Friday, December 31, 2010

Estate Sale with the Vintage Girls - what a mistake (From April 2010)

THE VINTAGE GIRLS and the bad experience I had with them…

By barbaradouglas

My Mother recently passed away unexpectedly and I was faced with the daunting task of handling her estate. The biggest challenge was cleaning out her 3 bedroom, 3 bath 2 story condo that she had lived in for 20 years. I happen to come , a website where estate sales planning companies can list their sales. I chose 3 companies who work in the Atlanta area, looked at their individual websites and then had them meet me at different times over at my Mom’s condo to go through it. The companies were all similar but I chose the Vintage Girls because I felt the best connection with the owner (1 of 2) who came to meet me. Her name is Cheryl Dobson and she explained to me that she was recently hired by the original owner, Ashley Wheeler, to handle the finances and to be the upfront ”people person” of the company. Unfortunately, I did not ask all of the right questions, and did not meet the other owner prior to signing a contract, as things were much different than I had been led to believe.

First of all, I was led to believe that my Mom’s condo would be the only sale they would be handling this particular weekend. I was also told that 3-4 people would be at the sale to handle the flow of customers, make sure that parking was not a problem in the condo complex and to handle the check out area. ONLY days before the sale, I discovered that The Vintage Girls had scheduled another sale the same weekend and that they would be splitting their resources to handle both (ie. limited personnel and signage for the sale and having to stage and set up 2 sales the week before instead of just one.)

Because we knew that there was no way that the limited staff could handle the traffic and parking in the condo community, my husband and I were forced to do “parking attendant” duty for every hour of the sale. This ended up being enlightening because it is how we found out about a lot of the disappointments that we had during the sale. Normally, estate sale companies do not want the owners anywhere around during the sale, and now, maybe I understand why.

For our sale, we only had Cheryl Dobson (the newest & more pleasant owner) and one helper for each of the 3 days. I thought that the staging/displays were acceptable in only the living room downstairs. The Den and the kitchen looked disheveled and the bedrooms looked pretty much like they did before the Vintage Girls got there – with items pulled out but not classified or organized.

ex: den

master bath


I had been told by both owners that they would bring lots of racks to hang up my Mother’s clothing (because I thought her closet was too dark and cramped for people to see anything and shop) and that the items would be identified by menu type signs (ie. pants-$, shirts, $, etc). I had spent weeks prior to the sale making sure that the clothing was organized and in very good shape so I was distraught to discover late on Friday, the first day of the sale, that none of the clothing had been displayed on racks or group priced. (When asked, Cheryl said the rack (just one) was still in her car.) I ended up bringing my own clothes rack over the next morning early and displaying some of the items. When Cheryl saw how upset I was, she did write out some pricing on notebook paper and added it to the racks so that people could know the prices of the clothing items and shoes. We discovered on Sunday afternoon as the sale was winding down that the main coat closet had never even been opened up by The Vintage Girls and so none of the things in that closet had been on display during the sale. Just one more disappointment in a long weekend.

As for advertising, I started checking The Vintage Girls’ own website on the Tuesday prior to the sale. There were no updates until about Thursday. I also started checking on Craigslist on Tuesday for any ads from them but saw none. Since I was getting worried, I posted my own ad on Craigslist for the sale – with pictures. Still looking to see if they were going to post one, I continually checked Craigslist until Thursday about 9 pm. Apparently, they did add one on Thursday around 9:15 pm but it had no pictures on it. Many of the people coming to the sale had copies of MY Craigslist ad with them and one lady, who had contacted me about an item I had shown in my ad, drove over an hour to come buy that item. She ended up buying several other items as well. The Vintage Lady does not put pictures in their Craigslist ads. Finally, even though they identified their sale on on Tuesday, they noted that pictures would be up on Wednesday am but I never saw any pictures until Thursday. And, when the pictures were finally added, they were not particularly inviting.

