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Money & Culture

Not Your Father’s Garage Sale: Social Selling in the Modern Age

August 25, 2017
Tool box: Selling extra items on eBay, Amazon, and garage sales
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One thing most Americans can agree on is that we have too much stuff. So much so that a billion-dollar industry exists around providing extra space for us to store everything we’ve ever owned. But in the last few years, there’s been a growing movement from materialism to minimalism and, in the process, to monetize some of the stuff sitting right under our noses.

Besides the clutter, the problem with having too much stuff is that any value it holds is basically dead money. In financial parlance, we’d call your clutter a nonperforming asset, which might be better allocated either into the stock market or another investment where it will have a chance to work for you.

Turning your things into cash isn’t as straightforward as it used to be, and like many elements of modern commerce, digital technology and social media are among the main culprits. But if you’re patient and sensible about your selling strategy, you can use new technology to optimize your return.

The Nuts and Bolts of Selling Nuts and Bolts

When it comes to selling, different venues work better for different items, so let’s look at some of your options and which approach works best.

Garage sale. Yes, the old tried-and-true garage sale is still a way to turn your stuff into cash, but not in the way your parents used to do it. Because there are alternatives, your garage sale should only be for things you’re willing to donate if they don’t sell, such as clothes, household goods, tools, and other low-value items.

The advantage of a garage sale is that you don’t have to pack or ship your stuff; people just take it from you. To increase your turnout, consider publicizing your sale or certain featured items in print or digital media outlets. Also, work with your neighbors, neighborhood association, or even your local realtors, who often sponsor neighborhood sales and can help with the promotion.

Social media. Online marketplaces are a great way to sell individual, higher-value items, particularly those whose size or weight makes them prohibitively expensive to ship. Items like appliances, furniture, electronics, and sports equipment fall into this category.

Facebook (FB) and Craigslist offer well-established, web-based platforms in which to market your items, and there are upstart alternatives like Letgo and OfferUp that offer mobile-based selling solutions. Why not consider using them all?

But remember—you’ll be competing with others for potential buyers, so take the time to write a thorough description of your items and make sure to post a lot of pictures with your ad. And while you don’t need a professional photographer, proper staging (lighting and background, for example) can help.

Amazon (AMZN) Fulfillment. Although it isn’t as well known in the general public, the “Fulfilled by Amazon” (FBA) service is another way to sell specific types of items. When you use FBA, you select the price you want for your items, pack them up in one box, and ship them to Amazon. They then store the items, and as each one is purchased from their website, they pick, pack, and ship it to the buyer, remitting funds to your account, minus a processing fee.

This service is perfect for when you have a large number of low-priced, commoditized items like books, CDs, DVDs, and such.

eBay (EBAY). Ask some people and they’ll tell you there’s no difference between selling on Amazon or selling on eBay. But there’s a big difference between the two, and understanding it can help you optimize your selling experience. Like Amazon, eBay is good for selling things that you can ship relatively easily—but eBay is a better marketplace for low- to moderate-value collectibles.

Collectors and hobbyists constantly scan the site looking for new additions. Knowing the value of what you list is key to setting your price and making a sale. To do this, search for similar items to yours and then use the “sold items” filter to see past selling prices for similar items. This will give you a good baseline for your pricing and help you get the most bang for your buck.

But What About Big-Ticket Items?

Using the above venues can help you sell the vast majority of your old stuff. But what about that painting you inherited from your grandmother that you never really liked, but always suspected might be worth a good chunk of money? You might not want to sell it at a garage sale or online, but there is a great alternative—one that will get you maximum value for your item.

Thanks to technology, you can now submit your high-end items to professional auction houses like the venerable Christie’s and Sotheby’s (BID), or up-and-comers like Heritage Auctions.

All the major auction houses have websites, and with a little poking around, you can find their “submissions” page. Here you’ll be able to upload photos of your item(s) as well as any relevant comments about the description, condition, or provenance—the history of ownership of the item, which is crucial in determining authenticity and value.

After submitting, the auction house will contact you to let you know if your item has any value and, if so, what the estimated sale price would be. You then will have the option to sell the item, if you wish, in one of their upcoming auctions, which will be advertised and promoted to their entire customer base.

And who knows? That painting from Grandma buried in the attic might just turn out to be a long-lost master that could change your life overnight.

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