Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sell it on eBay! (Or CraigsList)...or maybe buy it.

eBay can be a great way to unclutter your home and raise a little extra money. Many folks think about doing it, but are scared away by the horror stories out there. Others consider it a waste of time. Yet others think that it is not a "good deal" because of the fees charged. While these are all valid concerns, eBay can be a good outlet for unloading stuff that you no longer need. It is better to sell something on eBay and get some money for it than to drown in a sea of junk or end up throwing it away.

CraigsList is another good place to sell, particularly for local items that cannot be easily shipped. One bonus of Craigslist is that it is FREE, so you do not incur listing charges like on eBay. I have tried to sell some items on both Craigslist and eBay at the same time, but it probably is a better idea to pick one of the two instead of both. eBay frowns on selling items "off eBay" and sometimes, you end up with two people "buying" the same item at the same time. Better to pick one and let it go at that.

Update: After a week of selling on eBay and Craigslist, I have unloaded over $1000 worth of "stuff" that I had no use for or had not used in years. It feels liberating!

Update: After a week and a half, the total is up to over $1400 and climbing! Of course, eventually you run out of things to sell, but that is the point - to clean out clutter in your life and liquidate.

Here are some tips I have for selling things on eBay & CraigsList:

1. Good Candidates for Sale on eBay:

Some things are not good candidates for selling on eBay, while others are ideal. You can sell a car on eBay, it is true. And if you want an old car to "go away" in 10 days or less, an eBay auction can be a good place for it. But my experience has been that items over $15,000 or so are not good candidates for sale on eBay. That is a large amount of money and most folks don't have it lying around. So selling a motorhome, for example, might not be a good idea, unless it is really clapped out.

Collectables and special interest items are prefect for eBay. Unlike the local classifieds, you obtain a national audience for your item, and thus can find the right person who wants it, out of 330 million people, as opposed to the few thousand that might see your ad in the local Craigslist. These are also items that are easy to ship.

Parts are also good candidates for sale on eBay. Car parts, computer parts, whatever - if they are still good or useful, eBay is a good way to find a buyer. When I need a part for something, be it a photocopier, a computer, or a car, I can type in the part number, and 9 times out of 10, the part pops up on eBay. I needed a new carburator for an industrial leaf blower. I typed in the part number and voila - it was for sale on eBay for cheap.

2. Good Candiates for Sale on CraigsList:

Anything to heavy or bulky to ship is probably better sold on Craigslist. Craigslist is local, of course, but the search engine on the site picks up hits from neighboring cities and areas, so you need not list multiple times. There are also nationwide craigslist search engines that search all the craigslists out there, so you potentially have a national audience.

Cars, boats, RVs, furniture, yard sales, etc. are good candidates for Craigslist. Autotrader, RVtrader and Boattrader should also be cross-listed for those items as well.

3. Price it right:

Asking unrealistic prices just wastes your time and everyone else's. The idea is to get SOMETHING for the item, as opposed to the NOTHING you have for it right now. This means you do take a risk that something might sell for a pittance, but that's sort of the fun of it. Buyers like to think they are looking for a bargain.

If you list your price too high, no one will bid, and you've paid 75 cents to list it on eBay to no avail. You'll end up re-listing the item (or throwing it away) once it doesn't sell.

4. Use Priority Mail:

USPS Priority mail is a great way to ship things on eBay. The rates are often flat, so you can calculate the cost of shipping into your minimim sale price and offer "FREE SHIPPING!". USPS provides free boxes and you can track the items online with a tracking number, so the buyer can't claim they never received it.

Priority Mail is also about 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of UPS or FedEx.

5. Don't Let People Waste Your Time:

Some lonely people are on eBay and Cragislist and they like to spend a lot of their time (and yours) with endless questions and games, sending you numerous e-mails about an item, or asking you to end the auction early or whatever. Do yourself a favor and keep your responses simple and to the point. Sorry, no exceptions to the Rules.

The end-the-auction-early folks are hoping you'll sell them the item for cheap, because you don't realize what it is worth. The "will you hold this while I am on vacation" types are another. They want you to hold the item for weeks and weeks until the time period for negative feedback has elapsed. Then they say "Well, I think you charged me too much, but I'll take the item at a lower price, of course...." Just say NO to these scams.