Here is one example: This is a picture of a decorative CD holder that looks like a golf bag. It still has the tags on it (originally $180) but had been in a storage unit with saran wrap on it for protection. The Vintage Girls never removed the plastic wrap, never priced it and took a picture of it just like this for the website. This is how it stood all day Friday during the sale. You really could not even tell what it was until I saw it in the condo on Saturday morning and cut off the wrap and priced it for them (It sold later that morning!)

As for signage, I was told that they had professionally prepared signs that would be up on a lot of street corners. The ”professional printed sign” that we ever saw was the one directly in front of the condo and when people parked in front, the sign was not visible. We had brought helium balloons with us to the sale every day and we ended up parking our car in front of the unit and adding a lot of helium balloons to it to help idenitfy the sale’s location. The signs outside the condo complex were handmade and after one customer commented to us that she missed it the first time because the sign was not very visible, we added helium balloons to that sign ourselves. We also made a huge sign promoting 50% off for the last day of the sale and added that to the entrance of the complex. Having 2 sales on the same weekend not only made for a limited staff, but virtually halved the signage as well.

Having only one person to “float” around a two story condo to help customers and one to do the check out process left no one to help with taking things down(like window treatments) or hauling things out for customers. Luckily, my husband was there all weekend as he was called on multiple times by The Vintage Girls to do these things for him. They actually should have paid him as hired help!

As a business woman, I saw a couple of other things that really bothered me, and if you are looking at hiring an estate sales company, you should address these things up front.

1. When I went into the condo on Friday, I noticed SEVERAL items that were not my mother’s belongings placed around for sale. I found out that the Vintage Girls had brought these in themselves. They were either items that they have on consignment for others or they were items that they personally wanted to sell themselves. On Sunday, they were still bringing in things that were not my Mom’s. My problem with this is that I am paying them 30% to host this sale. I also paid for the ad in the newspaper and they never asked my permission to bring in their items (which is what neighbors usually do when they want to sell something in my garage sales out of courtesy). Also, if a customer has only $10 to spend, I want them to spend it on my things. There were a couple of items that were in direct competition with my Mom’s items (ie china, pinoir set, side table, etc). I basically think this practice is unprofessional and a bit sneaky. (When I mentioned this in an email to the owner, she did not respond.)

2. At the end of the first day, I saw the Vintage Girls’ employee leaving to go to her car. With her she had a crystal lamp from the condo that I had noticed had been marked as “sold”. As she was leaving, she smiled and said, “this is how I get paid”…. what??? When an estate sale company “sells” items to its employees, it seems like a conflict of interest. Did we get the best price? Did the employee price it herself and maybe give herself an employee discount? Did we even get money for it (since she implied that she got this in exchange for hours worked)? And, we will never know because this company DOES NOT GIVE AN ACCOUNTING OF SALES AND DEDUCTIONS when it give you the check. (Another big mistake not to have asked for ahead of time) I am not saying that we did not get paid on this particular item, but again, this is just very unprofessional and left me feeling a lack of trust. (Also, when sending the owner a comment about this in an email, she never acknowledged or commented on it.)

On Sunday morning of the sale, I was upset by what I had seen so far and my feelings got back to Ashley (the original owner who was working the other sale). She emailed me a rather nasty email defending their sales. I responded that night with another email that further outlined some of the concerns I have laid out here. None of these concerns were further addresssed by her.

After the sale, on Monday am, I went over to the condo at 8 am to start boxing and bagging my Mom’s unsold clothing. It took me 6 hours. In their contract, they are supposed to do this. But I knew that they would not have time since we had fortunately sold the condo and were closing on it quickly. Cheryl did show up to help around 11 am and boxed up the items in the living room, kitchen and den in order that the charity could come and pick up the donated items on Tuesday.

