Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Selling Your Junk For Fun And Profit

I tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. Not as much as most people, I'd be willing to bet, but I still look around my house once in a while and wonder where all this stuff came from. About once a year, my whole family goes through the house and gets rid of all the stuff no one wants anymore - old clothes, children's games, books, etc. My neighborhood has a community garage sale once a year and a lot of our stuff is sold during that. It's a good way to pick up some extra cash.

It's A Now Continual Process

The last couple of years, I've tried to be more proactive in what I dispose of. I'm routinely looking for stuff to get rid of, rather than doing it once a year. I think as I grow older, I realize that 1) I don't have room in my house to keep all kinds of stuff and 2) I just don't need most of the stuff I used to keep. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've made some good money selling off books and other items I no longer want or need. I remember reading a blog post somewhere about decluttering your house - the author suggesting putting one item up for sale each week until you run out of stuff. And don't be shy about putting stuff up for sale. I'm continually amazed and the things people will buy. I've had people buy a kid's electric toothbrush without the brush head. On the other hand, stuff I thought would sell for sure, such as a very nice comforter, didn't, even after big price reductions. If it's free to post it for sale, you might as well see if someone wants it before you toss it out!

Where To Sell

Where to sell your stuff depends on what you are selling. You can put just about anything up for sale in a garage sale. The only problem with that is garage sales are generally an infrequent event and, quite frankly, it's a lot of work to haul everything out, price it, etc. (I did read that one very successful garage sale tactic is to not price anything and just put up a sign that tells people to make an offer to pay what they think something is worth. Surprisingly, many people end up making more money this way then if they price items themselves.)
How much for the lady in the pink pants?
So that leaves selling items individually. This is usually done via eBay or Craigslist or some other such internet sales site. I suppose some people may still put ads in the local newspaper, but who reads those anymore? I've used both eBay and Craiglist and they each have their pros and cons.


Back in the day - and I'm talking about 15-20 years ago - eBay rocked. When I was in college, I bought and sold all kinds of stuff on there. The auctions were mostly run by individuals and you could find some good deals. These days, not so much. Many of the listings are from companies and their prices are average at best. eBay's policies are heavily skewed towards buyers, which means sellers are often left holding the bag if a buyer complains for any reason. (I've found that eBay's dispute resolution process almost always favors the buyer.)

eBay is best for selling items that can be easily mailed. I've sold things like books, Debbie Gibson perfume, and computer gaming accounts. eBay lets buyers pay via Paypal and credit card (through PayPal), so the seller runs little risk of a bounced check or fake money order.

But selling an item on eBay is expensive. They used to charge a fee to list an item for auction, but they have ceased doing that now. It's free to create a listing, but if your item sells, eBay charges you a percentage of the sales price (which varies, depending on the final price). And, if the buyer pays via a credit card through PayPal, PayPal (which is owned by eBay) hits you with a 2% or so credit card fee. It all adds up quickly. Postage costs are hard to include as well. You can specify a fixed price for postage to be added to the final cost, but eBay also provides an option to let it figure out the cost. It does this by estimating the size and weight of your item and coming up with a price. In my experience, their prices are close to 50% of the actual cost of postage and you cannot change it.

And now for my biggest complaint about eBay: In another example of how eBay is very biased towards buyers, their auction system really isn't an auction at all, at least, not in the typical sense of the word. When you create a listing, eBay assigns an ending time to that auction. They accept bids up until that time. When people place a bid, they are supposed to enter the maximum amount they are willing to pay. eBay will bid the minimum and if another person later outbids you, Bay will automatically raise your bid, up to your maximum amount, in a counter bid. In reality, no one does this. People only enter an amount they want to bid at that moment. They will check back after a day or two to see if they are outbid and, if they are, enter another bid. When you couple this with eBay's hard auction end time, you have the potential for a game known as auction sniping.

Auction sniping is when someone places a bid in the final few seconds of an auction. Because most people don't enter their true maximum price they are willing to pay, the auction ends before the outbid buyer can enter a new, higher bid. There are free programs and websites that will do this for buyers. This results in a lower selling price for the item, which of course, hurts the seller.  Surprisingly, auction sniping is not prohibited by eBay, which is really stupid, because higher selling prices result in higher payments to eBay. There is a simple fix to this problem - when a buyer is outbid in the final 5 minutes of an auction, simply extend the auction end time by 15 minutes. When you think about it, this is how a real auction actually works - bids continue to be accepted until there are no more bids, not at some arbitrary end time. This is solution is technologically feasible. In fact, it's how eBay Japan works!

My recommendation: only use eBay to sell items that are easy to mail, are valued over $20, and would benefit from a nation-wide potential buyer pool. (For example, my Debbie Gibson perfume probably wouldn't have found any buyers in my local area.) Due to auction sniping, you most likely will not get the best price for your item.

Craigslist is a free listing site where you can sell just about anything. They have individual sites for most major cities, so you can only see items for sale that are near you. They offer several categories to list your items in and they are easily searchable by buyers. You can add up to 12 photos for each listing. Because your buyers will most likely be local, you will be paid in cash and in person. Craigslist is good for selling items that are too big to mail. For example, I sold a 300 pound arcade cabinet, some furniture, and various other heavy items.

The drawbacks: People are flaky. I've had a couple buyers say they were interested in an item, set up a time to come buy it, and then not show up. Also, meeting random strangers can be scary. If meeting at your home, have someone with you. Keep the item in the garage so you don't have to invite strangers into your home. If meeting elsewhere, make it a well-lit public location with a fair amount of people around.

When It Doesn't Sell

Sometimes, the stuff I want to get rid of just doesn't sell. For those cases, if the items are still in good or working order, I'll donate them to a charity such as Goodwill. I won't get cash for them, but I can get a receipt and take a deduction on my taxes.


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