying to sell online is currently residing at your home address either.
If you frequently sell online, others that have your address could get ideas of skipping the auction process and paying you a visit directly. If you accept checks or money orders for your online sales, get a USPS post office box or UPS mailing station box that is only used for your online business. The mailing box will save you from advertising your actual location filled with valuable objects to the online world.