By Linda Gabris

Linda Gabris
Issue #120 • November/December, 2009

If you think “Howdy Doody” has been holing up in your attic for too many years, maybe it’s time you turned the dummy in for some cold hard cash. In fact, while you’re up in the rafters rummaging through old trunks and boxes laden with dust and cobwebs, don’t be surprised if you uncover a slew of other junk—or treasures, if you will—that can be turned, almost instantly, into ready money.

With a huge wave of unemployment sweeping across our country, more and more folks like myself are wondering and worrying about how we are going to make ends meet and keep our families afloat during the predicted harder times ahead.

A pop-up book, toy dinosaur, child's beginner-sized guitar, baseball glove, and antique bubble gum machine...just a few treasures to cash in on from an old attic trunk.
A pop-up book, toy dinosaur, child’s beginner-sized guitar, baseball glove, and antique bubble gum machine…just a few treasures to cash in on from an old attic trunk.

One feasible solution to help weather the storm is to take a shot at selling on the internet, commonly known as internet auctions, to cash in on those no-longer-needed old attic treasures, as well as tons of other items around the house that your family has outgrown.

I have found that internet auctions are an easy way to put extra dollars into the piggy bank and for many folks (known in the field as ‘power sellers’) across the country—or the world, for that matter—internet auctions have even become full-time profitable businesses.

If you want to see if selling your wares in internet auctions might be your cup of tea, that stash of stuff in the attic is prime merchandise to cut your selling teeth on! You can kill two birds with one stone like I did by making some extra cash while cleaning up your attic.

But don’t stop there—check out that hoard of stored stuff in the barn, shed, garage, basement, and closets. If your family is like mine, I am sure you will find tons of boxes of old books, toys, games, puzzles, shoes, sporting equipment, dishes, jewelry, clothes, ornaments, and whatnots that you can turn into cash.

And while tracking down marketable merchandise, don’t forget that handicrafts can also be marketed this way and are a wonderful source of extra income for the hobbyist. Hand-knitted socks, mitts, and sweaters, homemade quilts, woodcrafts, embroidered linens, crochet tablecloths, hand-tied fishing flies, and other crafts can be peddled from the comforts of your own home.

There are a number of safe and secure online auction websites such as eBay, which is, without doubt, the largest and most widely-known and well-respected online marketplace in the world, where a multitude of sellers literally reach shoppers worldwide to peddle goods to. And I can vouch for the fact that there is more than one eager collector out there somewhere willing to part with a wad of handsome money for homely old Howdy.

If you have a computer and you are on the internet, you have easy access to a means of making money by selling items from around the house that you and your family have outgrown or no longer need or have use for. Here’s a quickie from a seller’s point of view on how it works.

Western hats and belt buckles are great sellers if you have a stash kicking about that nobody in your house wears anymore. These fine ones here have tons of good wear left in them.
Western hats and belt buckles are great sellers if you have a stash kicking about that nobody in your house wears anymore. These fine ones here have tons of good wear left in them.

You can sell almost anything—from toys, books, records, antiques, jewelry, fur coats, vintage and modern clothes, belts, buckles, and shoes to sporting goods, musical instruments, fishing tackle, tack, cameras, boats, cars, and even real estate.

There are some prohibited items such as guns, ammunition, tobacco, alcohol, food, used cosmetics, and pets, to name a few so, of course, you must study the rules and regulations carefully before listing your goods.

The majority of sales take place through what is called a set-time auction format, but other selling formats are also available and they are covered in full detail on the website where you will find lots of helpful toolbars and links that will answer all your questions such as listing and service fees, information about PayPal (a safe, economical, and convenient way to bill your customers and to process payments), discussion boards, online help, shipping centers, and so forth.

The rules and regulations of online auctions are laid out clearly at the website and you will find that they are set up to help create safe and fair trading centers for both you as the seller—and for the buyer, too. The policies are easy to understand and will help you make successful sales and build good customer relations.

Before you can register as a member, you must read and comply with the rules and regulations and accept the user agreement. Joining is free. I find that the listing fees (the amount it costs to list an item) and service fees (the amount the site takes when an item sells) are reasonable, considering the fact that a seller has a worldwide audience to market goods to without the expense of leaving home—except to drop sold items off at the post office. With the high price of gasoline these days, the shorter the distance to market, the better. Once registered on the website, you are ready to begin selling.

