Over the past three months I've sold almost everything I own: electronics, cameras, furniture, my car, and even some high end clothes. Soon I'll own only a large duffel bag, which I'll leave with my dad, and a 26 liter Tom Bihn backpack that I will use to travel around the world.
Other than the car I sold about $14,000 worth of possessions and got 78% of what I paid for them back even after Amazon, eBay and PayPal fees. Below are a few tips on how to sell your own stuff and get the most money for it.
Once you master selling things online you'll feel comfortable buying anything you want, trying it out, and returning or selling it if it doesn't meet your needs. I cycle through products constantly, my friends tease me about it, but I also effectively rented a $3,000 digital SLR and lens kit for 10 months for only $400. I love trying out different products without fear of commiting to them forever.
A tip that applies everywhere: Take multiple high quality pictures of your stuff in natural light. Describe it accurately and list all the flaws and scratches. The more in depth your description the more confidence the buyer has that you are an honest seller.
Will a lot of people near you be looking for it? Is it large and expensive? Sell it on Craigslist and you'll save 10-15% in eBay and Amazon fees. I generally list things on Craigslist for 10% more than I think they are worth and lower the price by 5-10% every week until they sell. This takes a bit longer than a fire sale but lets me know that I'm getting the highest price I can.
Feel free to test the waters on Craigslist too. Unlike Amazon and eBay you have no commitment to sell, so list something at any price you want and gauge if the price is too high or low by the volume of emails you get.
People on Craigslist can be a pain. Ignore the dozen emails you'll get offering to buy for half of asking price. Before a buyer comes over send them an email or call them and say "I just want to make sure you're going to pay $100 for this so we don't have to negotiate on the spot. I have a few others interested at $100 and don't want to waste my time."
Generally I'm totally upfront with Craigslist buyers that I'm running a dutch auction. "$900 is too low, I'm asking $1,000 now and will be down to $900 in a few weeks and I'll let you know. You can also come get it today for $1,000." Treat these people with respect and follow up with them. I often sell to people who come with a firm cash offer about 10% below asking after a few weeks of trying to get more.
If you're selling something small and common, low in value, or something that no one is likely to be looking for on Craigslist first consider selling it on Amazon. Amazon lets you mail big boxes of books, electronics, camera gear, or almost anything else Amazon sells to a warehouse using the Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) service. Amazon sells your items, ships them with Amazon Prime, and handles returns for roughly a 10% fee.
The big upshot with Amazon FBA is that people love two day Prime shipping. You can often charge 5-10% more than everyone else who isn't using Prime and still sell your stuff promptly.
If I could sell everything through FBA I would because it's so painless. Earlier this year I sent forty pounds of books, a Canon EOS 6D, five lenses, and a bunch of camera cases and straps to Amazon. Every few days now I get an email telling me that Amazon sold something of mine, shipped it to the buyer, and will deposit earnings into my checking account within two weeks.
For rare stuff like shoes, leather jackets, customized computers or old film cameras you'll probably have to sell them on eBay.
If it's really rare and people are not necessarily going to be shopping for it every week set a Buy It Now price and wait. Lower the price 5-10% two weeks until it sells. It's much better to wait out a Buy It Now sale for a few weeks than to sell an item in a failed auction. Selling rare stuff through auctions can be a disaster: I lost $200 on a rare Mamiya 6 medium format rangefinder when the auction didn't take off as I expected. One time I even sold shoes for $0.99 with free shipping and lost money.
Tip on selling film cameras: include a scan of a picture you took with the camera. People like seeing that the camera actually works.
After all this selling I've learned a bit about how items depreciate.
- Excellent products like Tom Bihn Luggage and Herman Miller chairs barely depreciate at all. I sold a Tom Bihn Aeronaut which cost $250 new for $248 on eBay. In the future I'll try to buy only high end stuff, which doesn't depreciate, or low end stuff that I'll be comfortable giving away when I'm done with it.
- Camera lenses and old film cameras can sell for 90-105% of they cost used. New lens designs only come out every 10-15 years and as long as you take care of them there's no reason they aren't as good as a new lens.
- Apple products maintain their value very well and have predictable release cycles. Ideally you can game these release cycles and sell things before a new version comes out and their value drops. My 10 month old Mac Mini and two year old Thunderbolt Display sold for 90% and 70% of what they cost new because I sold them before new versions were released.
- Digital cameras aren't as predictable but I have sold them for 70% of their value a year or so after buying them.
- PC computers, furniture and clothes depreciate the most (40%-90%). Just try to buy them used or not spend a lot on them upfront.
What am I keeping?
Since I'm traveling for a long time I'm only keeping things that I'd be willing to buy and put in storage at the price I can sell them for now. This is basically just clothes. No one wants my old t-shirts or my suit and selling them for a pennies on the dollar isn't attractive since I'll definitely need them again someday.
Ask anyone who has put things in storage and they'll generally tell you that storage wasn't worth it. My couch and bed would probably smell terrible after a year in a storage unit, and a bed can be ordered again any time in the future with free two day shipping. For everything else I'm not even sure if I'll need it in the future. I'd rather have the cash now than pay to store it for a year and then come back only to have to sell it anyway.
Keep In Touch
Subscribe to get occasional essays and updates.