Pre-Estate Sales

What’s it worth? $1,200, $1,000, $800, $600, less? What did he pay for it? How old is it?
What’s it worth? $1,200, $1,000, $800, $600, less? What did he pay for it? How old is it?

 (for what it’s worth)

By Rick Henderson


At some point, we ALL pass on, there simply is no getting around that fact. Also the saying that “He who dies with the most toys wins”, is often quite the opposite. When we pass on either expectedly or unexpectedly, if we leave behind our trains and other toys, we usually just burden our heirs with our collections and often they wind up selling them for much less than their true value, if not outright giving them away.
Looking at it from the surviving spouse/family side, being left with a collection of riding scale trains that you acquired over the years, can be a real headache, starting with what are they really worth. Many proud train owners see their trains as a good investment because they need to justify to themselves that the trains were worth what they paid out to acquire them; maybe even more. In doing so, often other family members have the impression that the trains are worth a lot more than what potential buyers consider reasonable.

A good machinist I knew in the US spent years working on a European prototype live steamer in a very large scale and unexpectedly passed early. It was his pride and joy locomotive and he was still working to get the new steamer running kinks resolved. Being an oversized scale of a foreign prototype, seriously limited interest when his spouse went to sell the loco. She found that what her husband felt it was worth was not near what anyone was willing to pay. In another example, children of a deceased live steamer wanted to list their dad’s large-scale 0-4-0 for sale for $50,000, only to learn that amount was maybe 5-10 times more than is real value.
Unless the surviving spouse or family members are active in the hobby, they often have no clue what trains are worth or how the value changes over years. Many may feel they are still worth what they think was spent on them. And would you believe, some spend more to acquire trains than they actually disclose to their spouse… Numerous surviving spouses may have no interest and just take the first offer that comes along.

So when is a good time to downsize? My indicator was when I could no longer physically manage to handle the trains alone, that is a good sign you should consider becoming a passenger on someone else’s train rather than engineer on you own train. But do not wait too long to make this decision as it could take years to find a buyer if your particular equipment is not in high demand.
After deciding to sell, setting a price is the second hardiest thing to do. Getting what you paid for it is not generally going to happen, but it’s a starting point. Anything used is rarely worth near the original cost. You bought it, used it and now it’s value as a used item is much less. Start with 50% of what you paid and then adjust up or down depending on age, hours run/used, condition of trucks, couplers, batteries etc. Some trains get used a couple times a week, others maybe only once or twice a year. The more you have run it, like mileage on a car, the less it’s value.
In a strange way, those of us that run our trains often, may feel they are worth more due to the joy we get from them, call it Attachment Syndrome. Those that rarely use theirs may get to the point of wondering why they got them since they are not using them; something like Buyer’s Remorse.
Remember the goal is for you to sell it and not leave for others to give away. Most of mine are gone to good use by others already, leaving little or none for my wife to deal with in the future and I now enjoy riding along with others.