The Trouble with Stuff

Most of us have a house load of stuff that has taken us years to accumulate.  These are the things that we need to live comfortably, to raise our children, and which connect us to family members who have gone before us.  The “trouble” starts when we are called upon to consider the monetary value of the contents of our homes.  A grandmother’s dining set, the sofa you saved to buy, the shelves and shelves of books that make home feel like, well, home.  What’s all that really worth?

For the purposes of insurance coverage, we want to consider the cost of replacing these items with comparable properties should we suffer a loss.  But in the case of death or divorce, Fair Market Value rather than Replacement Cost is usually required, and it is often a shockingly lower number.  That is because instead of considering how much it cost us to buy something, Fair Market Value is the price at which an object would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller.  Think of an estate or garage sale.  How much would you pay for someone’s used bath towels, their sofa, their furniture?

The current market for most used household furniture, household decor and other common household wares is very soft.  Used furniture of good quality produced by well regarded manufacturers retains only a fraction of its value on the secondary market, while lesser items hold very minimal value.  Stylistic obsolescence, items that are taste-specific to the original owner, and items showing the signs of wear or soiling restrict value still further.  The market for upholstered items, mattresses, beds and bedding is extremely weak, fueled in part by concerns about the reappearance of bedbugs in the United States.  Perhaps the only bright note to be found in this market is mid-century modern furniture and decor, aided by the current stylistic trend favoring those items.