Frances Peoples spent her early childhood in Fostoria (a sawmill town east of Conroe) and later moved to the Cleveland area, graduating from Cleveland High School. She attended Sam Houston State University on a drama scholarship, and taught history and government at Conroe High School for 35 years. Peoples, however, began a more unusual career after she retired from teaching. Now a licensed auctioneer, she is the proprietor of Pea Patch Estate Sale and Auction Company. She is a life member of the Montgomery County Fair Association and has served on the board of directors in a variety of roles. She is also a board member of the Montgomery County Genealogical and Historical Society. Postcards recently visited with Frances while she and her team prepared a home for an estate sale.
What inspired you to teach?
I had a history teacher in high school, Mrs. Kirkham. Not only was she very elegant and pretty, but she was practical. She would sit on a desk and tell us history. She told us all the backstories. She never looked at the book. So when I went off to college, I had a double major—history and drama, and a double minor—physical education and education. I had this attitude that I could always teach. Because Mrs. Kirkham was so good, I thought, “Yeah, I could do that.”
I did my student teaching at Travis Junior High under Mrs. Montgomery. She told me there was an opening at Conroe High. In those days, they only hired you if you came from Conroe. I talked to the superintendent, Mr. McCullough. He asked me, “Did you go to school here?” I said, “No sir, I didn’t.” He said, “Where did you come from?” I told him, “Cleveland, but I married a Conroe boy, Surcy Peoples.” He turned sideways and said, “There are only a few students you remember—the ones who made straight As and the ones who were always in trouble. Surcy Peoples never made an A in his life.” But Mrs. Montgomery called Mr. Montgomery, the high school principal. He informed them that I was going to teach at his school. I was known as “that mean old broad” because I made students do homework and study. I loved my kids and we had fun, but they did not bully me, either. I taught at Conroe High School for 35 years—American history and American government. I also taught reproductive health.
Tell us about Surcy.
Surcy helped me with auctions and estate sales until he became ill. All the ladies liked him. He was a big cowboy, a construction superintendent, and a carpenter; you wouldn’t have thought he was a sweet talker. He would say things like, “I’m better because I got to see you today,” to all the ladies.
How did you become interested in being an auctioneer?
Surcy and I started going to auctions. One day I went into Conroe Auction Gallery and Bo Meyer’s wife Linda offered me a job. I started going in on Thursdays and Fridays after school to enter sale items into the computer. That went on for 12 to 15 years. I also worked for Bo’s brother Delbert Meyer in Centerville. When he passed away, his wife Dorothy said, “I would like you to get your auctioneer’s license, because you do everything but call bids.” I went to auctioneer’s school in Waco. We went for eight, ten-hour days. There was a test in the morning and a test in the afternoon. I had gone back to college and gotten my master’s in education. I got my principal’s certification and started work on my doctorate, but auctioneer’s school was harder than grad school. You have to learn the tax laws. There are certain things you can’t sell. You have to know the liquor laws. You have to know about endangered species and selling cars. Anything that can be sold in the state of Texas, you have to know the law about it. I have to go back to school every year for a full day to learn the newest TDLR (Texas Department of License and Regulations) laws and rules.
One day I got a phone call from a realtor in The Woodlands. She said, “I know you have your auctioneer’s license. Will you do an estate sale?” Another one called and wanted to have an auction. It has blown up from that. We have done estate sales in Beaumont, Buffalo, College Station, Trinity, and all over Houston.
How does your team prepare for estate sales?
It takes two to six weeks to set up. On the first day, we empty everything out of the cabinets and closets. The kitchen looks like a disaster area. We have to pull it all out to see what we have. Then we sort for two or more days. We stage everything. When we get ready to price, the first thing we do is look on the bottom. Certain kinds of pottery go for high prices. If it’s worth $50, they can get that at an antique mall. I put $25 or $35 on it and they are going to get a deal.
Usually we put a cup or bowl on the counter. Every penny we find goes in. We have found quite a bit of money. One time, we found money taped to the bottom of a chest drawer in the back of a closet. When we take furniture out, we look on the bottom and the back of the drawers. At one sale, the last thing to sell was a couch. There was a little metal box underneath. I called the client and said, “How much do you love me? I found some money.” He said, “I love you. How much?” I told him, “It’s about ten thousand dollars.” He said, “I love you!” But it doesn’t matter how much it is. It doesn’t belong to me. I can get into enough trouble with the Lord without taking pennies.
We always go from 9 to 4, and at 8:30, we have probably 30 people lined up. The first day of a good sale, 200 to 300 will come through. The second day is almost as heavy. We have a rush at 9:00, and then people are off to church. Some people show up in suits and ties and high-heeled shoes. If people don’t buy something the first day, they can come back the second day. It’s either half price or has a reserve price. I want my customers to be happy, but I work for the client. I want them to get as much money as possible. People come on Saturday, and say they will be back on Sunday, but I tell them, “Make sure you understand it may not be here tomorrow.” I’ve had people come in at a few minutes before 4:00 on a Saturday to buy something. They don’t want to take a chance. Some people text me and call me Saturday night and say, “I want it.” My phone rings incessantly. If there are items that do not sell, I keep the key to the house for a week. People will call and say, “I decided I want that.” We want to make sure our clients get everything sold. People will tell me if I have a certain piece of furniture or kind of tools to contact them. I keep a list, and I will call them if they don’t make the sale. The whole idea is to be client-oriented.
Sometimes people are downsizing. Sometimes they are going to a nursing home or assisted living. Sometimes one or both have passed on, and the kids call us.
I’ve had a sale in a double car garage full of mechanical tools. The gentleman had worked on 18-wheelers. He had wrenches that were two inches tall to four and a half feet tall. We have had some really fine art that was worth four and five thousand dollars. Once, we had an ivory-inlaid table with elephants underneath. At one sale, there was a big tractor with 150 hours on it. I’ve sold plants and trees out of the yard if the client wants to sell them.
Do you have any advice for people who are planning estate sales or auctions?
I always tell people, whether you choose me or not, take pictures, write down what you are selling, and have a contract. Make sure it spells out exactly when they are going to pay. And never let them take your stuff away from the house unless it is going to a location where you can visit it. Estate sales are not regulated in Texas, but I am a licensed auctioneer. I have to notify the auction board for anything that involves law enforcement. Everything I do has to be in compliance with licensing regulations and the auction code. That includes paying taxes and making sure everything is above reproach. The biggest one is paying. I have to pay within 15 banking days, with a list of what I sold.
What is your business philosophy?
It’s about helping people. My husband always said I had teacher-preacher guilt. He said, “Your father [a Baptist minister]taught you to turn the other cheek and to be kind to people. You practiced that with your students. You do everything you can to try to help these people.” I am a strong believer in the book of Matthew: “I was hungry and you fed me; I was sick and you cared for me. . .” A lot of what I do is helping people, especially in a stressful time. It’s hard because everything they own is on the floor. Our purpose is to make it lovely so somebody else will love it, because they don’t need it anymore. It’s loving and being kind to them. We call them “Mom and Dad.” We treat them like our parents.
Is there anything left on your bucket list?
Hawaii and Europe! I enjoy traveling. I spent a week in New York recently with a girlfriend of mine. We went to New York and saw Broadway shows.