In any business, it is usually good practice to make the customer feel good. This company never acknowledged or thanked my husband and I for all the help we gave them before, during and after the sale. While I felt that Cheryl Dobson was very nice but wary about what to say and do against her partner, Ashley, on the other hand, I felt, did everything she could to antaganize me. After the sale, I took home an unsold vintage stereo receiver to see if I could hook it up and verify that it worked so that I could possible sell it more reliably on Craigslist. I also took the Vintage Chandelier that did not sell but is sentimental to me. I immediately got another snide email from Ashley saying that per the contract, they had 2 extra weeks to sell those items and if I did not return them to them, they would deduct commission on those 2 items from our check. So, without delay, I returned these 2 items BUT was not surprised when I never saw one posting in Craigslist, Ebay or on their website for these items. It was as if she was just being spiteful.

Finally, per their contract, I was supposed to receive the proceeds of the estate sale after 5 days. I finally received it on day 12 and only after I emailed and texted them several times. Some companies will detail every item sold during a sale. While this may be too complicated, it would have made me feel better had the check come with some sort of summary as to how the amount was derived at (ie total sales, less the items they brought in, plus items employees took for hours worked, less commission, less newspaper ad cost, etc..) At this point, I just have to assume the amount I received is more or less okay and live with it.

So, what did I learn? Estate Sales are held usually when people are having to deal with the loss of a loved one and can easily be taken advantage of. We were fortunate (or unfortunate) in that we were around the sale doing parking attendant duty and saw some of these unprofessional things first hand. While we really liked one partner, the other one was the original owner and seems to sour our entire experience. I kick myself for not going to one of their sales prior to signing the contract with them (I highly recommend you do that for any company you are considering.) I also would recommend you ask about employees taking/buying items from the sale and about items being brought in that are not yours. I would ask for an accounting of all things sold and how the total check is calculated. I would get a better understanding of advertising, ie. when to expect it, how many signs, etc. I would put in the contract that the sale would be their only dedicated sale for the dates specified. I would have the specify in writing just how many employees will be working your sale. (Make sure that one can take down items and help with the heavy stuff.)

My husband and I are both business people so we have a standard we like to see in the companies we do business with. This is one company that did not live up to that standard and I can personally never recommend them to anyone in the future.

FOLLOW UP: The owner of the company saw my review on Kudzu (as well as another negative comment made by another estate who had hired her but was displeased) and she posted a response to mine that was so like her. She blamed everything on the fact that my sister was living in my Mom’s condo until the Monday prior to the Friday sale. They knew she was living there and I had told them she would be out Monday morning (which she was) and they made it sound perfectly okay because, as they explained to me all along, they would only need 3-4 days to stage and price everything. As it was, they were hardly there that week – even with my sister moved out – and the display of items and the lack of thoroughness that was shown was the result of them having to split their time between 2 sales that week and NOT because my sister was in the condo. If they had needed to get into the condo earlier, they could have had access to every single room in the condo except my sister’s bedroom and this was explained, but they said no need… Her response just made me shake my head.

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Fix a TV (LG) Remote that is not responding anymore...

OKAY...After a lot of research of on the internet - and thankfully doing so before I called the TV repair men or hauled my TV to a repair shop - we were able to resolve the issue of our LG remote not working anymore. It was not the batteries and the remote still operated the cable box so we first decided that it was the TV that was not picking up the signal from the remote. I started researching the issue on the internet and after several websites and forums, I saw a line of discussions that seemed to offer a possible solution. And it worked!!

The problem it seems is a collection of dust in the remote sensor on the back of the TV. There is a "remote In" jack on the back of TV's for external wired remotes if you needed one. If an external remote is plugged in, the IR Sensor (internal remote sensor) turns off. If this "remote in" jack is blocked with dust, dirt, etc, then the TV thinks you have an external remote plugged in.

The LG people will automatically say that you need a new IR sensor and either come out to replace it or have you bring it in... all for major bucks! Instead, unplug your TV from the power source, squirt some WD-40 (only a little) into the connector hole for the "remote in" and use any 3.5 mm plug (like for a headphone jack) and plug- unplug a dozen or so times to loosen any build-up int he plug and now your TV will receive the signals from the IR Sensor. It is a great fix for a very expensive repair via an LG mis-diagnosis....

