selling your stuff

Every day, people walk into our store wanting to sell their belongings. And each time, we communicate – at risk of disappointing a potential ally – that we don’t buy from the public. And then, we explain why.

Over time, we’ve developed a fair amount of expertise about how to sell stuff (Julie sold via a range of channels before opening the shop, and we interact regularly with other resellers). We’ve also grown sensitive to the emotional ins and outs that accompany relinquishing one’s belongings. As in, each of us believes our stuff is worth more — simply because it’s ours. And that makes it hard to let go of something we perceive to be an asset.

In the spirit of helping you let go (and helping you decide the best way to do so), we’ve put together a brief rundown of the various options available for making a profit while getting rid of your stuff (we’ll identify and explain other ways of getting rid of stuff – at no cost, or by paying a professional – another time soon). We hope that this is a helpful primer, regardless of whether you’re hoping to sell one item — or a houseful.

Sell your stuff directly to an end user: The best way to earn the most for the items you have is always (ALWAYS) to sell them yourself. Doing this avoids having to pay someone else for their time, effort, and/or expertise, and makes it likeliest that you’ll find a buyer who will pay a retail price for the item you have. Common venues for direct selling include Craigslist, eBay, and garage or estate sales.

For many, one of the biggest hurdles to selling one’s goods directly is determining an appropriate value/asking price for your items. We’ll be putting together guidance for making this happen in the weeks ahead — stay tuned.

Other people object to pursuing these options because of the time and effort (also known as ‘work’) required in generating revenue from the sale of one’s product. But if you’re willing to put in some effort to research and determine appropriate value, find the best market, and, in some cases, learn new technology, you may find that the payoff is well worth your time. You’ll need to make that determination based on your own circumstances.

Sell your stuff via an intermediary:  Of course, if you don’t want to do the work yourself, then you’ll need to involve someone else to do that work for you.

If this is the route you choose to take, you should plan ahead to compensate them for their time/energy/expertise.

Any reputable company around today will have some sort of online presence to back up their business. As with anything, referrals and online reviews (via Yelp or Google) will help you find someone who can be trusted with your business.

Once you’ve decided you’d like help selling your items, you’ll have the most success working with any of these professionals if you make a good first impression. You can do this by approaching your need as an opportunity to build a working relationship: acknowledge that they have a job to do – and engage with the express intention of making the work easy for all involved.

Take time to ask and understand what helps them sell your goods easily/effectively, and let them know you are participating with them for more than just a payout (even more important if you hope to secure their help in selling more things in the future). Most importantly, you can manage your own expectations about how much you can expect from the sale of your goods. In short, work to be a good business partner, recognize the transaction for what it is, get clear on expectations and deliverables, and you’ll have better results!

There are several ways to procure assistance in selling your goods for profit, and we’ve outlined several of them here (are we missing any big ones? Let us know!):

Sell your stuff directly to a shop: Some shops will purchase items outright (and of course, that’s the role of pawn shops, as well). Keep in mind that with an outright purchase, the buyer of your item is accepting all risk for reselling the product – and your item will be taking up floor or shelf space until it sells. As such, the price you may expect to receive will generally be 20-25% of the price the seller plans to ask (and may be much lower).

That asking price will likely get discounted – sometimes steeply – if the item fails to sell, and shouldn’t be interpreted as predatory conduct. They’re doing the work, they’re accepting the risk, and if you’ve initiated a cold call in the interest of selling something, you’ve created a sales audience of exactly one buyer, with no competition for your product.

Sell your stuff on consignment: Some shops or individuals will help you sell your item on a consignment basis – which means that while they’re dedicating floor space to your product, the risk that it might not sell will be shared by the shop and by you, in trade for the company taking a cut of your product’s sale price (which is typically 25-50% of the total price, depending on the shop, the item’s retail price, and other factors as determined by the business with whom you’re consigning).

These shops typically have a finite window for product sales – meaning that if your item doesn’t sell within, say, 90 days, you’ll be responsible to come and retrieve your product before the end of that window. If you don’t, it will become the property (and sole responsibility) of the consignment company, and any future sale or donation will be a transaction not involving you. If you’re concerned about this, read the contract carefully before signing on.

Sell an entire estate: First, a reality check: the Boomer generation is downsizing right now. They’re the largest generation to have reached retirement at one time in the history of our country, and every day, 10,000 more people turn 65, become eligible for retiring, and start thinking about finding smaller digs. This is not going to change until the youngest member of that generation reach the age of retirement in 2029.

This means that businesses involved in conducting estate sales – which typically conduct a set number of sales each year – are able to pick and choose which jobs will make the most money for the least amount of effort. In general, if your estate is unlikely to have at least $10,000 worth of salable goods (as estimated by the estate sale representative during a property tour), your sale is unlikely to be worth their time if they’ll be paid a straight sales commission to host the sale. Some companies will have minimums, some will have flat fees, and some may charge an hourly rate to get your belongings ready for the sale.

What you believe your stuff may be worth – and what a seasoned seller believes your stuff may be worth – might be very different numbers (especially if the bulk of your estate is smoke or filth or pet-damaged, or if you’re working to liquidate the unfamiliar contents of a property that had been occupied by a relative).

If you’re thinking about an estate sale, do your research as far in advance as you can (scheduling flexibility is an asset when getting on an estate sale company’s calendar, and may be the difference between finding someone to help you and getting turned down), and then, contact a handful of companies to better understand your particular options (I recommend a minimum of three contacts).

If you find an estate company interested in conducting your sale, ask for client references so you can conduct due diligence. If you engage with an estate company and find that they’re not interested in conducting your sale, ask if they can recommend someone who might be – and/or ask if there are things you could do to make your estate more attractive to a professional seller. Be ready to not take difficult feedback personally.

Sell your stuff by auction: When you sell your product at auction, your items earn what a given auction market will bear for those items – and the auctioneer takes a cut of the proceeds in exchange for the investment of labor. The benefit to this approach is that the items get gone, have potential to reach a healthy subsection of the right audience, and – unless the product fails to sell at all – you’ll have converted your item into cash by the end of the auction.