When the Antiques Have to Go
By: Sara ClemencePublished: 9/24/2019Source: The New York Times
When the Antiques Have to Go
With spare interiors and light colors all the rage right now, selling a home filled with period pieces can be a challenge.
The owners of the 2,000-square-foot loft in Chelsea loved antiques, and had furnished the apartment accordingly. There was a china cabinet topped with carved scrollwork and a grandfather clock standing sentry near the door. Persian rugs padded the floor.
And it was all getting in the way of a sale.
“It was filled very beautifully with antiques that were quite expensive and precious, but did not fit with what you consider a Chelsea loft,” said Charlie Miller, a Corcoran agent who represented the owners with his colleague Laurie Lewis. “It didn’t fit with the type of buyer who’d be looking at the space.”
The owners were resistant to removing the furniture, and the brokers weren’t happy with the initial level of interest in the condo.
So they took photos of the rooms and used staging technology to give the apartment a different look. The first photo in the listing became a rendering of the living room, a grand space with a wall of windows. “We virtually emptied it, we whitewashed the walls. We put a modern sensibility in,” Ms. Lewis said. “It sold within a matter of weeks.”
At a time when home design television shows and shelter magazines emphasize light colors and pared-down interiors, it can be harder to sell homes that are furnished with antiques. Large pieces in particular can make a property feel smaller than it is or hide desirable features.
Deborah Ribner, a Warburg agent, recently represented a 2,800-square-foot apartment in Sutton Place that was part of an estate. The late owner had loved antiques: Sixteen chandeliers hung from the ceilings; the dining room table sat 12 and had a thronelike chair at one end. “The apartment had the most spectacular views from every single room,” Ms. Ribner said. “But it was so full that it was hard to appreciate them.” She helped the owner’s daughter clear out the antiques, and the co-op received multiple offers and was in contract within five weeks.
More significantly, in an age when so-called brown furniture is far out of favor, antiques can make a property feel dated and less appealing to buyers — especially younger ones. That can mean delicate conversations between antiques owners and real estate agents, who have to resort to explaining, cajoling, and creative solutions like virtual staging to make homes more marketable.
“If they’re a business person I tell them that what I’m selling is space,” said Robin Kencel, a broker with Compass in Greenwich, Conn. “If I’m working with a seller who is more emotional about their furnishings, I tread more gingerly. I’ll pull up photographs from magazines or Restoration Hardware, because that’s a common source if the buyer is between 35 and 45.”
Heirlooms, On the House
The problem is compounded by the fact that most antique furniture has dramatically dropped in value over the past couple of decades. Selling a 19th-century credenza you love for twice the original price is one thing; begging for offers on Craigslist quite another.
William and Mary-Claire Barton inherited some antique furniture from their families, and in the 1980s started collecting it as an investment. “I convinced Bill,” said Ms. Barton, 70, formerly the owner and director of the Hoorn-Ashby Gallery in Nantucket and New York. “By the time we sell these things when we’re old, they’re going to have gone up so much in value. Guess what? They have not.”
That has presented a painful challenge as the couple downsizes from their three-bedroom apartment in the Musician’s Building at 50 West 67th Street to a smaller space nearby. “The fact that we’re getting pennies on the dollar when we go to sell them — that’s no fun,” said Mr. Barton, a Corcoran agent.
The couple called a well-known auction house to assess a George V game table and chairs they bought for $10,000 back in 2006. “He said, ‘I love this and everyone will love this.’” Ms. Barton said. But it would likely sell for only $1,200.
Their building dates to 1919, and the Bartons hoped that a buyer with a traditional bent might want to keep some of their furnishings. Several European shoppers did appreciate the décor, but it didn’t solve their problem: “We had three different viewers who had family antiques,” Ms. Barton said. “They needed ours to go so they could fit theirs.”
The Bartons’ children would like to take some pieces and they’ve reached out to estate buyers, but the prices they offered were too low to make selling worthwhile. They’ve even contacted the city to ask if they could donate furniture to homeless people getting back on their feet.
Copyright © 2019 The New York Times Company. Reprinted with Permission. Stefano Ukmar/The New York Times.