I wish I could find the original poster to thank them for this scoop.....

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dialogue in the Dark

Dialogue in the Dark was highly recommended to me, but I left feeling that it was not all it was hiped to be. First, our group initially had 9 people in it (in the outside holding area) but then, a another person (a teenager) slipped in as the 10th. At the first number count (done about half way thru), our guide (all the guides are blind as well) said, "oh, I was told I only had 8". No big deal now, but read further.

With 10 people, you start the walking tour at the same time as another group of 10 does, so when you are trying to hear your guide, sometimes, you can't because the other guide is louder (as in our case). It is critical to actually HEAR your guide because you are walking in total darkness and have to walk towards their voice. Many times, we had to ask our guide to speak up so that we could get directional bearings. After walking thru what was supposed to be the park, a grocery store and then the loud street, we "boarded a boat for a boat ride". Since this is supposed to be an exhibition where your other senses come alive, I expected to smell a harbor and have the wind blowing as you would in a boat ride. Well, our boat experience was dissappointing as we heard the boat motor but after about 2-3 minutes, we were told to disembark - trip over - no wind, no smells, nothing but sitting and listening to the boat motor and our guide try to sing a song. She did joke about how calm the waters were so maybe we were supposed to feel more and it was broken. Finally, we were led to a "cafe" where we got to purchase softdrinks and then were led to a booth type seat. It was here that our guide decided to do another count and we only had 8 people! We were missing one of the guy's wife and the lone teenager who joined our group at the end. After listening to our guide yell the missing wife's name for several minutes and asking all of the other group leaders in the 'cafe" if they had her, she finally showed up (she had gotten turned around and had been with another group). We never did find the teenager. (Hint, go with someone who can keep up with your wherabouts!)

This walking tour would be more beneficial if you didn't have 10 people doing it together because the entire time, we were huddled together, hitting each other's ankles with the guide sticks and hanging on to each other as you inch forward (never did take a full walking step) so you don't get the full experience of actually being blind in a seeing world alone. The concept is good and I guess this is the only way to do it in mass quantities. Also, we bought tickets online (combo tix for the Bodies Exhibit too) and went on an early Sunday morning. When we got there, it was not crowded at all. Maybe the personnel gets more particular as the day goes on, but my tickets were never scanned (so I could have bought one and made 2 copies of it); they just grabbed the papers and tore off the bottom which was for the Bodies exhibition and gave that back to me after writing 2x on the scrap paper. It seemed a bit haphazard and sloppy. When we left, the lobby was very crowded and the line otuside for tickets was long.

FInally, if you have never been to Atlanta Station and dealt with the huge underground parking area, good luck. It is awfully confusing. No where on the website does it give you any advice, but you should park near Elevator 5 (you may drive around awhile looking for the number 5 as the signage down there is horrible) and go up the #5 escalator (or elevator) two floors. Leaving the exhibition, after you go down the escalator two floors, there is a machine to pay for your parking ticket on your immediate left. There are no cashiers at the exits so you have to have prepaid tickets to leave the parking deck...and good luck finding the actual exits...just drive around until you are lucky to see an exit sign.

All in all, I am glad I did it, but it was a lot of money to spend for an hour.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Secret to programming your rolling code garage door openers!

If you have a car with a programmable homelink system, coupled with a car without one (using a handheld garage door opener) and possibly an keypad garage door opener attached to the outside of your garage, you know how difficult it is to program one of the devices without erasing the code on the others. I have found a secret!

