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Unexpected Directions with Judy Johnson, Unexpected Treasures

Times have changed in the estate sale business.  Judy Johnson, Unexpected Treasures, has found ways to adapt to the new environment and explained how her business is working these days.

Judy began her business over twelve years ago as an estate organizer.  She discovered early on that what she really enjoyed doing and had a special talent at is not finding a place for stuff but helping people get rid of stuff.

When Unexpected Treasures began in 2000, a typical call from a client would be from the adult child of an older couple who had passed away.  The heirs would take a few mementos and want Judy and her team to clear away the rest.  Judy, with her background in museum works and fine arts, is very well equipped to find items that are of value that could be sold to collectors or dealers.  She would find all sorts of great things – historical items, collectibles, Hummel figures, clocks and many more.

Different Clients: Today’s clients are different.  These days, heirs are keeping more items and are looking for items of value to sell themselves on eBay and the like.  As a result, today’s estate sales are less likely to be filled with the wonderful things that were once common.  They are also keeping more items and renting storage units to store them (which is a postponed issue).

The basic process for the clearing has not changed.   Judy identifies anything with potential resale value, frequently calling on her network of expert appraisers.  She also has a network of potential buyers and keeps an eye out on their behalf for items of interest.  Once the saleable items are gone, anything useful is donated to a variety of local non-profit organizations.  The rest is hauled off for recycling (if possible) or to the dump.

In general, Judy says her business is more focused now on clearing out rather than on estate sales.  Her last estate sale was in April and went very well.  She is grateful to new PEA members A&C Hauling for always being reliable and efficient haulers.  For an additional fee, she will arrange for shredding of documents or will call in Curtis Lane, Lane Cleaning Services, to thoroughly clean the home.  In a sense, she has become more of a project manager these days.

Her pricing policies have changed to keep up with the times.  She charges a flat fee for the estate clearing.  If the estate sale is less than the flat fee, the client pays her the difference.  If the estate sale exceeds the fee, Judy collects a 20% commission on the sale.  Hauling is always charged separately since that is too variable to include in a flat fee.

Different Buyers: The other part of the picture that has changed is the buyers – specifically, what they will buy.  Gone are the days of Hummel figures, fine china, and antique furniture.  None of those items sell well these days.  What does sell: sterling silver, gold, costume jewelry, watches, Native American items, military items, firearms, musical instruments, antique toys, fine dolls, currency and coins and some art books.  Mid-century Modern and Chinese furniture are the exception to the “no furniture” statement.

Restricted items: There are also many new restrictions on the sale of anything with wild animal parts – ivory, elephant, wild animal skins and furs, crocodile, alligator, and many, many more.  This includes the ivory on piano keys, ivory inlay on instruments, and even taxidermied wild animals.  It is so tempting to say that it is a wild world out there.

October/November Double Feature- Success Stories Round-up!

