Podcast #81 Stuff: What to Do with It? – Louis Clough, Founder of Transitions by National Rarities

As a specialist in selling the many and varied items in an estate after someone has died, Louis Clough has some thoughts to share about stuff. How does the 80/20 rule apply to the material value of things in an estate? When should you sell vs keep something? How can sellers make sense of the options they have? Why is it important to think about our stuff now? Listen in, as Louis and I are about to cover a lot of stuff! 


Diane Hullet: Hi, I’m Diane Hullet and welcome to the Best Life Best Death podcast. Today my guest is Lewis Cloth of National Rarities, and Lewis is gonna tell us a little bit about what is national rarities and what is transitions. Which is another piece of national rarities. You can find out more about the work he does@nationalrarities.com.

So welcome Lewis. Go ahead and tell us how about what, how did National Rarities get started and how did you get involved? 

Louis Clough: Yeah, yeah. So I got outta college and I had a, a, a friend of mine that did this business in jewelry and coins and watches and. I thought it was interesting. So I joined and at the end of 2009 or 2010, I I started my own business with a another business partner.

And we specifically work with jewelers all across the country. We run events all around the country that people can come in and sell unused and unwanted items that have value. That’s 

Diane Hullet: so amazing to me because I think there, you know, there is this level of estate jewelry that’s like the really fancy stuff that like was made in 1920 and is actually really worth a lot of money.

And then there’s sort of all this middle of the road jewelry. Do you work with both of those or one or the other? 

Louis Clough: Yeah, we, we work with everything. You know, one customer might come in with a $25,000 Rolex and then the other person might come in with a rusted out $30 toy that we might buy. So we kind of really do buy the gambit.

You know, as long as there’s value there, we can pay for it. And yeah, so we see all sorts of things but jewelry, coins, watches are kind of the main and old silver, I should say, are kind of the main things that most people have that can have quite a bit of value. 

Diane Hullet: Interesting. And this is national rarities.

How did your experience with your family kind of tie into this. 

Louis Clough: Well, it was my, my grandma who passed away about a decade ago we’re from St. Louis originally. And my, my grandma was in Minnesota, so she was a collector. She had a little bit of money and she was the lady who had the matching lunch set matched perfectly with the dinner set.

My mom and her two sisters every month had to polish it. You know, it was all about presentation and you know, China and you know everything. 

Diane Hullet: Right. Really an era. That was really an era where they did that, right? Where when ladies lunched, it was like this big spread of the table. 

Louis Clough: Absolutely. So when she had passed, my mom went up there to deal with it all and.

She spent almost about three months up there on and off, but it was a, it was a lot for her. And I spent two full weekends helping her with kind of the more valuable items, the jewelry, the coins, the watches, silver, you know, she had some artwork, things like that, that we also buy. So, but I remember at that time, we were only a couple years into our core business with the jewelers, but in the back of my head I was like, there’s gotta be a major need for this.

And my suspicion was right, because basically today you have the option of sending stuff to auction houses, which are very picky on what they would take usually has to be quite a bit of value in, and the time when you send it to them and get paid out and the fees and all that. It, it’s, it’s quite the process.

And then you have the estate people that come in and say, Hey, we’ll just put. Tags on everything and get it sold and out and, and gone and, and both serve a good purpose for certain situations, but we found that we’re kind of in this middle ground between the two, and we’re able to service both those types of clients very well, quickly, conveniently, and, and, and very fairly so.

Diane Hullet: Right. And then there’s kind of the one 800 junk you know, call those guys or the thrift store. But I love that you’re hitting this kind of middle road of like, I have something of value, but it’s not enormous value. But if I just have the estate, as you said, the estate sale person come in, it’s just gonna be gone.

And it is a, it is a way to conveniently. Make that happen, but I’m not sure you always get your best value for things, cuz that’s how they make their money. I mean, 

Louis Clough: that makes sense. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, everyone’s, you know, and it’s a put, you know, a little food on the table and, and but at the end of the day, it’s kind of addressing the needs of the client and It was something back then that I knew we could do very well.

And you know, fast forward today, we have almost 70 employees. We have over 200 in independently owned jewelers. We have a staff of very solid, knowledgeable people. And so now we’re able to kind of come over to this space, the grief space, or the, you know, this inheritance space. Really help out and, and give a good product to these people as well.

