A Unique Business Coupled With Individual Attention

OCEAN CITY – Imagine inheriting or trying to downsize an estate. Where do you begin? How much is everything worth? What do you do with the things you don’t want anymore? Imagine throwing away that old china set that’s been sitting in the basement for years, and not knowing it was Presidential china worth more than $40,000. Settling an estate can be a cumbersome process for most people, but it doesn’t have to be. Auction & Estate Representatives works to handle all of these concerns and more through estate appraisal and auction.

Ann von Forthuber, president of Auction & Estate Representatives, works as an auctioneer, appraiser, and Realtor, and also as a published writer, continuing education instructor and expert witness. Her job is to inventory and value an estate and then auction or dispose of items so that estate beneficiaries or heirs won’t have to. The most common form of estate appraisal occurs when someone dies, leaving an estate to heirs and beneficiaries. Living estates are also frequent among older people as they make the decision to downsize and move out of their home.

“All of us are going to get involved in some sort of estate at some point,” von Forthuber said, explaining how common it is for people to become involved in an estate and how difficult and confusing it can be. “It’s funny and it’s sad, it can bring out the best and worst in people.”

Von Forthuber explained that her expertise is often utilized to mediate disputes and settle the worth, or lack thereof, of items within an estate.

According to von Forthuber, there are three things that people commonly ask when settling an estate: What is it? What’s it worth? When can we get paid?

“We come in and tell you what it’s worth and then they can work out how they will distribute everything,” von Forthuber said.

So how do items get appraised and valued? “We have a variety of books on just about everything,” von Forthuber said, pointing out her expansive book collection that she uses for research. When appraising an estate, von Forthuber reads and researches items extensively, identifying the item and then placing a value on it. Experts are often called in to appraise items or offer their area of expertise for the appraisal process. For example, von Forthuber relies on clock experts when appraising most clocks.

“I love clocks, but I am not a clock expert,” she said, explaining that grandfather clocks need to be examined by an expert before they are even moved. “It’s a whole history unto itself.”

Items appraised can range from real estate to art to livestock, von Forthuber said, explaining that items range from valuable to utilitarian.

“People often are unaware of what they even have,” she said, noting the time she found Presidential China in a hatbox of an estate. The china was from President Madison’s stay in the White House and went to a museum for $40,000.

Another time, von Forthuber dealt with an estate with a large silver collection. “We had a family that inherited a silver collection like we’d never seen before,” she said, explaining that the silver, which was all sterling, amounted to four rows of silver across four, eight-foot tables. The silver ranged from English silver to Revolutionary War silver to silver with swastikas imprinted upon it. Two full tea services, complete with all pieces, were also found with each set being appraised at $250,000. Problems arose however due to the lack of demand for tea sets. One set was eventually sold for $230,000 and von Forhuber recommended that the family keep the other set in the family to use as a contribution to their children’s college.

Although estates consist of items of value, more often there are several items that people simply do not want anymore.  Auction & Estate Representatives provides a team to come in and clean out an entire household. All of the items, including the home if desired, are auctioned and sold. Von Forthuber explained that it helps to alleviate the stress of cleaning out or selling a home, and can be beneficial to older people who are downsizing and moving into a smaller home or retirement community. 

Von Forthuber explained how she got into the estate appraisal business, nothing that she was one of the first eight in the U.S. to receive designation as an Auction Estate Specialist. Growing up, her mother had a flair for antiques and interior design and was often called on by friends and neighbors to give her opinion on items and their worth. Von Forthuber took all this in as a young girl, attending several auctions as well. Over 25 years in the real estate business and a love for books and fine art also contributed to her current career. She became a professional estate appraiser and auctioneer in the early 90’s and has been appraising ever since, traveling from Maine to Florida to do on-site appraisals and auctions.

 “What estates have to understand is that a lot of work goes into identifying, valuing and disposing,” von Forthuber said, adding that her team is paid by the hour and not based on the worth of the estate.

Von Forthuber noted how important it is for people to not sell items blindly without appraisal.

“I don’t think you should sell anything when you don’t know what it is,” she advised.