On auctions, a cautionary tale
Woman says she was ‘taken in’ by dealer
CAPITAL REGION In 54 years of marriage, Albina Saccardi and her husband Gerard went to plenty of auctions, estate sales and antique shops. She says she should have known better.
When Gerard died suddenly in January of 2013, Albina made the mistake of giving everything in their Sharon Springs home to a single auction house. She’s been mired in a dispute over the value of her “stuff” ever since.
Saccardi gave the auction dealer possession of the contents of her home, including dining and bedroom sets, nearly a dozen large oil paintings, clothes, kitchen items, work tools and an array of collectibles. It was seven months before Saccardi received any kind of payment, and when she did she found out the deal she thought she had agreed to — 70 percent for her and 30 percent for the dealer — was actually a 50-50 split. And the check she did finally receive, $635.25, didn’t come close to the value of her items.
It’s a common story in the business, according to Joe Mazzone, who has owned and operated Mazzone Auctions just off Carman Road in the town of Guilderland for more than three decades.
“I hear these stories all the time, and that’s why the first thing I do when I walk into a house is to write down everything we take out of the place,” said Mazzone. “I’ll have a list of items, on our letterhead. I show it to the owner with the contract both parties have agreed to, and that way we don’t have any problems.”
According to Rob Wayman of Wayman Auctions in Middleburgh, getting things down on paper — for both the seller and the auction house — is paramount.
“We hate to hear stories like that, because there are a lot of good, honest auction houses that really do a great job helping people out,” said Wayman. “We have a commission agreement, we give a copy to the seller and at the bottom there’s a write-up of our policies. We get the people to sign it, we each get a copy and that saves a lot of trouble. You have to get something down in writing, and that’s good for the homeowner and the auction house.”
nothing in writing
The best option for people with a large number of items to sell is to host an estate sale or an auction at their house, according to Mazzone and Wayman. That wasn’t a viable option for Saccardi, whose home is on hilly ground, surrounded by trees at the junction of Route 20 and Gilberts Corners Road in Sharon Springs. There is little usable space there, parking would be impossible and the auction house she eventually paired with wasn’t interested in an on-site sale.
“He said, ‘no,’ and that he would pack it up and take it to his auction house,” said Saccardi. “I know I should have got something down in writing. But I just wanted to sell everything quickly, sell the house and use that money to travel. I felt like I wasn’t in condition to deal with the house and I wanted to leave that part of my life behind.”
The auction dealer went to Saccardi’s house in August of 2013. At the time she had been living with her daughter in Rotterdam. When they drove out to Sharon Springs to check on the place, they couldn’t believe what they found.
“We went to see what we expected to be an empty house and we were appalled,” said Saccardi. “The outside porch was filled with debris and some of the items which I treasured were scattered like junk. When I called and asked him about the mess, he told me not to worry. He would come out and clean it all up for $700.”
Saccardi declined that offer, and with the help of a friend took care of the mess herself. Then she waited for some word from the owner of the auction house, who declined to comment for this story.
“He called me in September to tell me that all the large items were sold and he wanted to know where to send the check,” said Saccardi. “But I never got a check, and then each time I called him I got a story about how ill he was. Then repeated phone calls to him by me and my daughters went unanswered. I was so frustrated, thinking how stupid I was to be taken in by this guy.”
Saccardi finally confronted the man on a Monday night in March at his auction house. Before the end of the month, she had received her check for $635.25 in the mail. A note in the envelope with the check said, “paid in full.”
“In one of our earlier phone talks he told me that our split was 50-50, not 70-30,” said Saccardi. “That’s not what he told me originally, and 30 percent is a figure that I had heard before with auctions. Whatever it was, that check doesn’t come close.”
Saccardi and her husband lived in the two-story, eight-room house with three enclosed porches for almost 45 years. Randy Passonno, who owns and operates Collar City Auctions in Delanson, is also in the real estate business and is in charge of selling the house for Saccardi, who last week moved to Texas to live with her daughter Barbra.
“I was in the house before everything was removed, and for her to only get a check for $600 is quite shameful,” said Passonno, who has been in the auction business for 30 years. “She and her husband had a lot of collectibles, and while I didn’t see anything in particular that was historic or had significant value, as a whole there was plenty of value in the house.”
Passonno wasn’t interested in hauling off all of Saccardi’s belongings — it’s not what he typically does — and he realized the home’s location made an on-site estate sale just about impossible. If she hadn’t been in a hurry to sell the contents along with her home itself, he might have suggested another alternative.
“What we’re doing more and more of is online auctions,” he said. “The entire world becomes your audience, and I believe it will be the wave of the future. It really creates more activity for sellers and buyers.”
Passonno said that while there is some shipping involved, many of his customers live in the Capital Region and actually pick up the item they successfully bid on in person.
“We do offer an inspection day for prospective buyers prior to an online auction and that allows them to come in and look at things, because looking at it in person is better than looking at it on the Internet,” said Passonno. “But I have customers who know I’m honest and trust me, and they may buy an item online and then other people will get interested in an item by seeing it online and then want to see it in person. But online auctions are really getting popular. They’re becoming a bigger part of our business.”
Putting things online is a great idea, according to Mazzone, who’s happy to report that there are still plenty of honest people in the world.
“It takes two people to start bidding on something, people who really know what the item is, and you can see the value increase tremendously,” said Mazzone. “That’s why it’s so important to advertise on different sites. I had a Nazi World War II helmet that I thought was pretty neat, but didn’t really look that different from other helmets I had seen. I had all kinds of calls come in for it and then a really nice gentleman was honest enough to tell me what it was really worth. It ended up bringing $1,550.”
The helmet had been worn by a German soldier during the Normandy Invasion, the caller informed Mazzone, which more than quadrupled the value of the item.
“I picked up a painting on Super Bowl Sunday a year ago that I really didn’t think was that much until I photographed it and put it on the website,” said Mazzone, relating another success with putting things online. “Well, to make a long story short, I sold it for $9,500. It looked like something you might pick up at a garage sale for $25. The Internet keeps the market honest. It’s a very valuable tool when it comes to selling items.”
While the Internet may help keep the market honest to a degree, people still have to be careful, according to one dealer, who asked not to be identified.
“People go to auctions looking for bargains and then there are sellers who aren’t honest and will try to take you for as much as they can,” she said. “There’s that constant battle, and the more you know the better off you are. The less likely you’ll get scammed.”
In October of last year, Saccardi contacted state police and learned that her problem was a civil matter. In November, she looked into getting a lawyer and was told it would cost her $5,000. Since then, a family friend has found another attorney to look into the matter and perhaps pursue a civil case.
“This whole experience has been devastating,” said Saccardi. “It was a shock to lose my husband and then this. At one point I just wanted to forget about it and move on, but my family wouldn’t let me. My daughters and my oldest grandson have really taken up the cause.”