Spring for many homeowners means confronting all the things that have filled up the closets, basement and garage over the past year.
As the late comedian George Carlin used to say: “Your house is a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”
Getting rid of that stuff has always been tricky — especially if you hope to come away with some cash.
Today, because of the Internet and the recession, there are more options than ever for trying to sell used items. To newspaper classified ads, garage sales and flea markets, add Facebook, Craig’s List, eBay and other online trading sites. To pawn shops and consignment shops, add an expanding array of resale stores that pay cash on the spot.
Laura Deaton Morarity, who was preparing to move recently to a new public relations job in Seattle, was a little stunned at how much she had acquired in her Cincinnati-area home after living there just four years.
“It was just a ton of stuff. My husband and I just decided, ’We’re selling everything’ except our clothing, books and some keepsakes,” she recalled.
But in the middle of a bad winter, how do you do that quickly?
Her solution: a virtual yard sale on Facebook. She posted a photo album on the social networking site and alerted her friends and family, who also got their Facebook friends involved in the buying.
In 24 hours, Morarity sold everything she listed: couch, chair, dining room set, loveseats, TV stand and more.
“It was really kind of shocking how fast it went,” she said, adding that she priced to sell but came away with enough cash and savings on moving expenses for a head start on stocking a new home.
Tighter household budgets mean that not only are more people buying used, but they also are holding on to things longer, increasing demand for good-quality resale items.
“We are attracting more and more customers that never went to resale before,” said Renae Blonigen, brand director for the Plato’s Closet chain, which buys and sells used youth clothing. “We were doing well before the recession, and that has really exploded our business.”
Johnny Crowell, a co-owner of the Home Consignment Center, a 16-store chain based in Danville, Calif., also said that sales are up while fewer people are offering their sofas, dining room sets and other furniture for consignment.
“I suppose it’s because fewer people are moving or upsizing,” said Crowell. His stores have added to their inventory through furniture factories and other steady sources.
Crowell said the business, started in 1994, prices consignment items to sell so that customers quickly get their 50 per cent take. It also offers pickup and other services to make it easier for sellers.
Minneapolis-based Winmark Corp. has been opening dozens of new resale stores, including Plato’s Closet, and outlets that buy and sell used children’s clothing, sporting goods and musical items. A Hollister shirt in nice condition that sold for $30 new might land the owner $5 to $7 from Plato’s, which then might sell it for $13 to $15.
Kate Finger, general manager of 15 Plato’s and Once Upon a Child stores in the Cincinnati area, said sales at the suburban Colerain Township store jumped 24 per cent last year after a 32 per cent rise in 2008. But that means it needs a steady supply of more good stuff to sell, so employees try to make sure every buyer understands they can also bring their own used clothes — the chain looks for still-trendy, new-looking items — for cash on the spot.
Lena Elam, a regular at the Plato’s store in Colerain, said being able to sell her three children’s used clothing enables her to replace them with used clothing she wouldn’t be able to afford new.
“What they don’t buy, then I take it on to Goodwill,” said Kim Patterson, a suburban mom who had just sold some of her two children’s jeans.
Goodwill Industries International Inc., the Salvation Army, and other charities provide another option: They can help give your clothing, furniture, books and other items appreciative new homes while you support their humanitarian efforts.
“We have found that in a tough economy, people like to know that their donations are being reinvested back into the community,” said Jim Gibbons, Goodwill’s CEO.