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Originally published Monday, January 31, 2011 at 7:00 AM

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Estate-sale savvy turns into reality show 'Cash & Cari'

When everything must go: Cari Cucksey turns her talent for estate sales into a reality show. Here she offers a behind the scenes look at the show and tips for selling and buying at an estate sale.

Detroit Free Press

 

"Cash & Cari" airs at 10 p.m. on Mondays on HGTV. For show details and tips on buying and selling treasures, see www.hgtv.com/cash-cari/show/index.html.

How to shop an estate sale

Here are some of Cari Cucksey's tips:

Dealing with antique dealers: It's not always easy to find exactly the right antique. Don't lose hope! Visit local antique shops and speak with experts to let them know what you are looking for. They will have better connections with dealers than you and will be able to source your new treasure faster.

Negotiating a price: Negotiating can make some people nervous. The best way to start the conversation is by asking what the seller's best price is. Think about how much you would be happy to pay for the item and see if you can find a compromise somewhere in the middle. This way, everyone comes away from the deal happy.

Consider before cleaning: When you acquire a new item, research it thoroughly before attempting to clean it up. Some furniture is best left untreated by chemical cleaners, whereas others will thrive with a little beeswax and a lot of elbow grease.

How to sell your items

Research: I can't tell you how important it is to research items. It is the backbone of my business. Whether that means going online or doing price comparisons with other stores and sales, you need to know the true value of your treasure. To take your research to the next level, visit antique dealers or make an appointment with an expert.

Staging: Setting up sales means more than putting all your items on a table and hoping someone will spot them. Group similar colors or pieces together to entice the buyers — and make sure everything is spotless.

Connect collectibles with the right buyer: There is a whole world of collectibles out there in the estate sale world. Just remember: Not every item has a great value, but it will have a collector out there somewhere. Find the right collector and you will raise the value of your piece.

Cari Cucksey

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Tonight in Prime Time

DETROIT — Morris Cucksey would burst through the door, excited about showing off his newfound treasure.

"Wait till you see what I have," he'd say.

"Grandpa, where did you get it?" Cari Cucksey recalled asking.

"Alongside the road," he'd tell her, time after time in his gruff voice.

Furniture, tables, chairs — "anything and everything that he thought he could salvage," Cari said.

Morris Cucksey, a World War II veteran, taught Cari that everything had potential — all it took was some creativity and vision to uncover it.

"He went through the Depression, so he couldn't throw anything away," Cari said. "If he saw a computer on the side of the road, he'd pick it up and get all of the screws and nuts out of it because he didn't want to see anything go in the garbage."

She sat on a stool in RePurpose, a resale shop she opened three months ago in Northville, Mich., and looked around at the things she sells — furniture, tables, chairs and countless home items that have been salvaged and transformed, including a bowling alley lane turned into a kitchen table.

"I heard my name," she said, her head snapping to the big-screen television tuned to HGTV. She watched a commercial for her new reality show, "Cash & Cari," which is based on her estate-sales business. "Cool. That must be the next episode."

In many ways, Cari, 35, has taken her grandfather's advice and applied it to her life. This one time fitness instructor has evolved into a businesswoman, entrepreneur and budding TV star. "With the way the world is, you have to re-create and repurpose yourself, just to keep up with technology," she said.

It all started in 1998, when Cari wanted to go to Europe after graduating from Central Michigan University. She didn't have enough money, so she started buying and selling things on eBay, making enough to go overseas for two weeks.

When she returned to Michigan, she started shopping estate sales for items with resale potential.

"I started realizing I knew a little about a lot of things," she said. "The light bulb went off" and she started an estate-sales business.

Now, Cari and her team go into homes, hunt for treasures, research what each item is worth and conduct a two- or three-day sale for clients, trying to liquidate everything before someone moves or sells a house.

"It's really grown because there are so many aging baby boomers dealing with liquidating their parents' estates," she said.

In early 2010, TV executives were scouting for a female liquidator for a reality show on estate sales. A woman with a British accent saw Cari's website (http://repurposeshop.com/cari), called her and said: "Cari, I'm on your Facebook page, and you are very tele-worthy."