Many people don't sell things on eBay or Craiglist simply because of time-wasters. If you are making $50 a hour at your job, it seems like a waste of time to spend an hour of your time selling a $25 item. So be sure to monitor your time consumption and not spend more than it is worth.

6. Avoid the Obvious Scams, of Course

The horror stories you hear about eBay are from people who were stupid or greedy or both. There are two major scams - the eBay seller scam and the eBay buyer scam. From my SCAMS AND HOW TO IDENTIFY THEM page:

eBay can be a place to find a good bargain, althogh increasingly it is becoming just a place to find stuff at OK prices. It can be a good place for you to unload your own stuff, too. but beware, there are scammers out there. One scam is the phoney auction. The scammer advertises a desireable consumer item worth maybe $10,000 to $30,000 for less than half the price. Kubota tractors, Honde CBR 500 motorcycles, BMW 3-series cars, Harley Davidson Motorcycles, etc. are typical of the genre.

The auction might ask you to contact them directly (their eBay e-mail is "broken") and mysteriously, the auction has only a few hours or a day left on it. You e-mail them, and they ask you to wire $5000 to the UK or Canada or somewhere overseas. They may tell you to send it with a "security password" so the money cannot be released until you receive the car, which they claim they will ship to you by 'air freight". Often there is a convoluted story about how the car belonged to a deceased brother or something. Usually there are glaring descrepencies between the picture of the car and the description as well.

Yes, these are stupidly obvious rip-offs. Yes, hundreds, if not thousands of people fall for these every month. eBay tries to police them, but cannot be everywhere at once. The scammers are moving to Autotrader and other vehicle selling sites as a result of increased policing on eBay. If it sounds too convoluted and too good to be true, walk away. NEVER buy a car without seeing it in person first!

The eBay buyer scams works in a slightly different way. You decide to sell your car or boat on eBay and you get an e-mail. The buyer will pay your asking price, no questions asked, but wants the car shipped overseas. They will send you a money order or cashier's check for the full amont, plus $3000 in shipping. They ask you to wire the money to a 3rd party (usually in Canada or Africa) to pay the shipping.

Two weeks later, you find out the cashier's check was a bad forgery and you are out the $3000 you wired overseas. And no, they are not interested in stealing your car, just your $3000, thank you. Again, if it sounds too good to be true (someone willing to buy your car at asking price, sight unseen, and willing to send you more than the asking price) then it probably IS too good to be true! Walk away.

7. Use the Money to Buy Something You Want:

After you've sold a number of items on eBay, you may find yourself with several hundred dollars in you PayPal account. You can take that money out, of course, but I find it fun to use that money to purchase something I actually need on eBay. In this way, I am taking things I own, but don't need, and exchanging them for things I need, but don't have.

The key, of course, is to actually spend the money on something of value, and not just "shop" for more junk to clutter up your house. Selling off junk to buy more junk is not really solving anything, just wasting time and money.

8. Be Brutal In Finding Things To Sell:

Owning a lot of junk is not "wealth". When looking around your house for things to unload on eBay or Craigslist, don't limit yourself to what is in the attic. A lot of things hanging around your house are simply clutter. One attitude that derails the entire process is the "well, let's not sell that, it's worth something!" comment.

Here's a clue: the only things worth selling are the ones that ARE worth something. Again, hanging onto something because you perceive OTHERS to value it is merely hoarding for the sake of hoarding. If it has no value to you, then it is better off converted into cash. Keeping an ugly vase around because "people collect these" is a nonsensical idea. Unless you find it attractive and useful, it is merely accumulated trash.

Note that "collectables", be they cars, antiques, coins, or whatever, are horrible investments. They usually appreciate in value at a rate less than most savings accounts. The stories you hear about such-and-such a chotchke being worth millions are just that - stories. Oftentimes auction houses and dealers shill up bids on things like that in an attempt to drive up prices. Ask the fellow who bid on a "vintage" Ferrari in the 1990's whether it was such a swell investment. Most lost half their value after the dot-com bubble burst, and have yet to recover to those levels.