The old phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” really does apply to online marketing. No matter how well or how honestly you think you are describing your item, whether it is a vintage handmade lace wedding dress with several tiny catches on the hem or an antique book with fragile yellowed pages and a small tear in its cover, pictures really do show the condition of the item much better and much more fairly than you could ever possibly describe in words.

Musical instruments like guitars, harmonicas, and accordions that haven't been played in years are an amazing source of extra cash.
Musical instruments like guitars, harmonicas, and accordions that haven’t been played in years are an amazing source of extra cash.

For instance, a few small catches in your eyes could be considered by an unhappy buyer as several large gaping holes. Or what you describe as a “small tear” might be considered by a collector as being a “major rip.” So pictures, along with accurate, honest descriptions are the number one key to success, making a good sale, and landing a happy customer that you can hope will be a repeat buyer.

Being an honest salesperson is paramount to being a successful online marketer. Always keep in mind that listing an item inaccurately or dishonestly is solid grounds for a buyer to return the item and apply for a refund and, no doubt, leave you with negative feedback which other prospective buyers may take into consideration before bidding on your items. You can be banned from selling on the site due to false or misleading descriptions.

Feedback is a useful marketing tool that reflects a seller’s—as well as a buyer’s—reputation. After every transaction, the seller and buyer can leave positive, negative, or neutral feedback describing their transactions with each other.

For instance, a buyer might comment on how accurately or inaccurately the item was described, how poorly or how securely it was wrapped, how slow or how fast it was shipped, and how fair the price of the item and shipping was in their opinion.

As the seller, on the other hand, you may mention how much you

appreciated the prompt payment and how you hope to do business with the buyer again. Or you may comment on the buyer’s tardiness in contacting you after the sale and if the buyer, which can happen occasionally, did not carry through with payment you can file a claim against them and report their misconduct in your feedback, warning other sellers to beware.

Since feedback ratings are posted for the whole world to see, they are a great way to build up a good reputation by responding to questions quickly, describing items and conditions accurately and honestly, wrapping securely, shipping promptly, and pricing fairly. Lots of shoppers take a close look at feedback ratings before placing bids so strive to build a good honest reputation right off the bat.

Collector pins, jewelry, and other accessories are always hot items on online auctions.
Collector pins, jewelry, and other accessories are always hot items on online auctions.

Talking about honest, accurate descriptions, we circle back to the need for good pictures. A scanner works great for scanning in most standard-sized books, jewelry, postcards, Christmas decorations, fishing tackle, ornaments, baby shoes, and smaller items that fit onto the screen.

When it comes to larger items like cowboy hats, dolls, dresses, quilts, musical instruments, tack, camera, boots, skates and old Howdy Doody who is too darn big to sit on the screen, a digital camera is a must-have. Don’t fret, for it does not have to be an expensive one to get good serviceable photos. And you will find easy to understand, step-by-step instructions for using the website’s picture services.

So, let’s pretend that you, too, are going to list an old Howdy Doody doll from your attic. First, do a little research to see if anyone else is selling the same doll and if so, what are they asking for it? Is the price more or a less than what you were hoping to get? What is the condition of their doll compared to yours? What are their shipping fees? What kind of shipping can you offer and at what price? How can you best compete with what’s already being offered?

Suppose there is not a similar item on the market. You might want to do a little research to see if you can get an idea of price range for your item, you don’t want to sell old Howdy for a lot less than what he is worth—but, on the other hand, you do not want to list him for an amount that’s way over the hill either. Once you have a price in mind, you can get ready to list the item.

First, take some pictures of Howdy showing how fine of shape the doll is in—as well as showing any flaws that must be shown. Get good full body shots of his front and back and do close-ups on any fine details that you want to impress your buyer with or of any damage or scars that you want to insure your potential buyer will be aware of before bidding.

Next choose a category. Should Howdy go into antiques or should he go into toys? Or should he be listed under both categories for better exposure? If you’re not sure where to put him, check out the guidelines, as they will help you choose an appropriate place. Once you’ve chosen a category you can write up a title. You are only allowed so many characters in the title, so choose words that are descriptive and avoid words that have no bearing.

Here are just a few of the large collection of vintage purses that my aunt handed down to me. I have found that purses are a hot item, especially those that are from yesteryear and are in nice clean condition.
Here are just a few of the large collection of vintage purses that my aunt handed down to me. I have found that purses are a hot item, especially those that are from yesteryear and are in nice clean condition.

Now you are ready to describe your item in full detail. You are allowed plenty of space to work with so you will not have to skimp on words in this section of the write-up.

