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Meet William (Bill) Novotny of Novotny Personal Property Appraisal

Today we’d like to introduce you to William (Bill) Novotny.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In 1979 I had finished all course work for a masters degree in psychology for CSULA and gerontology from USC. I was developing a masters theses to define quality of care in nursing home by ranking indicators by patient, significant other and service providers to identify how they vary.

My family was in the antique business. A significant opportunity arose when I found a 20,000 sf site in the heart of Glendale CA that could be immediately leased for 7.5 cents a square foot (way under market value). We signed the lease.

I never looked back and never was awarded either master’s degree. I never regretted the decision, though I am still curious how the different populations (patient/client/medical practitioners) would differently respond in ranking the quality of care indicators.

I still regard myself as a student on leave of absence. I subsequently published four articles in the Journal of Advanced Appraisal Studies. The focus of my independent study shifted to quality and value indicators of different personal property types which is huge universe. 38 years later I still start each day with 30-60 minutes of study for a particular property type or marketability factors (the response of market participants) in the various markets in which objects are bought and sold. I love what I do and do it passionately.

Since 1979 I was an antiques, art, collectibles and general residential contents dealer until 1999; I had a quarter million rare records in my stores for much of that time. I started conducting estate sales on a part time basis in the late 1980’s and stopped last year. I began focusing full time on doing personal property appraisals as a generalist in 1996 and that has been my focus since.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Whenever you like doing something and love learning about what you do it makes all tasks seem easy. There are always frustrations and challenges however. I’ve said many times that all of the large furniture I have moved with an appliance dolly would equate to walking backward with the load to San Francisco and back (not to mention getting in on and off a truck). You must buy each piece, bring it to a store, stage it, move it to keep it fresh, bring it to an antique show or mall as needed, bring it back if it doesn’t sell and then restage it and finally deliver it when it sells. Remember 20,000 sf store loaded!

There were many long days of hard work in difficult circumstances (spiders, rats, mold, filth etc.). There were many treasures unearthed. Hundreds of auctions attended. There is occasionally difficult people to work with, but you cannot let them get under your skin; you must always remain professional. When the fortunes of the antiques business declined in the nineties it was time to retire. My appraisal business was good, always fun and not back breaking (which can happen when your 73 years old). Amazingly, I am one of the few dealers that survived without damaging my back. Estate sales were occasional, mostly fun, a change of pace, a challenging diversion that involved many people and an interesting market in which anything could be found everything could be sold. Too many war stories!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Novotny Personal Property Appraisal – what should we know?
When I first went into the antique business I knew nothing about any of the “stuff” and its value. I trusted myself and began to learn. There was no internet and many people would not share their knowledge. I bought lots of books. I looked at everything under magnification. I went into department stores, thrift stores, consignment store, antique malls, and specialist galleries and always guessed what each object was called and what it would be priced. At every auction, I did the same as an object went under the gavel. If I was wrong I went to inspect the object carefully to find out why I was wrong. Currently I do the same thing online with auction results and watching the antiques road show. I look at each object and immediately identify it and “guess” at its value and then look at the results. I can no longer turn it off. As soon as I see an object its name and a value “pops” into my mind.

After doing this for 38 years I am amazed how often I get it right. I have also learned to be very skeptical and to research and confirm my first impression. It’s all a game to me and that keeps it fun, but it is money to each client and so I am always careful to develop a basis for my opinion. There are advantages to getting old. Knowledge and experience goes a long way in helping me know when the research is enough and my opinion is worthy of belief and relevant to the unique value problem that the client presents to me.

I have made just about every mistake that can be made on my own dime and have learned by my mistakes. I pride myself in being able to identify the rare, unusual and special objects within most property types. I studied oriental rugs for years before giving up and knowing I need assistance for experts, I have always studied, dealt in and collected native American baskets, weavings and beadwork as well as Chinese, Japanese and Korean objects. These have all been a focus of independent study. I have focused on Asian for the last five years. I will never be a specialist, but I will know when something is important or special. Therefore, I can go in someone’s home and be confident that I can most everything I find and be sufficiently skeptical to seek the assistance of a specialist as part of my scope of work or disclose that I cannot appraise certain objects.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
A passion for knowledge about all marketable objects. A willingness to embrace challenges. A desire to identify significant and underlying issues in my profession; to seek unique solutions when typical methods and practice fall short and a desire to share ideas and knowledge with my peers.

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