Unlike the good old days (any time before March 2020), you can't schlep your shopping bags of treasures to a consignment shop or throw a traditional yard sale. But there are contactless ways to move some stuff and make extra money.
Many online sellers report that after a falloff of business in late March and early April, shoppers tired of "temporarily closed" signs at retailers are beginning to turn to the internet. In April, eBay's top "pre-owned and in-demand" items included puzzles (No. 1), cardio equipment, golf training sets and Legos.
A number of online sites found that after a short period of uncertainty as stay-at-home restrictions began in March, interest in both buying and selling is growing.
Tamara Rosenthal, a vice president at Sotheby's Home (sothebyshome.com), the virtual consignment division of Sotheby's auction house, says it's a good time to divest items. "People are sitting at home staring at their walls and thinking about what they need." So, if you have the emotional bandwidth and are healthy, Rosenthal says, "it's a good time to start selling things."
You can open your own online shop on sites such as eBay (ebay.com) or Etsy (etsy.com) or sell your things to a reseller. Sites such as Ruby Lane (rubylane.com) and Replacements(replacements.com) sell china and collectibles. Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace are still options, though using them will require good social distancing practices, thorough cleaning and contactless curbside pickup.
On Etsy, which has 2.7 million active sellers, you can create your own storefront with photos of what you want to sell. It costs 20 cents per item to list, and the site takes 5% of the sale price. "Right now is certainly a time for people to reevaluate, refresh and maybe start a new business," says Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy's trend expert.
Sotheby's Home consigns things that sell for about $150 and up. Experts will help you come up with a fair price; items can be on the site for up to a year. A Sotheby's Home liaison can work with the seller through videoconferencing to advise on how to take the best photo angles and measurements of the items. The selling price is a 50/50 split. Rosenthal says items such as bowls, boxes and trays have been doing well. "Perhaps people are at home and feel the need to organize," she says.
Becoming a seller takes planning and strategy, says Lori "Dr. Lori" Verderame, a Pennsylvania antiques appraiser who offers online video appraisals and appears on the History Channel's treasure-hunting show "The Curse of Oak Island." Know what you have and what it's worth. "We are not in a typical market, and we aren't living the way we normally do," she says. Now might be a good time to sell smaller items under $250; it might be best to wait to sell larger pieces of furniture or expensive jewelry.
She urges people to figure out logistics in advance. Will you use PayPal? Will you take personal checks? Will you pass on shipping costs to the buyer?
Above all, be realistic. If you've watched too many episodes of "Antiques Roadshow," you can waste a lot of time trying to sell items at outrageous prices.
We've picked a few popular categories and asked experts for advice.
• CDs and DVDs You won't get rich selling off your music or movie collection, but doing so will free up space.
Decluttr(decluttr.com) is one of the buyback sites specializing in tech and media. The average price it will pay you for a CD is 82 cents; for a DVD, it's 78 cents. You download its app and scan bar codes, and Decluttr will give you a price and send a free shipping label, which you print out.
"We are seeing more people get valuations," says James Bell, Decluttr's head of marketing. Tastes in music go in cycles. Right now, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Bon Jovi and Dolly Parton are still in demand; Justin Bieber and boybands, not so much, Bell says. If an icon such as Bill Withers dies, their CDs often sell out. Lots of people are trying to dump their "Frozen" DVDs, but not many want to buy them. But box sets are spiking, one being "Mad Men."
If you plan to sell your CDs, original packaging and inserts are preferable, with undamaged jewel cases. Here's another tip: When scanning, remove all stickers, and make sure you scan the bar code from the original CD or DVD sleeve.
• Vintage clothes
The market for vintage clothing was fairly healthy before the pandemic, but it was also flooded with merchandise after so many people became Marie Kondo followers. Buying vintage clothes is a greener way to shop, but it's also seasonal: Your 1980s light-up reindeer holiday sweater would probably sell better in December than now.
Again, you need to decide whether you just want to get rid of your unwanted clothes (by mailing them in a prepaid bag to places such as ThredUp - thredup.com - and getting cash or credit when the accepted items sell) or downloading an app such Poshmark(poshmark.com) or Mercari (mercari.com), posting your own photos and paying commission and other applicable fees.
