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Todd Sigety, an antiques appraiser in Alexandria, Va., recently got a call from a woman who wanted him to look through the contents of a storage unit that belonged to her late aunt. She didnt think there was anything worth keeping but wanted to make sure before she threw stuff out, he says. Sure enough, there wasnt much of valueexcept for one painting. After a little research Sigety realized it was the work of a well-known South American artist; Christies will auction it this fall. The presale estimated value: $30,000 to $50,000.
Of course, you may not have a masterwork, or even a minor work, hiding in a storage unit. But your basement and attic may be bursting with possessions you no longer want, and you might be surprised by the amount you can pocket if you know the best ways to sell your stuff. I find people can easily make $1,000 to $2,000 when they sell their unwanted stuff, says Carolyn Schneider, author of The Ultimate Consignment & Thrift Store Guide (iUniverse, 2012). Youll be helping both the environmentyour things wont end up in a landfilland your bottom line.
Youll make the most money by matching your goods with the best places to sell them, whether its an auction house, a consignment store, a website, or a yard sale. Just keep in mind that the IRS may want a cut of your profits. It taxes the proceeds from the sale of collectibles as capital gains, generally at a rate of 28 percent.
Under IRS regulations, collectibles include works of art, rugs, antiques, metals (such as gold, silver, and platinum bullion), gems, stamps, and coins. Your profit or loss is the difference between the basis, usually your purchase price, and the sale price. If you end up selling your goods at a yard sale, however, it will likely be for much less than you paid for them, so you probably wont owe anytax.
You might want to get a written opinion from a professional appraiser if you think something youd like to sell might be worth a good deal of moneysay, $1,000 or more. The results will tell how much a buyer might pay and what and how much insurance you should have to cover it.
But written appraisals can be expensive. Most professionals will charge $100 to $300 or more an hour to look over your goods, do some research, and write up a detailed valuation. If youd like a ballpark figure, you can ask an appraiser whether he or she can look the item over and give you a rough idea of what it might be worth. Expect to pay for at least an hour of his or her time.
The American Society of Appraisers, the Appraisers Association of America, and the International Society of Appraisers can help you find local, qualified professionals through a ZIP-code search on their websites.
Youre probably familiar with well-known auction houses such as Christies and Sothebys, which sell fine artwork and rare antiques for millions of dollars. But there are lots of regional auction houses across the country that will handle less rarefied goods.
In the past couple of years, many of those spots have started simulcasting their proceedings online. Live auction attendees bid against online bidders in real time. Expanding the buyer base in that way often produces additional revenue for sellers, says Tim Luke, an auctioneer and the president of TreasureQuest Appraisal Group in Hobe Sound, Fla., and a former director of the collectibles department at Christies in New York.
A local auctioneer can give you an idea of what he or she thinks an item you own will sell for at auction. You can locate an auctioneer and auction houses in your area by clicking on the Find an auctioneer button on the home page of theNational Auctioneers Association website.The groups more than 5,000 nationwide members must adhere to its code of ethics.
Youll probably get the highest price for a bona fide antique or a collectible in mint condition by selling it at auction.
Document your stuff.Take a few photographs of the possessions you want to auction and write detailed descriptions that you can share with potential auctioneers. For example, if you have an antique chest, include the furniture makers name and the date and amount paid for it. Be sure to mention (and capture in photos) any restoration or repairs.
Attend a few sales.I always suggest that people go to some auctions to see what different houses specialize in and to see which ones pull in a good crowd, says Luke. While youre there, ask the auctioneer how sales are promoted (online, in newspapers, and via e-mail is best) and whether they are simulcast online. Also, find out what the houses sell-through rate is, which is the percent of sales that are actually completed. A good rate is about 75 to 80 percent, says Luke.
Negotiate fees.In general, youll pay a sales commission equal to 20 to 50 percent of the sale price. If your sale totals less than $300, youre more likely to pay that 50 percent; more expensive items are charged lower commissions. But fees are negotiable and often depend on how much an auctioneer wants to sell your goods.
If he wont budge on commission, he might be willing to pay to pack and ship your items to the auction house at no additional charge. You should get a contract that lists all of your costs, including fees.
Make sure your items are insured.See whether the auction house will cover your belongings in the event of loss, theft, or damage while it holds them. If not, check to see whether yourhomeowners insurancewill cover them.
Use reserves sparingly.Ask in advance about the rules for setting a reserve price, below which you will not sell, and get the policy in writing. If your item fails to sell, some auction houses might charge you a fee of about 5 to 15 percent of the reserve price.
Find out when youll get paid.Auction houses wait until buyers payments clear before they pay sellers. Some will send you a check after 30 days, or it might be 45.
Many stores now have an online presence, so more shoppers can see your items. There are also some consignment stores that exist solely online.
Shop owners generally want top-quality furniture, and some take only antiques. Other items, including clothing, sporting goods, household goods, jewelry, and artwork, should also be in great shape. Clothing, in most cases, should have been bought in the past year or two so that it wont be out of style, says Schneider.
If you want to sell through local stores, visit a few to see how merchandise is displayed and make sure they stock items like the ones you have to sell. The busier it is, the better. Find local consignment shop owners who are members of theNational Association of Resale and Thrift Shopsby doing a ZIP-code search on its site. If you want to use a website, check the list of designers and goods it will accept.
If you have designer-brand clothing, accessories, or jewelry to sell, consider one of the new virtual consignment shops that specialize in high-end fashion, such asTheRealRealRodeo Drive Resale, orLindas Stuff.
