There are so many ways to unload items you no longer need or want, it can be hard to sort through all the choices. What's worth your time to sell and what are you better off donating for a tax write-off -- and where will you get the most for a given item? From antiques to baby toys to lawn mowers, here's a quick guide to raising cash from your cast-offs.
Click through our gallery to find out which outlets are the best for selling which goods.
Best for: Higher-end children's clothing (think Gymboree, Janie and Jack, Boden, etc.); new or mint-condition designer women's clothing, shoes and accessories; small electronics; collectibles; pricey or hard-to-find toys like Lego sets and American Girl dolls.
eBay offers many advantages for sellers: It boasts the largest potential market for your items, the fees are pretty reasonable compared to brick-and-mortar consignment shops, and by searching "completed auctions" you can see exactly what items like yours have sold for recently. That's vital information in deciding which items are worth listing and at what price to list them.
For popular items, starting your listing at $0.99 will usually increase interest and garner the most bids -- plus it's the cheapest option. If you absolutely will not sell an item for less than a given amount, you can specify a higher starting price, set a "reserve" price, or use the fixed-price listing option. Just know that those options cost more and may deter some bidders.
Photos are crucial on eBay. Don't use stock photos or "borrow" photos from other listings -- that's a big no-no and can get your listing pulled. Take the time to upload large, clear photos of the item from several angles. As for all the "extras" eBay offers (bolded titles, special backgrounds, highlighting, featured positioning, etc.), save your money unless you really think they're going to make a difference. One sales trick that does work? Free shipping. (Of course, if your item is large or heavy, the cost may be more than you make on the item, so estimate shipping costs in advance -- USPS.com has an easy calculator.)
Caveats: eBay can be pretty time-consuming, so you have to decide if you'll make enough from the sale to compensate for the hassle. For that reason, I only use eBay for items likely to sell for $20 or more. Also, eBay buyers can be... er, challenging to deal with for a seller. To cut down on questions and complaints, provide accurate, detailed descriptions, including measurements. And be sure to clearly point out any flaws.
Best for: Large items that would be expensive to ship, especially furniture and baby/kid items like strollers and bikes; tools and yard equipment.
I have had great success as both a buyer and a seller on Craigslist, so I am surprised when friends and colleagues complain about not being able to sell anything. When I take a look at their listings, I'm no longer surprised. Poorly lit photos (or worse, none at all); short listings that don't provide any details; misspellings (common errors on my local Craigslist include "dinning table," "rod iron," and "automan") – any of these will pretty much ensure that your item will be passed over when someone's doing a search.
The best listings include several well-lit photos of the actual item you're selling (again, no stock photos), accurate measurements, and a detailed description that clearly explains as much as possible the condition, age, and history of the item. Also include the approximate location (zip code is sufficient) and options for pick-up. If you are able to deliver a large piece, call that out, too -- delivery is a huge plus, especially in urban areas. Finally, price your item appropriately. Most Craigslist buyers are looking for a deal, so as a rule, price used items at no more than 50% of retail. One exception is antique or vintage furniture, which often commands premium prices, especially for popular styles like midcentury modern (thanks, Mad Men).
Caveats: Let's face it -- inviting a total stranger to your home is kind of creepy. Though I've never had a problem in many years of using Craigslist, you don't want to take chances. I try never to be home alone when someone comes by, and for smaller items, I'll often ask buyers to meet in the lobby of my office. Also, reduce the risk of scammers by only accepting cash.
Best for: Good-condition clothing, shoes, and accessories from mass-market retailers (think Gap, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic); high-end and/or antique furniture; toys; expensive jewelry.
Though you'll net a lower percentage of the sale price (most shops take around 50%), there are a couple of reasons to opt for consignment over selling items yourself. One is if your items don't sell on eBay (or don't command high enough prices to make it worth listing). This applies in particular to things like nice-but-not-designer children's and women's clothing, toys, baby gear, and costume jewelry. Consigning isn't limited to retail shops, either. Many cities have annual or semi-annual consignment sales where anyone can bring items to sell. Local parenting groups are an especially good resource for finding kid-related sales.
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The other types of items you may want to consign are very expensive things, such as pricey jewelry, antique furniture, and real silver, china or crystal. Dealers who are familiar with these rarer items will have the expertise to appropriately value your piece and likely have an existing clientele more willing to pay up for them than, say, your average Craigslist buyer.
Caveats: Make sure you're clear on the consigner's fee, how and when you'll be paid any profits, and what happens to items that don't sell after a certain period. Some shops donate or auction off pieces that don't sell, but they should give you the option of taking back the items instead.
Best for: Getting rid of a lot of items quickly. This is also the best way to sell housewares, lower-end clothing (especially for little ones), toys, books, and games.
If you've got a lot to sell and you just want it out of your house, a yard sale may be your best bet. Just don't expect to rake in big bucks -- yard sale shoppers are big-time bargain hunters. Instead, focus on volume. To bring in lots of traffic, advertise on Craigslist (call out the types of items you have) as well as with large signs around the neighborhood and at major intersections nearby. Consider inviting neighbors to join in, too! With yard sales, it's definitely the more, the merrier.
To make sales go quickly, price all your items beforehand (to do this quickly, set up tables labeled $1, $5, $10, etc., and group together anything you're willing to sell for those prices), and make sure you have plenty of change. Start early (bargain hunters also tend to be early risers!) and mark everything down to half-price for the last hour. Finally, have a plan for hauling anything left over to the nearest donation spot as soon as the sale is over -- after all, you wanted it out of your house, right?
Caveats: Other than not getting top dollar for your goods, not many. Yard sales are a time-honored tradition because they're easy, fun, and effective at clearing out clutter. If you do a multi-family yard sale, have a plan for separating sales (different-color stickers for each family is one idea). A backup plan for bad weather is a good idea, too.
Movies and Books
For movies, video games, music, textbooks, and recent hardcover books, take a look at Half.com (owned by eBay) or Amazon's Marketplace. These options allow you to quickly list used media by simply entering the ISBN number, selecting the condition, and setting a price. If your item sells, you ship it and the site deposits cash into a PayPal account or sends you a check. Amazon also offers a trade-in program for many of these items. The process is similar, but Amazon sets the price it will pay and as soon as the item is received (you get a prepaid postage label), you'll get that amount as a store credit.
For electronics, try Gazelle.com (limited to Apple products and smartphones) or Best Buy's trade-in program (accepts a wider range of items). Provide specifics about your item and these sites will give you an estimate of value. If you are happy with that amount, you send or bring in the item and get a check or gift card. Best Buy will also recycle items deemed not valuable.
Personal finance guru Jean Chatzky offers more tips on selling electronics here.
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Motley Fool contributing writer Robyn Gearey has recently spent too much time buying and not enough time selling. She owns shares of Apple and Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, and Best Buy. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of eBay, Amazon.com and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.