Phoenix-based Blue Leaf Auctions runs estate sales and charity auctions for high-profile clientele.
Every day on the job is like a treasure hunt into the past for Rowlan Hill, auctioneer at Blue Leaf Estate Auctions.
Hill and his wife, Stephanie Garcia, run the Phoenix auction company that specializes in estate auctions and has become an authority in the industry.
They’re used to finding antiques and contemporary pieces, some that prove to be valuable or not. Occasionally, there’s a find that surprises even the veteran Hill, an award-winning master auctioneer who has become one of the most sought-after in the field.
About four months ago, Hill was doing a walk-through at a house and reached into a cabinet. He pulled out a cardboard box and opened it. A letter with words in German was inside. He didn’t understand what they read but as he searched through the box, the puzzle became clear.
“It had swastikas, t-shirts, belt buckles … this person was in Hitler’s Youth (Movement),” Rowlan said, his voice exuding a little awe in the historical relevance and solemnness of the pieces and what they represented.
Does he feel odd running a sale on such items? And does just a small part of him question the character of those who end up buying them?
“I do have reservations about selling some things. But there are true collectors who are not racists. It’s curiosity,” Rowlan said.
But there are things he won’t sell. Among them: ivory, pornography and Bibles, which he donates to churches and similar organizations. He doesn’t like to sell guns, but has.
‘We make the process easier’
What he does sell and how they sell, however, has fueled Blue Leaf’s success since launching in 2011.
When the company first started, Hill and Garcia did a sale every other Saturday and averaged about 24 auctions a year, he said. Today, they do nine or 10 every month. The biggest auctions take place on Tuesdays and Fridays, and it’s common for each to draw as many as 240 registered bidders — most of whom bring a plus one.
The vibe of competition generates an adrenaline that’s perhaps more intoxicating than capturing the winning bid. Hill also gets amped up by the crowd’s energy.
“What’s even more thrilling is when someone comes back to me and says, ‘You know that widget I bought for $500? It got it valued at $800 or $900,” Hill said. “I want people to find treasures. It’s all about the hunt.”
Blue Leaf handles every step, from the first visit with the homeowner or family to discuss the process down to the auction sales and settling with buyers and sellers. This entails cataloging each item, marketing, advertising and setting up and shutting down of the main event.
“We make sure everyone has a wonderful time. We make the process easier for them and they want to come back and have fun,” Hill said.
After 24 years in the same house, Joy Johnson and her husband found themselves empty nesters. They had a lot of things they didn’t want to take to their new and smaller home. Her sister attends a lot of estate auctions and thought it would be a good option that could generate some revenue. She was referred to Blue Leaf, which ran the auction in February.
“They were very professional. Rowlan walked us through the entire process,” said Johnson, who lives in Phoenix. “He was very informative, and it was very organized and thorough. It was quite a production.”
Johnson was pleased with the results and has since recommended Blue Leaf to friends who are thinking of also downsizing.
“We walked away with a nice amount of money to buy furniture for our new home,” she said. “I’m thankful.”
How they got started
A commercial auctioneer for more than 30 years, Hill has traveled across the U.S., Canada and Mexico running automobile, cattle and general-merchandise auctions.
Garcia, his wife of 11 years, is a political-science adjunct professor at Arizona State University and previously worked for an online auto auction company.
The idea to start Blue Leaf sprouted when they were asked to lend their expertise to a swap mart in Goodyear. They oversaw a growing consignment that included pieces from an estate-sale company. A woman from that company mentored them into the estate auction sale business.
Later, Hill and Garcia oversaw an estate auction that had so much stuff, it was held right there in the house.
“So many people came and it was a success,” Rowlan recalled. “We looked at each other and said, ‘This is where it’s at.’ We’ve been doing them in houses ever since.”
‘Our job is to take away the headaches’
Blue Leaf’s clientele includes high-profile Phoenicians who request him to run their charity auctions, including Arizona Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald’s First Down Fund and former Cardinal Calais Campbell’s CRC Foundation.
Over the years, Hill has been overwhelmed with charity requests, so he’s been more selective and limits the events to those he personally believes in. This includes Best Buddies Arizona.
“I know they’re putting the money to work, and I’ve seen how the dollars are used,” Hill said.
About half of Blue Leaf’s clients reside out of state. Many are relatives of a Valley resident who has died.
Hill talked about a woman who lives in Michigan who found him through an online search after her sister died. She was distraught when she called Hill, wondering how she could grieve for her sister when she had to finalize details of her sister’s home, belongings and other affairs.
Hill and Garcia stepped in and got every detail lined up for her so when she landed in Phoenix everything was set to go.
Here, Hill and Garcia provide an intangible service to a grieving family member who cannot possibly imagine dealing with a house full of stuff. They assist people in finding a real-estate agent, probate attorney and solutions to a missing vehicle title. They box up photos and mementos for relatives to neatly take home.
“We understand that they are grieving and we must be sensitive,” Hill said. “We take the time to make them feel better and take as much off their plate as possible. Our job is to take away the headaches.”
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