We have 1 car with the Homelink built in, 2 with handheld units and a keypad outside. First you should program the handheld units. Following the directions on the main unit of the garage opener, push the program button and then hold the handheld unit up to it until the garage door moves or the main unit lights flicker or click. Test the handheld unit. If it is programmed, MOVE IT INSIDE YOUR HOME AND PUT IT INTO THE REFRIGERATOR (only for a short time.) The refrigerator acts as a shield so that the handheld unit won't be affected by programming something else. After programming all the handheld units individually (and putting them in the frig), then program your car's Homelink system using the directions in your auto's manual. After this is programmed, move your car WAAAYYYYYY down the street. Once the car is out of range, then you can go back and program your keypad on the side of your garage. At this point, everything should work. Believe me, it took me several frustrating DAYS to figure this out. Not you know the secret!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Angular Cheilitis Treatment

My daughter has always had chapped lips on and off - especially during the colder months. This year, it has been particularly bad and nothing has worked to heal her lips and the surrounding chapped/red skin...especially the cracking in the corners. Researching the internet is a bit frustrating because most sites & forums continue to lead you to the one where they guarantee a cure in 3 days BUT you have to pay them $79.95 for the secret. Now, if something sounds to good to be true, it is and I am not about to fork over $80 for a secret. So, I was adamant about "finding the secret" for free on the internet. After about 3 days of searching, I found one guy who had bought the secret and decided after holding it for a couple of years to release it in one of the forums... I only found it once, so here it is in hopes you won't have as hard a time as I did...

You'll need "concentrated" dish washing soap (ie. Palmolive), a new jar of white petroleum jelly (such as vaseline), paper towels, a small plate and 2 plastic bowls.

1. Floss and brush your teeth. Clean out your mouth.
2. Disinfect your hands, especially under your finger nails with the soap.
3. Disinfect your wash area, whether it is in your kitchen or your bathroom counter. You could use a disinfectant cleaner or the soap you bought.
4. Disinfect your plastic bowls with the soap and then fill them both with "warm" water.
5. Get a small clean plate and pour a little soap on to it and put it next to one of the wash bowls.
6. Disinfect your hands again.
7. Go to the first wash bowl and wipe some water over your lips, especially the cuts for a few seconds.
8. Take the soap from the plate and gently rub the soap into the cuts and around the mouth for about a minute. Close your mouth tight because soap obviously shouldn't get inside the mouth. If it does, just rinse your mouth and begin again.
9. Go to the second bowl and rinse the soap off.
10. Take the paper towels and dry your mouth. Every time you dab your mouth, use one towel at a time. BTW, if you have to rinse your mouth, go ahead.
11. Let your sores dry (five-10 minutes or longer). A little warning...when you look in the mirror, your sores are going to be red and wide open so it may not look pretty. Don't worry about this now.
12. Take the unused jar of white petroleum jelly and wipe it around the cuts and around your lips, under your nose and on your chin. Although the white petroleum jelly wasn't made to be eaten, it is okay if it gets in your mouth and a tiny but gets swallowed.
13. Two hours later, wipe the jelly off with paper towels. ....then wash the area again using the method above.
14. Let dry for 10-20 minutes and see if the sores shrink. If they do, you are on the road to recovery. By the time you wake in the morning, the inflammation should be down as the normal healing process will take over. If your sores haven't shrunk, reapply the jelly and wait an hour or two and remove it again and wash again.

The antibacterial concentrated soap kills the bacteria causing the cheilitus and dries the infection in the wound. The jelly, a water repellent, which is placed over the dried area, traps the bacteria in a dry prison thus extinquishing it since bacteria needs a wet environment to thrive.

For tough cases, try this several days or 3-4 times a day.

My daughter tried this method for a couple of days and saw marked improvement. We did see a dermotologists who gave her some topical steroid and anti fungal combo cream which she will use on the corners if it flares again. Hopefully, this will work for you....

Good luck!

Monday, July 7, 2008

ISV - International Student Volunteers

My son participated in this program last summer (2007), volunteering to help the Mackaw program in the jungles of Costa Rica. Because he had an unusually hard semester prior to leaving in May, I told him I would do some preliminary work for him to help him prepare for his trip. I had to email ISV several times with questions and it always was like pulling teeth to get answers. There typical response was that an email would be going out to participants closer to the start of their trip. However, it seemed like the start date was advancing and not a lot of information was disseminated.