Ask shopkeepers how much money you might make.Most consignment shop owners see sellers by appointment only, so call first. Show them your goods or photos of them. They will suggest a selling price; usually, a stores cut is 50 percent. Ask whether your items price will be reduced if it doesnt sell within a certain time frame. Most shops will generally return unsold items after 90 days or may donate unsold items to a charity and give y
ou a receipt. Shops should give you a written contract that spells out who is responsible for lost or stolen goods, the payment schedule, and what happens if your goods dont sell.
Check website terms carefully.Before you deal with any website, see what kind of traffic it gets, what it will charge you for its servicesincluding the percentage of the sale it will keepwhether your items can be shipped to it and returned free if they dont sell, and who pays credit-card and PayPal processing fees.
Lindas Stuff, for example, is hosted on eBay, so an international clientele will see your merchandise. It gives consigners 80 percent on designer goods sales of more than $5,000, 75 percent of sales greater than $1,000, and 62 percent for any lesser amount. The site will pick up your stuff free, but youll have to pay to have unsold items returned to you (or it will donate the items and send you a receipt). If it determines your goods are not authentic (or they cant be authenticated), it will charge you $20, plus return shipping. But Linda Lightman, the sites founder, says her company absorbs all PayPal and eBay fees.
Putting up your items on eBay or Amazon will attract millions of potential buyers. Youll need some marketing savvy to make your offerings stand apart.
One-of-a-kind items, gently used sporting goods, clothing, electronics, and popular collectibles sell best, says Lynn Dralle, who , a site that helps people sell goods on eBay.
Consider posting easy-to-ship items on a site such as Amazon or eBay. If you have heavy, bulky items to sell, try free online listing services such as Craigslist. The ads are divided into local regions, allowing buyers to pick up items themselves.
List it right.See what similar items are going for on the site you choose. On auction sites such as eBay, check the prices items actually sold for (the completed listings), not the minimum-bid prices.
Get some help.If youre new to these sites, Amazon, Craigslist, and eBay have helpful tutorials explaining the steps to selling on their sites.
Keep descriptions short. Most buyers research by title, so include all you need there. Include any condition info, such as pristine, chipped, or stained.
Investigate the fees.You can generally list up to 50 items per month for auction on eBay free, for example. Youll pay a sliding scale of fees, depending on what the item is and how much it sells for, plus a shipping charge (its sitehas more details). Amazon charges 99 cents per sale plus a sliding scale of fees if you post fewer than 40 items per month, plus shipping charges and a referral fee (seeits sitefor more information).
Although planning and running a yard sale take up a lot of time, you dont have pay anyone a commission on the money you make. But before you post signs, call your towns government office to see whether you are required to get a permit to hold a sale. If you do, it will probably cost only a few dollars, but the cost of a fine for neglecting to get one could wipe out your profits. Also ask whether there are restrictions on where you can post signs to your sale.
Just about anything thats not precious enough to put in an auction, consignment shop, or onlineincluding broken itemsis fair game. People often buy things for parts at garage sales, especially broken electronics, says Lynda Hammond, author of Garage Sale Gals Guide to Making Money Off Your Stuff (Gibbs Smith, 2011).
Dont price anything. Figuring out what to charge is the most time-consuming and stressful part of garage sales, says Hammond. Ask buyers for their best offer; they will often name a price thats higher than the one you would have suggested. I had a friend who wanted to get rid of a dining room table and chairs and was going to put a $150 price tag on it before I convinced her not to, says Hammond. A man at her sale told her he only had $400 on him for the set; she was so flustered she talked him down to $300.
If people seem too shy to negotiate, then you can name a price. To get an idea of appropriate valuation, check outStatricks.com. It aggregates pricing data from online auction sites such as eBay and classified sites such as Craigslist on hundreds of thousands of used products, including small appliances, bicycles, cell phones, computers and accessories, musical instruments, photo and video equipment, sporting goods, and video games.
Make enough directional signs to attract people to your house from major routes. Hammond suggests using signs no bigger than 15×15 inches that simply say Sale and have an arrow pointing the way.
Get the word out.You can place free classified ads on websites such as Craigslist, eBay Classifieds, GarageSaleHunter, and YardSaleSearch. Make sure you mention the categories of items youll be selling. Also post information about your sale on social-media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Go through your stuff.Theres a good chance youve forgotten about a $20 bill you slipped into a jacket pocket or keepsakes you stashed in drawers.
Start on Thursday or Friday.And start earlysay, 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.to ensure that youll get the going-to-work and driving-the-kids-to-school crowd. Youll have few other sales to compete with, and youll get serious shoppers, Hammond says. You can always continue the sale during the weekend if you have items left to sell.
Be friendly. People are less likely to buy from someone who is reading a book or talking on the phone, and more likely to buy if you greet them and are available to answer questions and negotiate.
Think about security.Keep your house locked during your sale, and keep your money and a phone with you at all times. People toting counterfeit bills sometimes turn up at garage sales, so turn down payments in big bills.
This decision tree will help you decide which venue makes the most sense, depending on the type of goods you plan to sell and their condition. First, youll want to determine whether you have any items that are valuablesay, worth $1,000 or more. If youre not sure, you can look for similar objects in reference books or on websites for collectors. For example, if you think a piece of furniture might be a somewhat valuable antique, check out Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles 2014 Price Guide (Krause Publications, 2013). You can also find a price guide to more than 900,000 antiques and collectibles atKovels.com.If you determine it might be a valuable object, its probably a good idea to have it appraised.
This article also appeared in theSeptember 2014 issue ofConsumer Reportsmagzine.
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