Cash in Your Attic

Finding Cash Just When You Need It

by Leon Castner

One of the more popular shows on BBC America was the appraisal/auction show titled Cash in the Attic.  It became so popular that they actually ran about 3 episodes a night (at least during re-run season).  And now the folks in the US of A have caught on and there was an American version as well.  (Just like the Antiques Road Show and The Office, Britain takes the lead and we follow with our own leftover facsimile versions.)

Cash in the Attic is a reality show in the Ground Force (another BBC favorite) genre that finds an everyday, common house owned by normal, everyday people who seem to be clueless in terms of what they have, where it came from, and how they can help themselves fix a problem. They all seem to have leaky bathrooms, inaccessible guest rooms, or have never been on a vacation. Fortune is shining on them, however, and they have been chosen like the proverbial genie in the bottle via either a well-connected friend or a tear stained letter sent to the producer to receive professional assistance.  In a magical moment they unexpectantly find a television host and crew at their front door.  They’re in special luck since a professional and well-meaning appraiser arrives as well.

The needs are explained (“the toilets been leaking and the baths too small”).  Estimates for remodeling have escalated beyond their reach.  Their only hope is to find some treasures hidden in the attic, hanging on the walls, or crammed into a closet (otherwise they might have to get a loan-like the rest of us).  The appraiser’s job (if they choose to accept it) is to unearth these hidden hosts of wealth and provide an estimate of their potential worth.  Thus, begins a personal “Road Show” trek into the dark recesses of their house, room by room, to run a mental Geiger counter across the territory.

Once an item has been spotted (the mental Geiger counter goes off like in another British show The Detectorists), we are given an elongated and detailed explanation of its identification and potential auction result.  Sometimes the owner will keep it, expressing sentimental gobbledygook (more often the disappointment of a low number) or shouts of glee, amazed at the stupidity of collectors in general.  Needless to say, they are usually surprised and excited (after all, this is television).  Once the target figure has been reached (the previous announced cost to pay for a renovation or family project), we all hold our breaths for the next scene a few weeks later (or in the American version, go to a commercial break-allowing us time to look in the frig for something to eat).

The second half of the show is at the quaint, but very professional, local English auction house.  (There seems to be a successful one in every town and hamlet.)  The items have been carefully placed in consignment auctions having similar items (a good ploy)-not the typical US country Wednesday night barn auction.  As auction day commences we find the slightly unwound owners with the “always cheerful” host and mild-mannered appraiser (he’s the one with the tie) in the back of the room (keeping track on pieces of paper).  As each one of their pieces comes to the auction block, we are shown the actual bidding and the result.  Usually the selling price is close but not very often in the estimated range.  As each item sells we are warned that the nervous and despairing homeowners are not reaching their total and may not make enough for their dearly needed contemporary commode or six days in St. Bart.

The anticipation builds as the worried looks on their faces increase.  Will they make it or will they not?  Was the appraiser an imbecile or just plain wrong?  Was the auctioneer too quick or not quick enough?  Was the audience too particular?  A wonderful plethora of possibilities admirably left to our imagination.

Almost always, as television shows go, the drama is held until the bitter or pleasant end.  Guess what?  Surprise, surprise, the nasty old teddy bear brought 4 times what we thought and pushed the owners over the top.  They met or surpassed their target, and everyone is happy.

The last scenes are of the show are the toilet being installed, the roof being mended, or the couple waving bon voyage. Amazingly enough, “All’s well that ends well.”

But here are some unsolicited comments from one who’s “been there and done that”-as the appraiser, auctioneer, and the homeowner needing a new shower stall.  Take them for what they might be worth.

  1. Not everyone has cash in the attic or hanging on the walls.  Often, it’s empty boxes, broken chairs, and velvet tapestries of Elvis.
  2. Selling prices are not net proceeds.  One must pay agents (auctioneers) to sell and valuers (appraisers) to appraise.  The show never deducts any fees (I suppose TV exposure is enough compensation).  Often fees can exceed expectations and suck off any reported profit.
  3. Not all auctions are equal, and neither are appraisers.  Use someone you trust and someone with credentials-not just a dazzling smile and photogenic face (that leaves me out).
  4. An appraiser and an auctioneer may use different markets.  Make sure the appraiser knows about the auction or method of your disposal.  The estimates can be way off (and they’re not guaranteed).  You can’t re-edit in real life!
  5. The good news is that this often works-more times than not.  There are untold treasures waiting to be discovered every day.  There are professionals to help-including auctioneers and appraisers, who are honest, reliable, and just plain nice.

So, if you’ve got a leaky john, an outdated kitchen, or just need a well-deserved rest away from the rat race, have someone check your attic-like a really good appraiser.  There might be something worth finding.

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