Listen: For Families Of COVID’s Many Dead, Grieving Also Means Sorting Through A Lifetime Of Belongings

Estate sale companies and charities are working overtime as families decide what to keep, sell or give away.

By Joy DíazJuly 15, 2021 12:21 pm, ,

This is Part 3 of a three-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

It’s been almost a year since Graciela Correa Morales died from COVID-19.

The San Antonio woman’s three grown sons still don’t know what to do with all of her things. Her middle child, Omar Correa Morales, says he categorizes her possessions in three ways: the first are things with sentimental value.

Graciela Correa Morales’ pendant, which will go to her granddaughter on her quinceañera. Gabriel C. Pérez/Texas Standard

“A wooden spoon, which might mean nothing to anybody else – but she taught me how to make spaghetti with that spoon! So, when I got that spoon, I was ecstatic!” Omar said.

There’s also the beautiful necklace with a round, gold pendant Graciela wore all the time. It will go to Omar’s niece on her quinceañera.

The second category are things nobody knows whether to keep, donate or sell. Graciela’s numerous bottles of perfume are one example.

“Literally, she has like 50 freaking perfume bottles!” Omar said.

The third is the property Graciela owned in central San Antonio. On it was the family home, until it burned down in 2011. Without a big house full of stuff, the Correa Moraleses don’t have as many of their loved one’s belongings to sort through like some other families.

Gabriel C. Pérez/Texas Standard

David and Karen Chafé of Remember When Estate Sales at an estate sale in the Highland Park West neighborhood of Austin in May.

But for some of those families, one company in Austin has been working nonstop over the last year and a half to help them sell items left behind. Remember When is owned by husband and wife, Karen and David Chafé. Their services are normally booked two months in advance, but ever since the pandemic, Karen says they’re fully booked for the foreseeable future.

“Everybody needs this done yesterday!” she said.

Gabriel C. Pérez/Texas Standard

An array of items for sale at a Remember When estate sale in Austin in May.

Normally, they are hired by individuals. But now they’re also getting referrals from probate courts.

Probate courts help sort the affairs of people who are deceased. They also establish guardianships for people with disabilities.

At a recent estate sale set up by Remember When, the Chafés were preparing items to sell for top dollar. But that can make it tricky for some family members who may overprice items because of sentimental connections to them.

“Sometimes the perceived value is attached to emotions, so as we walk through, we realize that there’s not enough here to attract the public,” Dave said.

The Chafés also have to consider how they’ll make money off the sale when setting up items. Estate sale companies can charge anywhere from 40% 50% of the revenue a sale brings in.

As they set up the items, the Chafés found several treasures, including a vase from  the 1912 World’s Fair and some other gems.

Gabriel C. Pérez/Texas Standard

“That purse on the wall right there, most people would have overlooked it, but it’s a vintage Salvatore Ferragamo,” Karen said.

“Here’s a prime example of what we’ve just uncovered through this house: so you look at this [toy] car; it’s old, from the 1920s. I turn it over and it says, ‘This little car was my Christmas gift in 1928.” Dave said.

“But what’s sad is that none of his children want it,” Karen said.

“Yeah, they’re like, ‘We just don’t have a need for it,’” Dave said.

Those items are expected to sell well. Corningware dishes are also expected to sell well.

But who needs another run-of-the-mill spoon, like the one Omar Correa Morales covets simply because it was his mother’s? Karen Chafé says the market is saturated with things like that right now.

“I think it just ends up being donated. And I don’t know what the donation companies are doing because there is a lot,” she said.

Goodwill and the Salvation Army say they are seeing an uptick on donations lately. But it’s hard to attribute that solely to the thousands of COVID-19 deaths in the state. Donations could also be up because many people are still working from home and are getting rid of belongings cluttering their spaces.

What donation companies do say is that over the last three months, they have seen more customers.

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