Jacksonville Beach-based: CHINA CAT ESTATE SALES

Sale in Cypress Village

When people smell a bargain they can get pretty competitive. Something Pat Fisher learned after decades in the estate sale business. She recalls one sale in Ponte Vedra Beach, involving the estate of Nat King Cole’s widow, when many customers slept outside in their cars, waiting for the event to begin.

Some people waited 48 hours, including a high powered businessman.

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“Did you know the head of the Coca Cola bottling company is sitting outside, waiting for your sale to begin?” one of Fisher’s employees told her.

Fisher says she was amused. “We have a following that’s amazing,” she says.

Pat and Ray Fisher started China Cat Antiques decades ago and then transitioned into China Cat Estate Sales, based in Jacksonville Beach, which they recently sold to Lou Alabbassi and his wife Susan Blackwood Alabbassi. Pat Fisher is staying on a while to ease the transition, because she loves the business.

No day is ever the same, because every sale is unique, she says. But most involve selling a house full of stuff accumulated over many years, including furniture, art work, jewelry, clothing, kitchen items, knickknacks, antiques, collectables, garden tools and more – even golf carts and cars.

Estate sale companies manage, for a commission, the organization, pricing and sale of the items. Some houses can be loaded with stuff, while others not so much. Some sales take place in small homes, some in oceanfront mansions.

One recent China Cat sale in Cypress Village, a retirement community in the Intracoastal West area, was fairly easy to organize because the homeowners had already downsized before they moved there. But it was a nice sale, because they had kept interesting antiques and collectables, including a large brass brazier, copper kitchen pots and molds, gold flatware, a Dutch painting and Italian porcelain tureens.

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It’s a fascinating business to be in, because “you never know when something unusual is going to pop up,” Pat said one day while the sale was being organized. Just then, as if to prove her point, an employee showed her an antique curling iron they’d just discovered in the bathroom. Fisher knew it would tickle the fancy of just the right customer.

Estate sale customers are as varied as the sales, says Fisher, who expects the industry to boom. Estate sales provide a valuable service for people who are downsizing or have inherited an estate, she says, and the need is growing because we live in an “accumulation nation.” Now that the Baby Boomers, who “own a mountain of stuff,” are beginning to retire, “we will have more work than we know what to do with.”

 

Intracoastal West-based: YESTERDAY’S CHILD

Sale in Fort Caroline

Yesterday’s Child likely manages more estate sales than any other company in the region. That is because, owner Margaret Hill says, “we will do most any size.” As well as “a lot of sales that other companies won’t touch,” including a recent one in the Fort Caroline home of an “over collector.” The client homeowner had about 60 sets of golf clubs and thousands of golf balls, as well as many train sets, NASCAR match box cars – most still in their packages, sports team hats, and vintage records.

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After a lifetime of collecting, the client, a widower, was remarrying “a minimalist” and selling his house and most of its huge number of belongings. Starting life anew with a woman who believes less is more was a bonanza for estate sale aficionados, who include antique dealers as well as ordinary folk looking for interesting treasures at prices that traditionally fall somewhere between retail and yard sale.  But that particular sale was a lot of work for Hill and her staff.

Two of her employees had spent six days organizing a few rooms, “and they’re not even half through,” Hill said at the time. “There is so much involved.”

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Even so, Hill enjoys the surprises that pop up in most sales. During the sorting process, “you uncover a ménage of all kinds of stuff,” she says. Some finds are particularly memorable, like the owl oil lamp “that was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It sold the first day.”

Then there was a home where she and her staff were removing towels from a linen closet and wrapped inside one of the towels was a jar of fiery opals and diamonds, a necklace and a ring – all obviously forgotten by the clients. Hill gave the jewelry back to them, even though technically according to the contract, she could have sold it.

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Her reputation for honesty is something she highly values, which is important in that industry, which she says many people get into thinking it will be easy, and then quickly get out of when they find out it is not.

It takes experience to know how to price items, and organizing and supervising a sale takes many salaried employees, she says. It also requires having liability insurance, which “many new kids on the block” don’t realize, and don’t have.

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Despite all the hard work, however, Hill loves the business.

“Everybody comes to estate sales – dealers, young people starting out, older people wanting to replace things, collectors, people riding by who saw the signs,” she says.

“No two sales are the same. It’s not like a 9 to 5 job: same thing day after day.”