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Blue Waters Carves Out Well-To-Do Estate Sales Niche

RETAIL: High-End Items Include Artwork, Furniture, Rare Collectibles

SAN DIEGO – Do not confuse these events with a garage sale or even a typical estate sale.
Merchandise at Blue Waters Relocation and Estate Sales might include $60,000 doors created by renowned San Diego artist James Hubbell, a 2002 convertible Ford Thunderbird, a Gucci watch and an $800 liquor box from the 1820s.

“Look at that umbrella,” Blue Waters owner Catherine Waters said at a recent estate sale in La Jolla. “Look at that big white handle. Where are you going to find that? And a brand-new Frank Gehry block. A drink box for traveling in your carriage. It’s just like a universe of interesting objects.”

Waters founded the business in 2011 when there was little local competition in the field. She had a bit of a head start because of her connections with some of the well-to-do residents of San Diego County, beginning with her mother’s friends in Del Mar, and she made more affluent contacts when working for a luxury senior community in La Jolla.

Waters also had developed a keen eye for value and aesthetics through 14 years of working as a film set designer in New York. She also worked for a while in real estate after moving back to San Diego County but saw more of a future in estate sales.

“I’d go to them with my mom when I was young,” she recalled about attending sales in Rancho Santa Fe. “They were always glamorous and fun. Because my background is a set designer, I thought, ‘I could do this.’”

While the setting and the items she sells may be glamorous, Waters does not sugarcoat the realities of her field.

“It’s kind of a brutal business,” she said. “I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing it. The margins are really small, and you have to really turn it out to make a living at it.”
She holds about three sales a month, and the volume sold at each average about $20,000, she said.

The commission varies from sale to sale, because she can do some on her own while others may require up to 15 contracted workers. She herself wears many hats on the job.

“You have to be a photographer,” Waters said. “You have to be a salesperson. You have to be a therapist. You have to be financial savvy and a really brutal negotiator. And you have to be professional. And you have to be nice.”

She once discovered two 18-karat gold tubes valued at $60,000 among her items for sale, and Water said she researches almost everything to price items.

“My greatest fear is to be like that company that did an estate sale in La Jolla, and there was a map that I think they sold for $3,000,” she said. “It ended up selling at auction for $8 million.”

Buyers and Sellers

About 25% of estate sales are from people who have passed away. Other sales may be held because of divorces, a move, a consolidated household or because a homeowner has grown bored of a certain style.

“I get a lot of houses in Rancho Santa Fe or Fairbanks Ranch or Carmel Valley that were bought in 2000 with that Tuscany look, and they just got tired of it,” she said.

Some furniture pieces may have sold for $20,000 when new, but because they are out of style they now may go for $500, Waters said. Another challenge is finding a buyer for such large pieces.

“The people who come to the sales, maybe they don’t have giant houses,” she said. “And typically, if you have a great big fancy giant house, you’re not shopping at estate sales.”
Sales are usually held Thursday through Saturday and attract about 2,000 people.

“Everybody’s curious about seeing how other people live, but not necessarily to buy stuff,” she said. “People love to go into other people’s homes.”

Waters’ regular staff includes interior designers, a Harvard graduate who studied Native American artifacts and a woman who cataloged museums across the country and is married to an appraiser.

Waters has a degree in film and studied art history and anthropology at UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara, and she said that background still helps in her work.

“This is actually like contemporary anthropology,” she said about the estate sales.

Blue Waters Relocation and Estate Sales
FOUNDED: 2011
OWNER: Catherine Waters
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
BUSINESS: Estate Sales
EMPLOYEES: 1
WEBSITE: https://www.bluewatersrelocation.com/
CONTACT: (858) 333-1853; bluewatersrelocation@gmail.com

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