That’s what Transitions was kind of born out of, and it’s a little subdivision of national rarities. 

Diane Hullet: Interesting. So, okay, so how does the process work? Like I, I call you or I reach out on email or either one, and I say, I’ve got these 12 things that I think might be worth something. Then what do I do? Yeah.

Louis Clough: Yeah. So on our website, transitions nr.com, you can set up a free 15 minute consultation with me. And essentially it’s just an introductory kind of explain to me what’s going on, what are you looking for? And I personally live in Denver, so I’m just anyone in Denver, I, I would be the one coming to the house and helping out and, and, and, you know, helping gather as much information as possible with you.

And there’s no fees. There’s no pressure, there’s no nothing. It’s really just me saying, this is what you have, this is what it’s worth, this is what I can pay. You. Make it as easy and simple as possible. And one of the things we really harp on with You know, our employees and, and our company is, we’re really in the more of the business of emotions than we are like goods.

You know, it’s, it’s not too hard to price value on the item, but it’s hard to ask the right questions to that customer and make them feel comfortable and, and really try to articulate as best you can for so they feel comfortable and good and, and, and confident that. Their son it to the right people and it’s gonna go to the right home later on and so on and so 

Diane Hullet: forth.

Right. And my guess is like you know, my sentimental attachment to this set of glasses, I think they’re really worth something. Yes. And I’m guessing you’re gonna tell me they’re not worth what I think they’re worth. Is that Yes. Does that happen a lot? 

Louis Clough: Yes, it does. It does a lot. And that, and that’s how we ask it, you know, then when I’m sitting with customers, one of the first questions I typically ask is, have you ever done this?

And then if they say, no, I, I like to explain the process. You know, there’s no, don’t get nervous. Everything’s fine. You don’t have to say yes. And then B, is there anything that’s really sentimental? Because they’ll pull that out first, and I can tell right away, you know, to me it might be $25, it’s them, it might be 25,000.

So it’s really easy for me to say, you know what, Mrs. Jones or Mr. Smith. I understand this is sentimental to me. Unfortunately, because of the market, I can’t pay a lot. I think it’s better you just hang onto it and really cherish it and hand it down. Right? And that way you kind of avoid something. Like you didn’t ask the question, they put it on the table and like, I’ll give you $25.

And they’re like, ah, you know, and then $25. 

Diane Hullet: And I thought this, my mom always said this was worth so much. Yeah. 

Louis Clough: Well my grandma I believe it was 24 full China sets. Wow. And I think it’s like four or six of ’em sold. And then I don’t actually know what happened to the rest. I actually took one home. I had it for six years, and I realized I enjoyed it, but.

And I, I actually sent it to a cousin who ended up wanting it. So that’s right. Everyone has different levels of sentimentality, 

Diane Hullet: right? And when we can find those connections that really bring it to the right home of the cousin or the second cousin or the granddaughter or whatever it is, that really feels good, I.

Yeah. And when we have to let go of something, it’s, it’s hard. But we all, there tends to be a lot of stuff. You, you talked, when we were first chatting, you talked about the 80 20 tell, say more about that. 

Louis Clough: Oh, yeah. The 80 20 rule, I, I forget the, there’s a real name to that. I, I can’t remember it, but 20% of the items are typically worth 80% of the value and 80% of the items are worth 20%.

And what we find is a lot of clients, they get stuck on the 80% of items, you know? Oh, this chair, or you know, China, crystal, Yaros, Hummels, all these things that used to have very high values and sentimentality to their parents or grandparents. In today’s world, you know, us younger folk, we’re not collecting that stuff.

So, you know, they’ll get tripped up and spend hours and weeks and months and trying to, you know, make a little bit of money on, on this and it’s just really not worth your time. So, That’s where we can kind of come in and say, Hey, like, here’s where the real value is. It’s not so much now, it’s your choice if you want to go through and, and deal with it and try to make a little more, but most people get really tripped up remembering what their mom said or their aunt and, you know, thinking it’s, it’s just, you know, some treasure off the Titanic or something, you know?

Right, right. So, and we, we kind of call it the inheritance of guilt. Right? You, you almost inherit guilt because. You know, your parents had cherished so much, but what we’ve found is when people sell people that were really maybe not sure about selling, they would sell to us, and the next time we’re in their town, they come back and they’re like, you know what?

