If you’re cleaning out the garage, basement, attic or closet, you might be able to make a little money in the process.
EBay and a host of TV appraisal shows have reawakened Americans to the value of clutter. But you don’t have to stumble across a box of ancient artifacts or antique silver to clear a little cash after a cleaning binge. Old clothes, cell phones, books, CDs, DVDs, stereo components, furniture and even office equipment can bring you a little extra money if you know where to unload them.
First, take anything that might be really valuable out of the mix until you get a professional evaluation, preferably from several different sources.
Then investigate some of the popular venues for the items you have left. Here are some options, what you can typically sell and how to get the most out of what you no longer want:
Consignment shops: These can be a good market for a variety of goods from used clothing and toys to furniture. Most stores specialize in certain items — usually a particular type of clothing or brand of furniture. Others carry a variety of items.
“You need to match the goods to the items the store is carrying,” says Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops. Otherwise, you might not get the highest price for it, she says.
Typically, the store will take your goods and have you sign a contract. If they sell the items, you get a percentage of the sales price, typically 40 percent to 60 percent, says Meyer. A good rule of thumb: “A third of the cost of new is the sum of resale,” Meyer says. But in some cases, like that designer handbag or new items with the tags still on, the selling price could be more.
While you give up a portion of the profits, you could make more in the long run than with a garage sale, flea market or even an online sale, says Meyer. “Consignment or resale stores will get the full value because store owners know the real value,” she says.
Resale shops will see to it that the item is attractively displayed, plus you don’t have to spend your weekend tagging and organizing merchandise or having strangers and nosy neighbors trampling your yard.
And if a buyer bounces a check, “it’s not your problem,” Meyer says.
Ask how the shop’s consignment process works because every store tends to be a little different, says Meyer. Some stores, especially those that sell clothing for kids or teens, will offer the option of giving you cash upfront. Some let you choose between getting less cash now and a potentially larger sum when the item sells.
With some stores, if an item doesn’t sell you can reclaim it. With others, it may become the property of the shop or be donated to charity. “Find out what your options are and understand everything completely,” says Meyer.
The goods that sell best at consignment shops: “Almost any kind of goods,” she says, especially gently used clothing, kids’ toys, furniture, costume jewelry, DVDs, CDs or sporting goods.
EBay: Sometimes described as the world’s largest garage sale, you can find a buyer for just about anything on eBay. A case in point: Four toilets once owned by Jerry Garcia sold for a little more than $5,000 in 2005.
At the same time, “You shouldn’t treat eBay like a rummage sale,” says Brad Schepp, co-author of “eBay PowerSeller Secrets: Insider Tips from eBay’s Most Successful Sellers.” “Selling takes work.”
If you want to get a good price for your stuff, put in a little time doing some research and limit yourself to items you can sell and ship fairly easily, he says.
Skip antiques and collectibles until you’ve learned more about the items and have a little more eBay experience.
It can be a great venue for upscale or specialty clothing like furs or designer dresses or children’s clothing from recognized labels, says G.G. Carbone, author of “How to Make a Fortune with Other People’s Junk.”
If you want top dollar, it also pays to be time-sensitive, she says. Spring is the wrong time of year for fur, but “it’s a perfect time to put prom dresses on eBay,” Carbone says.
EBay stores: These are often billed as an option that offers the convenience of a consignment store with the marketing advantages of eBay. You take your items to the store and the purveyor sells the items on eBay, ships them to the buyers, accepts and vets payments and gives you your cut of the purchase price. (You can monitor the selling process from your home computer.)
“I think they’re great,” says Schepp. “They’re going to do a little triage on what someone walks in with.”
But the concept might be better for general items, rather than specialty collectibles, says Schepp. At a store, workers “are going to know how to take pictures and write a good listing,” he says. “But they might not know the jargon for a particular area and may not know how to best frame what you have.”
Like consignment stores, they operate independently and rules and rates can vary. So shop around to get the best deal.
The goods that sell best on eBay and at eBay stores: specialty clothing and musical instruments and commodity items such as books, CDs, DVDs, cell phones and modems.
Garage sales: If it works, you make some money and clear some space. If it doesn’t, you can put in a lot of work for very little return.
As with real estate, success sometimes comes down to location, location, location, says Carbone. If you have lots of cars going by your house on the weekend, you’ve got a great garage sale spot. One friend holds a successful yard sale at her beach house every Fourth of July weekend, Carbone says. That’s one time she knows there will be tons of traffic going by.
One trick to draw foot traffic: Display a real show-stopper prominently, says Carbone. “A nice piece that makes not only women stop, but men.”
Garage sales also take some preparation getting organized and tagged. One winning technique: Carefully hang clothing on a portable rod or even a swing set, rather than throwing it in a box or on a table.
Try to present small objects to their advantage, she says. Find a friend or relative who’s good at the garage-sale game and have them arrange the items on a table with a velvet cloth.
It doesn’t hurt to recruit a few extra people to help on sale day in case someone has questions or needs help loading an item into a vehicle.
The goods that sell best at garage sales: items for which you know the value (and don’t mind bargaining); things you don’t want to move yourself or ship (think washing machine, lawn mower, weight set), or items where the real value is in clearing space rather than a profit. Typical garage-sale fare: used clothing, tools, sports equipment, furniture, knickknacks and costume jewelry.
What you don’t want to sell: anything valuable. If you’ve got antiques, jewelry or anything even possibly rare or valuable, you’re going to make more selling it in another venue.
Flea markets: If you don’t have a lot of traffic in front of your house, or if you want to sell a few household goods or some homemade crafts, try a flea market, says Carbone.
“The one good thing is you get your money that day and you can get rid of a lot of things,” she says. “You can also go around and see what else is selling.”
Use the same basic principles as a garage sale: lay out an attractive presentation, use an eye-catching item to draw attention and try to anticipate what a buyer might need. (Selling hats or scarves? Bring a mirror so that customers can see how they look.)
You can find flea markets in the Yellow Pages or the weekend section of the local paper. Be prepared to pay a nominal fee to lease a space and for a table if you need one, says Carbone. You can also bring your own.
The goods that sell best at flea markets: garage sale items or handmade crafts, linens, tools, sporting goods, crockery, cookware, clothing, accessories or kitchen goods.
While there are many places to sell your used things, a lot of it just comes down to personal preference.
There are a lot of great ways to sell your old stuff. “It’s hard to know which is the best one,” says Carbone. Analyze the type of merchandise you have, get an expert opinion on the value of anything that might be worth something, look at the venues available to you and you may find yourself gravitating toward one in particular.