Give all the specifics—size, measurements, what is stamped on the doll, the clothes tag, the year it was made (if known), condition, and any extra details that you can share.

Describe all the good stuff there is to tell about the doll, for example: comes complete with original shoes and even has the original bill of sale dating it back to 1955 tucked into his shirt pocket. Tell all the bad stuff, too: Howdy’s left foot has a tiny crack, a button on his shirt is missing, there is a stain on his sleeve…Then use photos or scans to show the selling features such as the bill of sale as well as the flaws such as the cracked foot.

Next, state which countries you will ship to and be up front about your shipping costs. How do you find this out? Put the doll into the box you intent to ship him in. Weigh the boxed item (don’t forget to add enough extra weight to include paper, label, and tape) and measure the box. Now visit your government postal website and use the information to get domestic and international shipping quotes.

Review the listing to be sure that you have told all there is to tell about the item and then push the submit button. Forgot to add something? Don’t panic! You can go back in and revise your item should you have to add more details or fix an error. It’s that easy!

Now, scamper back up into the attic and rummage for some more marketable goods. Like what, you ask? How about that bundle of antique postcards handed down to you from your great Aunt Betty? Or those unopened boxes of puzzles Santa gave the kids years ago and they never got around to putting together?

Then there’s that huge stack of knitting, crocheting, and vintage cookbooks, Grandpa’s antique pipe collection and Grandma’s old knitting machine, antique juicer, and glass washboard. Not to mention old hats, scarves, shawls, brooches, beads, and clip-on earrings from years gone by.

Toys, dolls, teddy bears, cowboy boots, wooden blocks, train sets, games, dishes, ornaments, cameras, patchwork quilts…who knows what else you’re bound to come across while treasure hunting in those old trunks and boxes stashed away from yesteryear.

And of course, while rummaging through the house for vintage treasures, be sure to keep in mind that modern day goods you no longer have use for are also in demand. Kitchen gadgets, paintings, lamps, ornaments, roller skates, snowboards, hockey gear, tools, garden decorations, books, records, CDs, video tapes, electronic games, and tons of other such items have great potential.

You are probably wondering if one can really make enough money selling unwanted and unneeded goods on online auctions to call it a “regular income.” Well, of course, that depends on a number of factors such as how much collectible and good quality usable merchandise you have available to sell, the condition of what you have to offer, and how much time you are willing to invest in the whole procedure of selling your wares on online auctions.

Antique kitchen items, such as the old juicer and enamel teapot, along with modern day kitchen-ware that you never use, like the electric meat grinder pictured in its original box, are sure to bring in some top dollars.
Antique kitchen items, such as the old juicer and enamel teapot, along with modern day kitchen-ware that you never use, like the electric meat grinder pictured in its original box, are sure to bring in some top dollars.

For inspiration, read the success stories on the websites and you will discover that many folks do indeed earn their living selling on online auctions and many folks have developed profitable full-time businesses.

If you have some very “hot” items and unique collectibles such as name brand clothes, historical memorabilia, Disneyana, trading cards, antiques, autographed pictures of movie stars and celebrities, signed and first edition books, you can rake in a lot of money fast. As your stock dwindles, so will your profits.

If you want to stay in business you may have to begin what is known as “shop to sell,” that is, start rummaging around garage and yard sales, thrift stores and auction sales, looking for more marketable merchandise that you can get at great bargain prices.

For instance, who knows where another Howdy Doody doll might be hanging out for less than a few dollars—and you already know what he’s worth to a collector. And keep in mind, the more you sell, the more knowledge you will gain as to what’s hot and what’s not.

Online marketing can be a full-time business or just a really great way to supplement your family income by cashing in on excess bounty around the house in one’s spare time. And when the house has been cleared of all your family’s old cast-offs and you find yourself totally hooked on the extra dollars, what could be a better excuse than hunting down more bargains to market.

For me, it all started with Howdy Doody, the childhood playmate of mine that had been kicking around in the attic for more years than I care to remember. Selling the antique doll proved to me that the old saying about one man’s junk being another man’s treasure really is true.

I’ve banked top dollars for everything from tap dancing shoes and washboards to corncob pipes and car parts. It’s fun and easy. Why not give it a try?

From a buyer’s point of view

Online auctions are a great way to save money while outfitting the family with clothes, shoes, sporting equipment, tools, and other needed merchandise. With the price of gasoline being so high these days, shopping online auctions is a sensible way to save money while browsing from the comfort of your own home.

The bottom line is, whether you’re selling to make money or shopping to save, online auctions are the way to go.


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