I walked outta that door and I immediately felt 10 pounds, like realized that the money that I got from, that I could put towards something that’s really important to me. And you know what? That’s probably what my parents really would prefer, right? Right. And so they just have this, you know, they, they kind have this relief kind of leaving.

So we’ve, we’ve definitely heard that story quite a bit. 

Diane Hullet: I think there’s also something for me about feeling like, well, it, I may be done with my time with this item, but yeah. Someone else is gonna be thrilled. They’re gonna find this vintage 1960s watch that I’m, I’m never gonna wear Cause I don’t wear watches.

Yeah. And they’re gonna be like, whoa, I found the coolest thing. So, so how do you, so if somebody wants to add to their stuff and go to one of the sales that you put on with jewelers around the country, how do they find out about 

Louis Clough: that? So that’s on our main website, national rarities.com. Like I said, this year, we’ll probably, we have about 200 jewelers.

We’ll host about 400 events. So we’re almost, I think we’re missing about four or five states. It’s in the northeast. Those are always hard to keep track of, but Wow. Yeah. Most jewelers have us back two to three times a year. So 

Diane Hullet: spring and then’s, national rarities, bringing things that they have to a jewel shop in a location.

And so it’s kind of like keep an eye out for local well, Go to your website and find out what’s listed. But like, I can imagine which jewelry shop in my town might host that. So I can probably also talk to them and say, Hey, have you got a National Rarities 

Louis Clough: event coming? Yeah. Yeah, that would be great. Yeah.

And like I said, it’s all privately owned. We don’t deal with the big boxes or anything. Yeah. We like to deal with the locals. And and as far as the transition side you know, more on the, the estate side or the inheritance side. I’m out here in Denver. Our, our team is actually outta St. Louis, Missouri.

So, you know, if you inherit a home full of everything, these two states were easily able to come in and kind of walk you through it and, and go on there. And, you know, one of the crazy things we’re, we’re throwing around to is, you know, a lot of times people don’t live in the same state. They have their own kids and own, you know, work and all that.

So one of the things we offer too is to not only buy all the items on the inside, but also just the entire estate in one. One lump check house, everything. Car go through everything. Record values give a value, and their average estate takes, I think they say like 570 hours to close. Wow. So you know, you got months and months and months of time that you can save.

And then also if it goes to probate, which I’ve learned too, that’s about 18 months before, if anything goes to probate, it’s about 18 months before the individual gets paid. So, We’re kind of one of the only firms in this space that comes in and we’re actually paying you, we’re not charging you for our services, like a lawyer or an accountant or, you know, any, a financial advisor.

We’re, we’re coming in helping, making it easy as possible and simplifying your life. 

Diane Hullet: How is that different than, than the as like we talked about at the beginning, like the estate sale kind of person. How, how is, how is that experience different as a client? 

Louis Clough: I would say you know, I don’t like to speak in generalities, but in, in general estate people that come in and just kind of sell out all the stuff on the inside I, I would say their expertise isn’t as knowledgeable as ours and the higher end items that might be in there.

For instance, we just sold this watch. I’m telling you, if it was sitting on the ground, no one would pick it up. I mean, it looked like nothing. And it sold for $8,000. Wow. And so we have people like that that can identify those types of items and Right. And you know, there’s probably a lot of great people out there as well.

You know, I told you I’m the, the best and the best deal and all that. I’m a sleazy car salesman, you know? Right. So, but in general we’ve found that we kind of really filled the gap to be able to take care of the higher end items. And then also we are willing and able to help out with the lower valued items as well.


Diane Hullet: great. I do, I think of two, two stories. I mean, one is that a friend of mine had this great experience where he really knows a lot about ceramics and he was on his bike and he was riding and he stopped at a thrift store and he’s poking around and he realizes, holy smokes, there’s this ceramic thing in there.

It’s worth a lot of money. Yeah. And and it looked like a blob, like it’s a famous ceramicist couple out of California and they, they experimented with these crazy glazes. So he looks at this thing and he’s like, Oh, holy smokes it. It said maybe $40 on it or something. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He knew it was worth a lot more, so he, he took it up to the front counter and he said to the lady, I’m on my bike, but I’m gonna come right back for this.