  • Gary Rudolph, Rudolph’s Interiors said his open house went well.  He turned his workroom into a showroom for the event.  He thanked Albert Ong, Ambassador Services for getting a seemingly impossible-to-remove stain out.  He thanked Skip Gould, San Mateo Daily Journal for handling the ad and was glad to see a few PEA members there.  He had flooring covering by Terry Pebbles, Optimum Floors also included in their presentation.
  • Avi Safar, Footwear, Etc said that the Footwear, Etc. owner just had a big event at the Sheraton Palo Alto.
  • Dr. Chuck Fulanovich, Palo Alto Chiropractic had a success story for Jeff Badzik, Perfection Auto Detail.  Jeff was voted best auto detailer in the Bay Area by 95% of his customers.
  • Dave O’Neal, Comtech Computing thanked Mike Fox, A&A Plumbing for the smooth installation of a new heater while he was gone.
  • David Gaskill, D.B. Gaskill Advertising Specialties is celebrating his 30th year as a PEA member this month.
  • Maureen Clark, Clark Associates thanked Albert Ong, Ambassador Services for the great job cleaning her carpets.  She also thanked Roger Bolgard, Jackson & Miller for the referral.
  • Judy Johnson, Unexpected Treasures thanked Curtis Lane, Lane Cleaning Services for help with a recent client.  This was a fast turnaround job with 24 hours notice and the team did a great job.  She also thanked Dave O’Neal, Comtech Computing for yet another computer rescue.
  • Georgie Gleim, Gleim the Jeweler thanked Werner Rogmans, Stanford Floral Design for the flowers for her mom.  She also was modeling a new line of Italian gold jewelry.
  • Dr. Leta Zwiebel, Psychologist thanked Albert Ong, saying that Jonathan Ong, Ambassador Services cleaned her 20-year-old couch and it looks like new.
  • Susan Scott, Expressions Salon thanked Julie Fukuhara, Stern Mortgage for all the work on the new loan.  She was thrilled to get 4.12%.
  • Judy Johnson, Unexpected Treasures thanked Mike Fox, A&A Plumbing for the great job his plumber did.  She also thanked Dr. Chuck Fulanovich, Palo Alto Chiropractic, saying that the laser treatment has really been helping her knee.
  • Dr. Leta Zwiebel, Psychologist reported that the current issue of Gentry magazine has a beautiful picture of Georgie Gleim, Gleim the Jeweler.
  • Erik Jacobsen, Threestory Studio has started a Facebook page called Startling Statistics in which he features some of his previewed graphics.  Go by and check it out on Facebook (and don’t forget to like his page).
  • Karen Bowne, Sheraton Palo Alto thanked Larry and Laurie Moore, Larry’s AutoWorks for their recent help.  Her car was just past warranty and she took it to them.  Larry felt that the dealership ought to fix the problem and gave them a call.  In the end, the dealer did fix it at a savings of $750 to Karen.
  • Carol Garsten, Nature Gallery celebrated her 24th year in business last week.  She is also showing some of the work of a local artist in her gallery who works with organic, natural stones and silver.  This artist has become very well known during the years that Carol has worked with her and now has pieces in 62 galleries.
  • Bobbie Fakkema, Events, Etc… thanked Susan Hamilton, VTF Services for fixing her garden.  She also used the crew at Arborwell (thanks to Jon Maystrik, Arborwell Professional Tree Management) to remove a tree and did some shopping at Mollie Stone’s Market.
  • Julie Fukuhara, Stern Mortgage thanked Susan Scott, Expressions Salon for her long-overdue (as she described it) haircut.
  • Shawn McMillan, Connoisseur Coffee says that they began construction on rebuilding the Connoisseur Coffee building.
  • Konrad Thaler, Smilin Dogs thanked David Gaskill, D.B. Gaskill Advertising Specialties for the receipt of a shipment of Smilin Dogs jackets.
  • Georgie Gleim, Gleim the Jeweler says that the Stanford Mall gets tour buses from time to time.  She recently had a visit from some Asian gentlemen who purchased four Rolex watches with cash and flew back home the next day.
  • Gary Rudolph, Rudolph’s Interiors will be demonstrating some of his techniques to students from Cañada College.

Treasure Hunting with Judy Johnson of Unexpected Treasures

Judy Johnson, Unexpected Treasures operates a custom personal property and estate liquidation service with an emphasis on custom.  Judy began her career in the corporate world as Manager of Government and Corporate Affairs at Crown Zellerbach.  She decided to switch to the antiques business thirty years ago and has owned and operated Unexpected Treasures for the past ten years.  She has a Masters of Arts in Museum Studies and worked for the De Young Museum and the Palace of the Legion of Honor in education.  She is active in the Chambers of Commerce in both Palo Alto and San Carlos.

Judy says that her typical client is charged with clearing out an entire house.  This is either because the client’s parents have downsized and moved to assisted living or the parents passed away and the heirs and trustees have to clear everything away to sell the home.  The Unexpected Treasures staff starts after the family has taken away everything they want to keep.  They then sell as much as they can, donate as much as they can, and have the rest hauled away.  They will clean sweep the home afterwards or call Curtis Lane, Lane Cleaning Services for a thorough cleaning.