So toss the idea that mother's ugly old vase is "money in the bank". Money in the bank is money in the bank. The value of "collectables" varies widely, and if you can get good money for something you aren't using, then it may not be a bad idea.

9. Don't Sell Trash:

Oftentimes in the country, you see garage sales every weekend where people are literally selling their garbage. A broken teacup is not worth anything to anybody, nor is a bent spoon. But people try to sell things like this.

If something is broken or needs repairs that exceed its value, chances are, no one will want it. Don't waste your time and others' by trying to sell outright trash on eBay or Craigslist.

Oftentimes, I hear from people who try to take my eBay advice. They go through their house and find something of "no value" and then try to sell it on eBay with no photos or good description. When it doesn't sell (but they are charged a listing fee) they become disappointed and say my idea is not sound.

The idea of selling things on eBay and Craigslist is not to unload your GARBAGE, but to sell things of VALUE that you are NOT USING and HAVE NO BONA FIDE INTENT TO USE. Garbage should go in the trash, period. You can't sell your garbage.

People thwart the idea of eBay and Craigslist when it comes to selling things as they go through their house and say "Well, we can't sell that, it's WORTH SOMETHING". Well, Duh, if it is WORTH SOMETHING, someone might BUY IT. Trying to sell worthless items is fruitless and stupid.

Hanging onto things on the premise that they are WORTH SOMETHING but not WORTH ANYTHING TO YOU is idiotic. Again, unless you are a collector of those items, it is not worthwhile trying to collect things you think have intrinsic value. In most cases, you are better off putting that money in the bank and earning interest.

I ran into this with my spouse, initially. "Don't sell that ugly clock, IT MIGHT BE WORTH SOMETHING!" Again, "Duh!" with a capitol "D"! An ugly clock dry-rotting in the attic will soon be worth nothing to anybody. If you don't use it yourself, and find it doesn't match your decor, hanging onto it on the premise that it has intrinsic value alone is foolish. Sell it to someone who will cherish it and invest the proceeds in something that YOU like and will use.

Sell the GOOD STUFF you don't need, throw the garbage in the trash.

10. Buying on eBay or Craigslist:

There are bargains to be had on eBay and Craigslist, to be sure. But there are also a number of pitfalls, mostly of your own chosing.

To begin with, as I have noted before, "shopping" is one of the most destructive finaincial behaviors for middle-class Americans. Buying things you do not want or need, merely to experience the thrill of buying is very self-desctructive.

And on eBay, it can be all too easy to "shop" for things and end up buying stuff you really don't want or need. Resist the urge to buy something unless you are in need of it, not merely skim by it and say "that's interesting".

Also, it pays to check prices before buying. With the Internet, it is often an easy task to check online for competing prices for any item. So there is no reason to bid too much on eBay for something, when you can buy it locally or from another online source.

And yes, people routinely overprice items on eBay or Craigslist. Generally speaking, you should not pay more than 50% of retail price for a used item, unless it is nearly brand new. A set of patio furnitue may sell for $400 new, but used, may be worth only $100 or so.

The other thing, is that often stuff sold on Craigslist, in particular, is broken or otherwise damaged. Items that are missing pieces or are otherwise broken are of no value at all. As I noted in my "Tragedy of Hoarding Disorder", hoarders often lose pieces of items (intentionally it seems, it is a control thing) and thus, that weight set that is missing the locking pins is really unusable. Make sure all the parts are theree and the item is in working order. Buying someone else's broken trash is no bargain.

11. Freecycle and other Free Things:

As I noted in my Hoarding Disorder article, it is tempting to get something for free. And once in a while, yes, you do get something for free that is a good deal. But a lot of times, free things are worth what you pay for them. Freecycle in particular, can be a real time-waster, even if you are just giving away things. People call or e-mail saying they want something and will come by, and they never show. Or you drive 10 miles out of your way to pick up an item, only to find out it is broken or just trash.

The temptaiton to get something-for-nothing is great. But your time is valuable, too. After a brief experiement with free-cycle, I swore off the page. It is a boon for hoarders, but little else.

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