Terry Palmer from Colorado has an Etsy shop called Wear it Well, where she has been selling vintage clothes for 10 years. She sells pieces from many eras, which she finds thrifting or at estate sales. But the pandemic has sent her into her own closet for new pieces. She says the 1990s style is in demand right now: turtlenecks, long boyfriend cardigans, blouses with bold floral patterns and shoes from Anne Klein and Nine West. "It's difficult to sell dresses right now with this at-home lifestyle," she says.
Verderame says she has seen concert T-shirts, designer labels and sneakers in demand. Johnson says Etsy sellers have seen interest in 1990s crop tops, tie-dye and vintage handbags. Her tips for listing include being very specific about measurements and details. People love stories, so if you wore the gown to your 1976 prom or bought the shoes on a trip to Capri, Italy, include that.
• Vintage housewares
As isolated citizens get reacquainted with their homes, they are going to be thinking about things they might want to make their spaces more attractive or functional.
So if you have home accessories you want to get rid of, it might be good time to offload them. Champagne glasses, nightstands and vintage garden accessories are moving these days, says Pixie Windsor, owner of Miss Pixie's Furnishings and Whatnot in Washington, D.C. (misspixies.com). She can't go to estate sales and flea markets, so she's digging merchandise out of her storerooms and closets and sharing finds on Instagram now that her bricks-and-mortar shop on 14th Street is closed. (She has started offering curbside pickup.) Johnson says there have been spikes in interest in 1970s homewares, items with bee motifs and porcelain horses.
Patrick Newell of JPN Antiquities (instagram.com/jpn_antiquities) in Warrenton, Virginia, has been in the antiques business for 25 years and started an Etsy shop three years ago. Since he had to close his bricks-and-mortar shop due to the coronavirus, he has been posting more wares on Instagram. He says collecting whimsical paintings and figurines of animals is still a fad: foxes, frogs, cats, dogs, pigs and cows. Blue-and-white china is always a classic seller. Right now, he's selling his collection of old Virginia, Maryland and D.C. history and architecture books (mostly $30 to $35 each) right off the overflowing shelves in his home, much to the delight of his wife.
It's a good time to get rid of unwanted puzzles, for sure, though that's not going to cover your weekly grocery tab. But if you have rare "Star Wars" collectibles in original packaging, you might be able to retire. Sites such as neatstuffcollectibles.com list the comic books, movie memorabilia and sports items they are interested in selling.
With people stuck inside with their kids, Lego sets are in demand. Some sites buy Legos by the pound. Decluttr instructs customers to put bricks into a plastic bag and weigh it, and the company will give a price, usually about $1 per pound.
Although some people will tell you Beanie Babies are a lost cause, Joanna Haber says her Etsy shop, Beanie Babies by Whimsy, is doing okay. Haber is selling off her collection of about 200 of the plush little animals that were a hot collectible in the 1990s. Although most originally sold for $5 to $8, Haber prices most of hers at about $40 - except for her $50,000 "Scorch" purple plush dragon, which draws lookers into her shop. (He has a rare manufacturing defect, she says.) Her advice: If you want to sell Beanies, they should be in mint condition with both hang tag and tush tag, the manufacturer's fabric tag attached to the Beanie's bottom. "Don't list something that your dog got a hold of 20 years ago," she advises. And it helps to write a nice story about the Beanie's life.
Many of us have thought about dumping the family silver. It's hard to know what is the right moment.
But do you even know whether you have sterling silver or silverplate? Many people don't, says Beth Walker, co-founder of Gryphon Estate Silver in North Carolina, who buys and sells silver online. And it makes all the difference for what your candlesticks are worth. Check for the word "sterling" on your piece; the majority of U.S. silver will be stamped that. For other silver markings, check out925-1000.com to learn more about hallmarks and identification, she says.
A plated flatware set for eight or 12 would go for about $75 to $200, she says. A sterling flatware set, depending on pattern, condition, engraving and number of pieces, could bring in $1,000 to $1,800 or more at retail. Tiffany is the most desired of makers, she says, but other popular ones include Reed & Barton, Kirk and Gorham.
Silver-plated items, unless you are into the shabby-chic look, are not much in demand right now, and they are usually better off donated to a thrift shop - when they reopen.
Newell says he found that the market for even beautiful antique silver pieces was not great before the pandemic, and he fears there won't be many people searching for silver services in the age of social isolation.
"It's going to be hard to turn most sterling silver into cash unless you melt it down," he says. "If you are needing to supplement your income or get quick cash to pay the rent, forget it."