They typically hold two types of sale: small, private sales and large, public estate sales.  For a private sale, Judy finds and researches the treasures.  She has a list of buyers who are looking for specific kinds of treasures, so she can frequently find a buyer with a phone call or two.  After all items that could be sold are gone, Judy brings in charities, who take away a lot more.  Next, she brings in her hauling service, who clears everything out (including the basement).  Finally, Curtis Lane, Lane Cleaning Services comes in and cleans up everything on short notice.

Next Judy showed some slides of a recent full estate sale in Woodside.  The family took a lot of items and at first Judy didn’t think the remaining items would be of much value.  But once they started going through the cupboards and garage, they discovered beautiful china and lots of sterling silver.  The silver alone went for around $10,000.

Some items are obviously of value, like the symphonium (a large music box) from the Sutro Baths in San Francisco, sterling silver, Tiffany glass vases, or a copy of Our Town with a letter from the author.  But what about the unexpected treasures?  As a few examples, Judy showed a photo of a small, aged piece of cloth with an American flag and writing in Asian characters.  She explained that this was a blood chit, a notice carried by the military (usually pilots) during war to identify them to friendly foreigners.  This item sold for $350.  A scrapbook containing early aviation photos taken around the Bay Area sold for $500.  An old steamer trunk turned out to be a valuable brand (Goyerd) and sold for $700.  A bronze letter holder turned out to be made by Tiffany and sold for $650.  Even old fishing fly rods can turn out to be surprisingly valuable; a recent set sold to a dealer for $500 (who then sold the set for $3,500).

Judy works with over 40 experts to identify treasures for her clients.  A good client for Judy is anyone clearing a home from San Francisco to Los Altos.

September Success Stories Round-up!

PEA had another great month!  Stay tuned for next month’s Success Stories Round-up!
  • Judy Johnson, Unexpected Treasures thanked Jon Maystrik, Arborwell Professional Tree Management and the crew for the great clean up job at her house.  She also thanked everyone who came to her estate sale in Woodside.
  • Georgie Gleim, Gleim the Jeweler thanked Mike Feller, Innovative Sales & Leasing for the new (to her) car for her niece.  She needed a good mileage commute car and is very happy with what Mike found for her.
  • Erik Jacobsen, Threestory Studio said that his neighbors liked the paint job that Duane Asbra, Pro-Staff Painting did at his house so much that they are hiring them to paint theirs.
  • Laurie Moore, Larry’s AutoWorks thanked Dave O’Neal, Comtech Computing for his help getting them back online after a server change.
  • Kim Tucker, All Reasons Moving announced that they are now certified California movers.  This is a new program and they are one of the first to become certified.
  • Jon Maystrik, Arborwell Professional Tree Management says that the day before Labor Day he turned his car over to Mike Feller, Innovative Sales & Leasing to sell.  By the day after Labor Day, he already had a buyer.  Mike has lists of buyers looking for specific kinds of vehicles and may be able to easily match you up.
  • Bobbie Fakkema, Events, Etc… says that she is seeing some more corporate events.  She did an event for 3,000 people for Tesla last weekend.
  • Carol Garsten, Nature Gallery was back last week from a buying trip.  She has returned with a large dinosaur bone from the Badlands and a butterfly-shaped table made from geodes.
  • Sue Ballew, Skytrekker Aviation took her car to Scott Yeaman, Yeaman Autobody for some body work.  She was very happy about the body work but even happier that he polished her headlights.  She didn’t know what she was missing.
  • Albert Ong, Ambassador Services got a new contract to maintain some awnings at Stanford University.
  • John King, Keller-Williams Realty has been handling a rental property belonging to Dr. Al Butner, Honorary Member. Preparing the property for new renters involved PEA members Duane Asbra, Pro-Staff Painting, Gary Rudolph, Rudolph’s Interiors, Curtis Lane, Lane Cleaning Services, and Susan Hamilton, VTF Services and it is already leased.