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Treasures in the attic

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SUN CITY CENTER - Do you know what everything in your household is worth?

If not, you could be in for a big surprise.

At a free seminar explaining why you should know the value of your possessions held at Sun Towers Jan. 15, Dale Smrekar explained that sometimes the things you think are most valuable aren’t those that could be sold for the most cash.

As a certified personal property appraiser and estate liquidation expert, Dale has seen things that were almost tossed aside sell for thousands of dollars, and on the other hand, watched smiles turn to frowns as people who think they have extremely costly items are  told they’re not worth squat.


Dale checks out the authenticity of a painting owned by Dorothy and Joe Molnar titled The Boyar Wedding by Constantin Makovsky dated 1883.
Paintings, statues, lamps, knick-knacks, Depression glass, and all manner of family heirlooms appeared at the seminar, arranged by Debbie Caneen, director of business development at Sun Towers.

Debbie has worked at several area independent and assisted living residences and says she has had Dale in for seminars at all of them.

“He isn’t an antique dealer. He doesn’t go in and tell you what he’ll give you for a piece because he doesn’t buy anything. He directs you to the place you can get the best price. Sometimes it’s a local dealer but he’s worked with the best, including internationally known places like Sotheby’s Art Auction House and famous galleries all over the world.

What you make determines what his percentage is,” Debbie said.

Dale turned his love of antiquing- which was a lifetime hobby- into a business 8 years ago.

His background is really in social work.

As a social worker for Florida’s Department of Children & Families, Dale has seen many kinds of problems caused by people not knowing the value of their belongings.

“I’ve seen (grown) kids come down for a few days and close up their Mom or Dad’s house after they’ve gone into assisted living or a nursing home. Sometimes they get rid of things so quickly they never even know if they’re valuable,” he said. “Most times, they don’t have the time to stay and check everything out that should be checked out. They’re interested in obtaining help or care for Mom and Dad and they have family and jobs to get back to.”

That’s why people need to know the value of their possessions before those facts are needed, Dale explained to the group gathered for the seminar.

He showed slides while asking those in the audience if they could pick out the most, and least, expensive items in the groups on the screen.

Sometimes someone guessed correctly. But more often than not, nobody could pick out the items of real worth.

At one point he showed a painting of a boat tied to a dock with a smaller boat beached on land in the foreground. “What would you say this is worth?” he asked.

Various people guessed aloud. The amounts were all fairly low.

“This painting sold for $35,000 at Bonham’s & Butterfield’s in California, which enabled a family to pay for an entire year’s worth of assisted living expenses,” he said.


Dale Smrekar and Debbie Caneen host a seminar on knowing the value of what you have in your home.
Another of his clients had bought the watch that was given by the owner of the famous horse Seabiscuit (subject of the 2003 movie) to its jockey. Its selling price was $6,500.

Then there was the baseball signed by every player on the 1926 St. Louis Cardinal’s team that was sold for $12,658.

“It was just a baseball. It could very easily have been tossed aside,” he said.

Combining Dale’s accreditation in antiques and appraisals with his years of social work, he has been called in by the local branches of American Cancer Society and LifePath Hospice, as well as many in other counties and charities in Florida and around the country to help people who need to be moved, often who have no one in the family to assist them.

“People who downsize into an apartment from a home, not just those who are elderly or ill, need to know the worth of their things too, and they need to pass that information on to other family members,” he explained.

Dale also works with attorneys on probate, estate planning, bankruptcy and guardianship cases.

“I have a strong belief that people should be educated about what they own,” he said.

He and Tampa/Pinellas County eldercare attorney Amanda Wolf have teamed up to do just that for residents of south Hillsborough County when Amanda sets up a satellite office in Sun City Center in the spring.

“We are hoping to concentrate on education,” he said.

Education is something he does for charities as well as emergency work. Sometimes county agencies call Dale to assist in cases where someone needs to move into assisted living, a nursing home or in with family or friends.

He says he will never be able to shake the desire to help people he learned while working as a social worker.

Sometimes he’s hired and others he helps a charity. But his care for the clients doesn’t end at the sale.

“I love it when months after he’s finished with someone who has moved into one of our facilities he calls and asks about them,” said Debbie. “I remember this one woman who had lots of problems. Dale called several times a week for a couple of months just to see if she was eating, or if there was anything she needed. But I wasn’t surprised at that. He’s  just that kind of person.”

Until our interview Jan. 15 however, Debbie did not know of Dale’s background in social work.


Debbie Caneen looks at the “treasures” brought by Nellie Wessels, Marilyn Reid and Marilyn’s daughter Patty Templin as they wait to find out their monetary value.
“Now I know where this caring comes from!” she said with a laugh.

As the room began to fill and the seminar started, people sat holding items they thought were worth money waiting their turn for free appraisals. But it wasn’t exactly an “Antiques Road Show” because Dale spent much of the time giving safety tips.

These included having family members change locks as soon as they move a relative out of a home or apartment. “Kids come down to help their parents and get them into an assisted living situation, but do they know who may have keys to the house? When they lock it there’s no assurance someone else won’t go in before they get back, especially if they’re aware there are valuables inside.”

The second thing Dale wanted to stress is checking the pockets of all clothing before donating it.

“Some organizations could live off the cash they find in the pockets of donated clothes lying in boxes outside their doors,” he told the assembled group.

Another point he made that many attendees said they did not know was that things change in value according to the times.

“I thought once something was deemed valuable, it only increased in value,” one woman said from the audience.

The answer to that was definitely no.

Autographed items, paintings or photographs of or by famous people lose their value after the generation that valued them dies out.

The same thing with Depression glass and other “dated” items like it. Once those who remember the reason these things were valuable are gone, the next generation usually doesn’t value it. New generations will treasure things associated with their own past.

Early cars from the turn of the last century and the Depression era were used as examples.

Different types of cars are now valuable as well, like ’55 Thunderbirds and the first Mustangs because Baby Boomers remember these so fondly he said. “They don’t remember the first cars.”

Debbie said she always enjoys hosting presentations by Dale because even though he’s in the business of appraising he is extremely interested in educating the public.

“He really tries to direct each person to the place that will give them the very best price for their specific item. He doesn’t purchase anything himself so he won’t make anything unless the client does,” she said.




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