Going Once! Going Twice! Going… for the First Time?

The Enlightened Auction-Goer: The top local sales, first-timer strategies, and how to turn your junk into someone else’s treasure.

Get Your Own House In Order  
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Here’s how to tell the difference.

Not every ancient knickknack collecting dust in your attic is going to boast a museum-worthy provenance. For each surprise Hawaiian koa wood bowl worth 20 grand, there are months’ worth of mind-numbing Antiques Roadshow outtakes of duds that didn’t quite pan out.

So how do you know which is which? Call in the experts. While the big houses cherry-pick from fancy estates, other auctioneers cast a wider net. Like Marge Kelley of Kelley Auctions, who gets some of her goods via full-service clean-outs for people moving, downsizing, or dealing with an inherited property.

Equipped with movers, a 13-foot truck, a dumpster, lots of boxes, and a label machine, Kelley (that’s her at right) can empty a 4,000-square-foot house in days. To offset the labor costs, she “squeezes the last penny” out of the contents through weekly auctions, relying on her star appraiser’s ability to spot the treasures among the junk, which gets separated into three piles—Trash, Donation, and To Auction—a procedure familiar to anyone who watches shows like TLC’s Clean Sweep.

Finding riches this way takes perseverance and experience. A blanket chest full of old sheets once yielded Kelley a 19th-century Japanese sword with an ivory hilt that sold for $300; on another house call, she found a first-generation Stickley desk that ultimately netted $214,500. “Every day I play diplomat, psychiatrist, and mother to my clients,” she says. “But in the end, the house is empty and I hand them a check. And everyone’s happy.”

Kelley also spends time securing homes for things she can’t sell. She makes hefty donations to Amvets, the Weymouth Furniture Bank, the Salvation Army, and individual families in need. “If it takes me an extra 10 minutes to make sure it doesn’t end up in a landfill somewhere, it’s worth it.” Kelley Auctions, 476 S. Franklin St., Holbrook, 781-767-5255, kelleyauctions.net.


Photos by Todd Dionne (top) and Eric Kulin (middle).