Producers came to Michigan and filmed 12 hours of Cari in action. The series was sold to HGTV and premiered Jan. 3.

"We already have a contract for a second season," said Cari's fiancé and business partner, Vincenzo Iafano. "They are already talking about a third season, and they are predicting five to seven."

While there was some talk of shooting the series around the country, Cari pushed to have all the episodes shot in Michigan. She grew up here and lives in Plymouth with Iafano and his daughters, Ariana, 19, and Marisa, 16.

"This coming year, they will almost make Northville a character in the show," Iafano said. "We are really excited about that. We are trying to promote Michigan. We want to keep it here. There are plenty of estates that we can do right here."

Cari's team of roughly 25 employees is made up of everyday, hard working Michiganders who've suddenly been thrust into a national television show, doing the same things they did before the cameras showed up.

"We are like a super dysfunctional family," said Sharon Gabrian, 46, of Bloomfield Township, Mich., whom Cari describes as her "right hand" and her "left hand." "Cari is like my sister. We banter back and forth all the time.

"She is the best boss I've ever had."

That banter, built on relationships formed long before the cameras started filming, is what makes the show. And the banter keeps on going when the cameras are turned off.

"The cast is extraordinary together," said Dennis Beauchamp, who is directing the first two seasons of "Cash & Cari." "You have a family atmosphere in this cast."

Haas Sleiman and Moe Jaafar are 29-year-old cousins who grew up together in Dearborn, Mich. "Haas breaks; I fix. It's an ongoing joke," Jaafar said. "Don't Haas it."

Haas and Moe, as they are called on the show, are both used for their muscle, lugging around furniture. "Moe is MacGyver," Cari said. "He can fix anything."

And then there's Elizabeth Wild, 22, of Plymouth, Mich., who has worked with Cari for about four years doing research and sales.

"It's definitely surreal being on TV," Wild said.

Sometimes, Wild cringes when she sees herself on television. "I say, 'Oh my gosh! I can't believe I did that,' " she said, laughing. "But it's fun."

The guys say they haven't changed anything. They wear the same clothes that they always wore. "The girls get all dolled up and prettied up, especially Liz," Jaafar said. "She's a little drama queen."

And he looked around, afraid she might come around the corner and smack him.

Jaafar credits Cari for holding everything together.

"When we are working, she is like one of the boys," Jaafar said. "When it comes to business, she is hard core. Negotiating? Kick butt. When it comes down to fun and play, she is laid back. Cool as heck. Just awesome. I think that's why we get along so well. She gives off that energy to everybody else."

The final episode of the first series is being filmed at an estate sale at her grandparents' home in Lake Orion, Mich.

Morris Cucksey, 88, and his wife, Rosa Lee, 88, are now in an assisted-living facility.

"My grandmother has a little bit of Alzheimer's, and my grandfather is getting dementia," Cari said.

The basement is filled to the ceiling and the garage is jampacked with tools. The family wants to sell the house, so an estate sale is needed. But it will also make for great TV.

"This is going to be extraordinary for Cari because she is going to be able to see the history of her family, going through her grandfather's belongings," Beauchamp said.

When Cari holds an estate sale under normal circumstances, she deals with people who have lost a loved one or are selling their things for financial reasons.

"She coaches them through a lot of emotion," Iafano said. "Now that she is doing her grandfather's house, she is feeling that same emotion. It's a little bit of a tough experience for her."

Cari was surprised at her own reaction after going on a quick tour of the house with her uncle, Jon Cucksey.

"I thought, 'Oh, no problem, we do this all the time,' " Cari said. "Then my uncle started talking about my grandfather, and it just hit me. Bam. I got a little emotional. It's going to be interesting to go through his stuff and make sure it goes to a good home."

While she may struggle with thoughts of keeping some items for sentimental reasons, she will rely on a lesson she learned after a 2009 fire destroyed the Plymouth home she shared with Iafano.

"I learned that it's OK to let this go, this piece of pottery or this piece of jewelry," Cari said. "Things do not make people."

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