Summer 1992-ish. I’d decided to expand my picking activities to include complete buyout services. On a referral from my friend Richard, an old school, mostly retired picker, in Winchester, NH, I had acquired via a “broom-sweep” buy of an old estate full of contents in Western MA. I'll never forget my first antique estate contents buyout! The house smelled old. It WAS old. I couldn’t wait to get started! And, I'd better start soon, because the realtor who’d contracted with me had a deadline. What was it? I think about a week. Oh well. I had to take a closer look at that barn too. I’d only gotten a quick peep at that before I signed, but it looked like fun. A broom-sweep is just like it sounds, as part of the deal, you have to empty, and broom-clean the entire property. It must be ready for new owners to move in. In return, you get to keep everything. Sometimes you pay them, sometimes they pay you. It depends how the deal is negotiated. It was my first one, so I eagerly offered $800 and it was accepted. It was an old farmhouse with a barn attached, on a piece of overgrown property. The yard looked like it hadn’t been mowed with a power-mower…ever. Now imagine the inside of a house that was completely left as it sat, for 20 years. And that the items in the home were already ancient when the home was abandoned. This is what we had - everything covered in dust and cobwebs. Could it get any better?! I had magic in my head when I priced the job, because all I saw were valuable antiques. Milk-painted cupboards, large wooden bowls, figural cookie jars, antique china, cut crystal. This was a pickers’ dream job I thought! I trudged carefully over some soggy rotted boards that kind of outline a path to the barn and cracked the door for daylight. Hmm, some old cattle yokes, wagon wheels, milk cans, and lots and LOTs o windows, shutters and architectural pieces. Lots. As in quite a few truck loads. It was then that I’d really considered the magnitude of what I’d taken on. But, I should be ok, the value of the good stuff would be more than enough to cover the cost of hiring some extra hands. Right? Slightly panicked at this point, I started to study the pieces in the barn closer. The cattle yokes had missing hardware, the spokes in the wagon wheels were rotted, most of the milk cans had holes in them, and/or their covers were missing. Panic amped up its taunting and seemed to say, “wait until you get a closer look in the house rookie!” Over the sloggy path, (how did it sink that much in one crossing) I rushed back into the house from the back porch. Dusting off the china and crystal, revealed that much of it was chipped and cracked. The best cupboard had been cut down to fit the kitchen, so that’s worth maybe 30% of what I’d hoped to get for it. All over the place, damaged disappointments jabbed at me. What did I do? I’d be lucky if I didn’t lose a bunch of money AND I had to clean this place out. I was beginning to think that instead of paying $800 and a commitment to a broom-sweep in trade for everything, I should have been paid - a lot! Back out in the barn, the damn barn, I’d begun to dig deeper. How many windows and shutters could the property need? There had to be 5 extra sets of double windows and shutters for every actual window needed in the house. There were corbels and columns that didn’t even come close to matching the home, yards and yards of old lumber, boxes of doorknobs, rusty hardware. Then it hit me. This is an Old Yankee farm homestead. What do old farmers do? They save everything. EVERY-THING. “Hello?” A woman's voice called out. “Wha… who’s that?” “ Hi, I’m Jill, (I actually forgot her real name.) My husband Jack (also, probably not his real name) and I are the new owners, we’re just here on a pre-planning visit. We can’t wait to get in here, we have so many ideas for this place, it’s our first home!” I smiled and explained what I was doing, and they asked what was going to happen to the items in the barn. I explained that I had to get rid of it all, and that most of it would have to be hauled off to the landfill. Jill’s face dropped. No! Jill seemed to have magic in her head too. “We’d love to have the old columns there, and all those windows could make for a lovely old style green-house. Couldn’t you just leave the things? At least the ones you can’t sell?” Could I leave them?! Damn right I could leave them, and I’d put a bow on the door and buy you a cake too! I was elated! After our conversation, we’d agreed that I’d leave just about all the barn contents right there, and some of the items in the house too! Things were looking up again! After they left, I began loading up my van with the “good stuff” and headed to Fred McPhail’s auction in NH, where I consigned items regularly. I didn’t make a fortune on that first load but experience told me with what was left in the house, I’d make a few bucks. More importantly, I wouldn’t lose my shirt on the clean-out since the new homeowners, or as I thought of them at the time, Angels, Jill and Jack had pulled my butt out of the fire! I slept well. That was short lived… First thing in the morning, I picked up the phone, and immediately had to yank the receiver away from my ear because a female voice was screaming into it. Screaming, in language that would make a US Marine Sergeant blush! In the most vulgarly colorful language, my character was assaulted, my livelihood threatened, and I’m pretty sure my lineage to the human race was questioned. But it was early and I’d hadn’t had any coffee yet. So that part I wasn’t clear on. It was the realtor, when she slowed down enough for me to begin comprehending the reason for her call, I’d realized she was upset and thought I was reneging on the broom-clean. She had found out that I intended to leave the unwanted items behind in the barn. News travels fast! “Oh, it’s all a mistake.” I assured her. “The new owners asked me to leave the items so they could use them on the property.” My relief was short-lived. “THEY ARE NOT THE NEW OWNERS - YET! They will not BE the new owners until the real estate sale has closed! Which it has not yet. And YOU need to get your bleeping, bleeping, back on to that property and finish the clean-out in the agreed time. If you don’t, I’ll be calling every realtor, and every auction house in the area to let them know that you did not!” I ended the call assuring her that I would and she hung up the phone. Loudly. And that is how I learned about the seriousness of broom-sweeps being done to accommodate a timely real estate closing. Because an insufficient clean-out can be cause for property buyers, or the bank to cancel the sales contract. In my mind, the real estate agent had over-reacted, but I guess with a big commission on the line, she panicked. And her reputation was on the line for hiring me too. So I understood, I even learned a few new cuss-words! I don’t know how I did it, but I got the items off-site to a friend's lot, and the people who were buying the house actually did have me deliver it to them after they closed. I lost money, and time, but I NEVER missed a broom-sweep deadline again!
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