Selling Old Stuff

November 3, 2011

(Skip to “The Guides” at the end of the post for actual good advice about selling your used stuff online.)

I’ve been on a real purging binge since early October, particularly since Fall Cleaning Weekend. I read Elaine St. James’s Living the Simple Life and have since started Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s Your Money or Your Life (the 2008 revised edition). Both books just make me want to get rid of everything I own. Forget no new stuff. I am ready to part with all unessential stuff—new, old, what have you.

In this spirit, I decided a couple weeks ago that it was time to unload my tandem kayak once and for all. Since I have no experience with selling on eBay and the boat is too large to ship (economically, anyway), I opted to post an ad on Craigslist.

This wasn’t my first foray into the wilds of Craigslist sales. A few years ago I hawked kombucha starter kits on the site—until I saturated the market (after only two sales). Next I posted ads for a couple twin-size quilts that I hadn’t been able to sell at a garage sale. These ads generated only one response—from a woman who lived a couple hours away and was interested not in actually buying the quilts but in checking out their craftsmanship. I guess the photos and descriptions I posted didn’t make it clear the quilts were store-bought. Ugh.

At any rate, I didn’t have especially high hopes for my kayak ad. And, based on the Craigslist and eBay selling guides I’ve read in the last couple days, my ad didn’t exactly guarantee my chances for a great sale. I did only the minimal necessary research: i.e., I found the description of the kayak on the manufacturer’s website and I read one or two other ads in Craigslist’s boat sales section. I modeled the title of my ad on those of other ads; it included the make and model of the boat, the price, and the location.

Among the other boat listings I didn’t see any ads for comparable kayaks that I could base the price for my kayak on, but I already had a number in mind. While I was preparing for a garage sale a couple years ago, I read something that said you should price all items for sale at around 50 percent of their original cost. That’s more or less the rule of thumb I used. Seemed fair for a boat that is ten years old.

In my ad copy I expanded on the title, and using that write-up on the manufacturer’s website, I outlined the selling points of the boat. I didn’t include a photo, and it turns out I also wasn’t particularly thorough in my description. I forgot to mention the boat’s age and the disrepair of the rudder. But I think I hit the high notes, and I offered the buyer paddles, life jackets, and a cockpit cover at no extra charge.

I received a handful of responses the day the ad went up, but based on my previous Craigslist experiences, I decided to be picky about whom I replied to. Most of the e-mails I received were littered with misspellings, asked for information already addressed in the ad, or were from folks who lived more than an hour away. There was one guy who offered me only 40 percent of my asking price—as if! I wanted to deal with a buyer who was reliable and conscientious (a diamond in the rough in the Craigslist crowd?). I decided to sit on it a few days and kept my fingers crossed for a well-written inquiry.

In the last twenty-four hours of my ad’s seven-day lifespan, I received an e-mail from a woman interested in buying the kayak for her parents for their sixtieth birthdays. She asked if she could see the boat and suggested specific days and times that would be convenient for her to stop by. She even used capitals at the beginnings of sentences and periods at the ends! Overjoyed at this stroke of luck, I responded and set up an appointment to show off the merchandise.

So here’s where I really messed up: I failed to prepare the kayak for sale before my potential buyer came over. When we walked down to the lake, we found that the cockpit cover had come off in one of this summer’s crazy storms, and the boat was full of rainwater and who knows what else. I apologized and assured the woman that I would clean out the kayak if she decided to buy it.

And for whatever reason, she did decide to buy the thing. Amazing. She offered me a reasonable price, gave me a 50-percent deposit in cash to hold the boat, and had her brother come to pick it up (and bring the rest of the moola)—all within five days. It was a ridiculously easy transaction, and I’m a few hundred dollars richer because of it.

As I work through step 2 of the nine-step program outlined in Your Money or Your Life, I will be taking an inventory of my possessions and their worth. Depending on my findings, I could be spending a lot more time on Craigslist and maybe eBay in the next few months. And if so, I’ll start to play by the rules. Below you’ll find the most promising online selling guides I’ve found so far. Happy hawking!

The Guides

Lifehacker’s A Seller’s Guide to Craigslist 
Zen Habit’s A Minimalist’s Guide to eBay: The Least You Need to Know to Get Started
Man vs. Debt’s How I Paid Off $15,000 in 9 Months by Selling My “Stuff” on Ebay
Sell It Now—How to Make Hundreds of Dollars in 37 Minutes