The free flow of money in the '90s bull market has brought with it a free flow of stuff - much of it right into your garage.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Perhaps it's time to clean out.
As warmer weather beckons northerners to air out garages and crack open basement windows, bargain hunters are venturing out. And now's the time to catch them if you want to convert your has-been treasures into a few extra bucks.
As a rule, the more work you do, the more money you can get for your stuff. On the other hand, the point of diminishing returns comes quickly. "There are two techniques to getting rid of stuff," says Mike Dowd, owner of Mike's Garage Sale in Wellesley, Mass. "The slow dime, where you try to get top dollar. And the quick nickel," where you clean out and try to make money on volume.
Mr. Dowd helps people clean out garages and homes by taking stuff they don't want on consignment and selling it in his own monthly garage sales for a 50 percent commission. And he's definitely of the quick-nickel persuasion. "The cry I hear [from customers] is, 'We don't want to see it again,' " he says.
People are trying to simplify their lives, says Gerri Detweiler, a longtime consumer advocate. "The economy's booming, and people are busy and want to slow down," she says. "Having less clutter has psychological value -less to clean, insure, and maintain. That can mean more time to pursue things that are important to you."
People try to sell their excess stuff to keep it out of landfills, says Kate Holmes, editor of the "Too Good to Be Threw" newsletter for secondhand shoppers and resellers. "It's not dollars, it's common sense."
And that's driving a boom in secondhand sales.
The Internet, with its search engines and worldwide community, is a natural tool for selling. Online-auction sites let users reach a nationwide audience and hopefully find the top price the market will bear for their items.
Just remember, even "virtual" auctions are a lot of work. Besides photographing your wares, placing ads, monitoring your auctions (usually daily), and answering e-mails, you also do the packing and shipping.
Sometimes payment can also be difficult to collect, says Ms. Holmes. Some new systems allow private sellers to accept credit cards, but they still work best for people who sell a lot. And escrow services can guarantee you don't have to ship an item until you're paid, though they're not widely used, says Tony Surtees, general manager of e-commerce at Yahoo! in Santa Clara, Calif. Even so it can be frustrating to have to find another buyer after a sale falls through.
The key to selling old treasures is to find out exactly what they're worth, says Nancy Castleman, editor of the Pocket Change Investor in Elizaville, N.Y. That means checking out online auction sites and visiting second-hand stores to see what similar items are selling for.
Getting mystery items professionally appraised can avert shocks to sellers. One simplifier unknowingly dropped off a Picasso etching at a Goodwill store in Orange County, Calif. Goodwill authenticated it - and sold it at its Web site last fall for $1,800.
And in February bargain-hunter Joan Comey-Smith learned that a small painting she bought for $1.99 at a thrift shop was an original Rodin worth $14,000.
Almost anything can be a collectible. One Yahoo! auctions regular is famous for collecting toasters, says Mr. Surtees.
Plan before you 'post'
The first key to selling used stuff online is choosing the appropriate auction category. When Dave LeClair, a regular eBay auctioneer who goes by the screen name Bookscout, found a signed original Clarence Darrow book listed as an antique, he bought it for $301. When he listed it under rare books, it sold for $560.