Auction business opens in Vancouver

Calif. firm launches Northwest operations base

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



Clars Auction House

What: A Vancouver branch of Oakland, Calif.-based appraisal, authentication and auction services firm.

Where: 500 W. Eighth St., Vancouver.

Web: Clars Auction House.

Whether it's the Chinese figurine on mother's dressing table or the old framed photo in father's den, there's something of value in nearly every home.

Alas, without an inkling of the item's monetary worth, what's an owner to do?

Now, Clark County residents have a new option with the recent arrival of Clars Auction Gallery, an Oakland, Calif.-based art appraisal and sales firm that has established a Vancouver office as its Northwest operations base. The three-person office at 500 W. Eighth St. serves as a central location for its appraisers who travel all over the Pacific Northwest to evaluate items for auction, according to Jan Krane, an appraiser of fine art who heads up the office, which opened last month.

"We can either go south to Salem and Eugene or north to Seattle," and everywhere in between, Krane said.

Opening up in a new market could also help extend the company's inventory selection to higher priced, more globally scaled pieces, he said. Krane said the company counts Clark County as a big part of its broadened West Coast market. "Don't forget, there is a lot of industry here," Krane said, "and a lot of wealth."

The company's expert appraisers make house calls, as part of the service component. Appraisers — including specialists in jewelry, art and antique furnishings — are regularly dispatched to assess the value of everything from a single painting to an entire estate.

Appraisals are free if the owner consigns to sell it through Clars, which receives a commission for items sold on consignment. It works out to about 10 percent for sales that are $7,000 and above and 15 percent for sales that are $3,000 and above.

"We get a lot of calls from attorneys that deal with the estates of clients who have passed away," Krane said.

Items to be sold through auction are picked up and shipped to the company's 22,000-square-foot gallery in Oakland. Krane said Clars hosts a two-day auction every month that regularly draws between 3,000 and 4,000 people. The online auction draws 100 times that number.

Items in high demand include Chinese antiques, collectibles and jewelry, which make up about 20 percent of the merchandise at every auction, Krane said. "The value of Chinese artifacts has skyrocketed because (the Chinese) are buying back their history," he said. "We just sold a Chinese vase for a half-million dollars."

Krane expects the new Vancouver office to increase business for his company. The uncertain economy and the fact that baby boomers and their parents are aging also create business, he said. "That generation is reaching the end of its life span," he said.

Krane added that his company's expansion also will help it search for the higher-priced items it needs to drive its online sales. The highest-priced item he has sold during his 30-year career was a small painting by American landscape painter George Inness. The piece sold for $1.3 million.

"The other side of the coin is, sometimes you think you have something that's worth a lot, but it isn't," Krane said.