And so he rode off buzzed home, didn’t even shower, came back to the place, bought this thing, and he sold it at Christie’s for. I don’t know, more than $10,000. Yeah, I mean it was unbelievable what his knowledge about those pieces really brought value. And my parents are not rug people and we have a couple of fairly nice rugs and I one time said to my mom, by the way, If we’re hit by a bus, don’t put our rugs in a yard sale.

Like you’re actually pretty nice rugs, you know? Yeah. My mom was like, okay, good to know. Cuz I would’ve just like rolled it up and said 20 bucks. I’m like, no, no, no. So 

Louis Clough: you hear every year. 


Diane Hullet: You hear the story. There is something about kind of bringing someone in who does have an. I for what is, like you said, what’s worth something and what’s not so much worth something.


Louis Clough: absolutely. Absolutely. 

Diane Hullet: So, and we’re dealing with this, you know, this often comes up at a time where someone has died and so there’s a lot of just the fog of grief and the desire to just get it over with. And as you said, sometimes you’re traveling from outta state. How, how much do you find does this motivate clients to do something different in their own lives in terms of, Pre giveaway stuff.


Louis Clough: and that’s the thing. Yeah. It’s been really interesting to learn this space because funeral homes are really good at what they do. They’re kind of like wedding planners. They’re, they, they, they know, they basically have to set up a big event within seven days. And so you think about the individual that has lost somebody, you know, it’s a whirlwind for seven days.

They have the service. And then two days later, they’re sitting in, let’s say their parents’ home with everything around them, and they’re, they’re still going. I, I haven’t even grieved. I, I, you know, I don’t know, you know, so it’s a big hurdle to get over. Yeah. And one of the other things I didn’t mention earlier was with my grandma, the estate company they had used, he had some of his people come in and price out.

And a couple of ’em were saying, you know, I really like this piece. I might be buying that. And I was like, well, why? How are you pricing it? But yet you’re interested in it. Right? And I told my mom and her sisters, I’m like, that’s a big red flag. So anyways, there’s just little things like that that again, you know, we can help walk through and give, you know, every example of what to look for, look out 

Diane Hullet: for, right, things to look out for.

That seems like a really valid, kind of like frequently asked question kind of thing for your website, like what to watch out for and, and, and you say you have 70 people. Are there other states that you cover be besides Missouri? 

Louis Clough: Oh, yeah. So the, the 200 plus jewelers that we have we’re we’re in every state, but just a few.

We just had last year, we went to Alaska for the first time in Hawaii. So we literally have jewelers all around the countries and you can always look up to see That’s on the, 

Diane Hullet: is that on the sale side or is that also you assess? No, that’s 

Louis Clough: on the, that’s on the buying side. Yeah. We’re primarily wholesale.

Right? So when we buy from an individual, we bring it back to our office. We a have to figure out if it’s saleable or not. Unfortunately, the, those old big nugget rings that everyone used to wear those are just gonna be worth their gold or silver value, you know? And then from there we have a large network and marketplace to sell, you know, watches, coins, you know, all those places.

Diane Hullet: And so it’s watches, coins, jewelry, silver. Then we 

Louis Clough: do artwork. Artwork, yeah, we do artwork, autographs firearms. Old advertising toys, war memorabilia vehicles. Probably other, you know, any other rarities, you know you know, any and all things that have value and we were able to buy it and sell it.

We will, we will make an offer. 

Diane Hullet: So. Interesting. Well, I love that you kind of started out with those pieces, like those valuable pieces and then you’ve also seen a need for the just the more, the bigger transition of just what this is, right. So Yeah, absolutely. So, okay, so let me just make sure I get these websites right and thanks so much for coming.

Oh yeah, absolutely. So you can find out more about the work Louis does@nationalrarities.com and also transitions nr.com. Yep, 

Louis Clough: absolutely. And all my info’s in there and you can always email me or call me and I’m available. Well, 

Diane Hullet: thanks. I think this is a really interesting topic because it has to do with both handling the death of a loved one in a way that feels appropriate to you, and also moving forward with the stuff that you want and without the stuff that you don’t want.

Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. 

Louis Clough: Couldn’t agree more. 

Diane Hullet: Well, thanks Lewis. Thanks so much. Appreciate your time. Yeah, thanks for having me on. You’ve been listening to the Best Life Best Death podcast with Diane Hallett and Louis Cluff. Have a great day.

Diane Hullet

Diane Hullet

End of Life Doula, Podcaster, and founder of Best Life Best Death.

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