Welcome to the Jungle
Buying firsthand is easy: You figure out where the item is sold, find it in the store, bring it to the counter and pay the price on the tag. By contrast, the secondhand market is a jungle. Just finding what you need is an adventure that can take you from the Internet to far-flung garage sales, and whether you're a buyer or seller you'll find yourself engaged in intense negotiations. And fraud is prevalent, as both sides can't be sure whether the other is operating honestly.
To help you navigate this jungle, we talked to veterans of the secondhand market to hear their best tips on buying and selling. Before you sell that old vase at your yard sale or bid on that “antique” on eBay, you will be wise to consider what they have to say.
We’ll start with a few things to think about as a buyer, and move on to strategies for sellers.
Photo Credit: Sneakerdog
Know When to Buy
The spring and fall are the best time to find yard sales, says Caroline Bawden, who makes $25,000-$30,000 a year buying and selling antiques. But estate sales happen year-round, and Bawden suggests checking the obituaries to see who in the area has recently passed away. And if the deceased is only survived by distant family – nieces and nephews, a sister-in-law – then your chances of being able to buy items from the estate are greater.
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Know Where to Buy
One person’s junk is another’s treasure, especially if that first person is stinking rich. Whether it’s a yard sale or an estate sale, you’re likely to find the nicest stuff in the nicest neighborhoods. And the same rule applies to thrift stores. “Thrift stores in affluent zip codes have high quality merchandise, designer clothing labels and unexpected bargains like a wide assortment of popular books,” advises Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com.
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The whole point of buying secondhand is to save big, and Teri Gault of TheGroceryGame.com says that in most cases you should expect to pay about 25% of retail price for items in good condition. She also advises against the usual tactic of feigning disinterest in items, noting that enthusiasm “can make for a good rapport with the seller, which is your best starting point for haggling.”
It also helps to carry small bills if you hope to convince the seller that you’re cash-strapped. “Wear a shirt, jacket and pants with lots of pockets,” advises Pablo Solomon, an artist and designer who frequents yard sales. “Put $3 in bills and change in one, $7 in bills and change in another, $17 in another and so on. Say you want an item priced at $10. Pull out everything in your $7 pocket of small bills and change and say, ‘All I have is $7, will you take that?’”
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Don’t Bid Against Yourself
If items at a yard sale or estate sale are unmarked, resist the temptation to name your own price – you may very well be offering more than the seller planned to ask, or you risk insulting them with a ridiculously low bid. “I rarely, if ever, name my own price,” Bawden says. She adds that this is a good way of avoiding a guilty conscience if you wind up paying far less than the item is worth – you can’t be blamed for fleecing someone if they are the ones who set the price.
Photo Credit: sneakerdog
Beware of Fraud
The most widely-used site for secondhand buying and selling, eBay offers free buyer protection that covers the full cost (plus shipping) of any item that doesn’t arrive or is not as described in the listing. But if you’re using Craigslist or buying at a yard sale, you’re on your own. The only real protection against being sold a fake is to do your homework and become an expert in your stock-and-trade, be it antiques or artwork.
And if you don’t possess the expertise to spot fakes, forgeries and defective products? Then don’t go around spending money like an art dealer, advises Solomon. “Consider anything that might have real value to be a fake, and pay a fake price unless you really know your stuff,” he says.
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Tips for Sellers
Whether you’re looking to become an eBay PowerSeller or you’re just trying to clean out the garage for the spring, there’s an art to selling secondhand items. We spoke to a few seasoned sellers who shared their best tips for getting the most cash for your junk.
Photo Credit: Casey Serin
Put a Value on Your Time
If your primary goal is to clean out your closet, by all means dump your old clothes at the nearest consignment boutique and take what you can get. But if you’ve got time to sell directly to buyers, you can make a lot more money. “Never go straight to a consignment boutique first. … Generally they will only offer you a fraction of what you actually paid for the item,” advises Colin T. McDonald, a celebrity/fashion stylist. He recommends eBay and Craigslist for reaching the broadest audience of potential buyers.
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Don’t Overestimate Your Stuff
“Remember you are selling secondhand stuff, not having a sale at Tiffany and Company,” advises Pablo Solomon. “Sell the stuff cheap and move it fast.” And don’t let your personal attachments to certain items get in the way of intelligently assessing their value. Your grandmother’s vase might have special significance to you, but those emotions don’t count for squat on the secondhand market. If you can’t objectively assess its value, you might be better off not selling it.
Photo Credit: hojusaram
Be Professional in Your Online Posting
When posting an item online, resist the urge to “shout” in the heading of your post. Excessive use of exclamation points is “distracting to read and annoying,” insists Jamie Novak, author of Stop Throwing Money Away. She also advises against all caps (“difficult to read [and] just plain rude”), and stresses the value of spell check (“silly errors do not build confidence in buyers”).
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Get Paid Upfront
“Never, ever ship an order before you receive payment,” says Afiya Webb, who sells vintage accessories on Etsy.com. She recommends using PayPal to make sure you get paid. Scams can happen at yard sales, as well. Jonathon Papsin of tagsellit.com warns against fake cashier’s checks and money orders, and also warns against counterfeit cash. “Do not accept large bills at your garage sale unless you can use a counterfeit marker for safety measures,” he advises.
Photo Credit: Tracy O
Don’t just tape a hand-written sign to the telephone pole at the top of your street and expect people to flock to your yard sale. Novak recommends a variety of strategies for publicizing your sale, including making use of social media tools and advertising on sites like weekendtreasure.com, garagesalehunter.com, and yardsalesearch.com. Still, don’t neglect the traditional methods. “A good old-fashioned flyer can still do the trick,” she says. “Type them up, print them off and tack them all around town in places like gyms, daycare centers and community centers.”
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