One such item of discussion was what kind of luggage or back pack was preferable. Because my son was not a big backpacker, I did not want to spend a lot of money on a backpack for his 6 week trip nor did I want him to borrow a good backpack from anyone with the possibility of him ruining it. I researched several options, and ended up buying one on EBAY. It was a relatively inexpensive backpack ($60-ATI Tahoe85 Internal Frame Hiking Backpack ). It looked good, but you get what you pay for as this backpack barely lasted the duration of his trip. I had sent him with duct tape (wrapped around a pencil) for emergency repairs so he was able to make it home with the backpack intact. The one I had bought him opened in the front as well as on the top and he said that came in handy. After looking at several pictures of his trip, I noticed that several people had suitcases so a backpack is not a requirement.

Another issue that ISV did not tell the volunteers about until late in the game is that they WILL NEED Malaria pills. I actually had looked up Costa Rica on the the CDC website and found that the area my son was going to be working in was a high Malaria area so I had ordered the pills online (very cheap). Also, because he was working with Mackaws, they told the volunteers not to wear mosquito repellant - so I ended up soaking a lot of his clothes in Sawyers Clothing repellent and buying him natural type repellents.

ISV also should look at the start and ending times of their trips. They first meet in the early am the first day. This requires that participants who are not flying with the group need to get to their start city the night before and find their own lodging for that night and wait for the meeting the next am. The trip home also ends late in the afternoon, again requiring the participant to find lodging that night so to catch a flight out the next morning. If they reversed the start and end times, that would be better....but then again, no one asked me and my son ended up having an adventure.

Finally, my son signed up for the Spanish school. After the first hour, it was very evident that he should not be in the school as it is more of an emersion type course. He has taken spanish for about 6 years and is pretty fluent. They realized that he should not be in the beginner course and put him one on one with an instructor who was great. My son also loved living with the host family because it gave him a chance to become conversational.

After the 2 weeks of volunteering, the 2 weeks of touring the country was wonderful. My son ended up throwing away the clothes he wore while volunteering (muddy, sweaty, etc) and ended up leaving his work boots at the Mackaw camp. He wears a size 13 so there was no way he was going to lug them around the country while touring. The most expensive item we bought him for the trip was a good raincoat and he did bring that home. Oh, and I did order him 2 pairs of pretty expensive, quick drying boxers and he loved those. He spent about $200 in cash during the 5 weeks and put a few things on his credit card (btw, be sure to call your bank and let them know that your child's ATM and credit card will be used in another country or after about 2-3 tries, it will be frozen. - Another suggestion that ISV SHOULD tells participants.) Also, be sure to get international calling ability on the cell phones. They told the participants in his group NOT to take their cell phones to the jungle because they would get no signal but my son forgot that he had it with him and ended up being able to call us from the jungle as he had incredible service there. The bummer was that he did leave his charger at the hotel where they had locked up all of their belongings left behind and soon, his phone lost battery power. But still, it would have been nice for ISV to have told the volunteers to take their phones.

Just to be safe, my son scanned his passport and then emailed himself a copy of it (inserted on the face of the email versus attaching it.) That way, in case all of his belongings were lost or stolen, he could always go to an internet cafe and get a copy of his passport. He did freak out once when he could not find his passport, but realized he had hid it in a pouch that his expensive underwear had come packaged in. It was a great hiding spot, but almost too good. After my son got over the shock of not finding his passport, he re-traced his thought process and found it. whew!

I am writing all of this down now just because I realized that this time last year, my son had just returned from his ISV trip in Costa Rica. We missed him terribly while he was gone last summer and thought of him daily. This was a bit strange to us because he had lived away at college for the previous 2 years and we don't miss him like that while he is in school. I guess it was because he was in another country and not immediately accessible had we needed him. If I can think of anything else that might help future volunteers, I will add it. Until then, you can email me.