Turn Your Closet Clutter Into Cash: Which Resale Method Is Best for You?

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Clutter in your closet could be money in your pocketWe've all done it at one time or another: overspent on a sexy pair of high heels that are too uncomfortable to wear for more than five minutes, or held on to an armful of designer handbags, unable to part with the "investment" even though all they're doing is gathering dust.

If you're bemoaning your lack of cash and your lack of closet space, try solving both problems in one fell swoop.

How much can you get for those Manolos? What's the best way to turn your lightly loved dresses into dollars? It depends on how much time and effort you're willing to put into clearing out the closets.

Depending on your personality, you may want to choose to sell your goods online, take them to a consignment store, or relegate the work to someone else. Here's how to find the best fit for selling your used duds.

Savings Experiment: Selling Your Junk

If You Love Social Media, Try Copious.com: Since its launch in January 2012, Copious, an online marketplace where individuals can buy and sell clothing and accessories, has become a popular site among style mavens. You can post photos and a description of clothing on your own page and share them with followers on Facebook and Twitter. When someone "likes" an item, notifications are sent back to the person who posted the item, followers of the person who "likes" it, and to all the social media connections of both individuals.

You can sell new and used items, things you've bought or inherited, and items you've created yourself.

• Pros: Free to post any item and simple to create your own page. Best for people who already have plenty of social media experience and can tie in their marketing to other sites.

• Cons: There's a 3.5 percent transaction fee when your item sells plus a 6 percent fee paid by the buyer when they make a purchase. Some sellers offer to pay that 6 percent fee to encourage more sales.

If You Hate to Share Your Profits, Try Craigslist.org: The granddaddy of online sites for finding for anything from an apartment and a roommate to the furniture for that apartment and the job to pay for it, 60 million U.S. users visit craigslist each month. You can advertise for free on Craigslist, but you do have to update your listing consistently to keep it fresh and near the top of the list of items for sale.

• Pros: Free to post any item, simple to use and has a broad reach.

• Cons: You have to do all the work: Create your ad, vet your buyer, deliver or send your items, and deal with any customer dissatisfaction yourself.

If You Want to Eliminate All Hassles, Try an eBay.com Drop-off Service: eBay (EBAY) offers a variety of choices for sellers, including selling on your own or using an eBay Trading Assistant to pick up your items and sell them for you. While eBay has millions of visitors each day and plenty of tips for selling on their site, you may not want to invest the time to hold an auction, check on bids and answer questions from customers. A Trading Assistant -- or drop-off service -- can save you time, but it won't save you money. In addition to the fees you must pay eBay, a Trade Assistant or eBay drop-off business will also charge you a fee.

Pros: Reach millions of potential buyers. If you use a Trade Assistant or drop-off site, all the work is done for you.

Cons: Your first 50 items can be listed for free each month, but you will have to pay a final value fee of 5 percent to 13 percent of the value of your item based on a sliding scale and the nature of what you're selling. For clothes, it's 10 percent up to $50, and then $5 on the first $50 and 8 percent of the remaining value up to $1,000. A Trading Assistant will charge you an additional fee, and usually requires a minimum of $100 in goods to sell.

If You Love Marketing and Have Unusual Items to Sell, Try Etsy.com: Etsy.com, a favorite of collectors of vintage clothing and accessories, crafters, and newbie clothing designers, has 15 million buyers and businesses. You can leverage connections with others by creating groups of people who can see your favorites and "favorite" them to share with their connections. Sellers are responsible for marketing, accepting payments, shipping items, and dealing with any customer dissatisfaction.

Etsy doesn't charge a member fee and only charges 20 cents per item for four months or until the item sells. If you have unusual items to sell, you're in good company, since etsy has a reputation for selling interesting and unique items.

Cons: In addition to dealing with the hassle factor of marketing (posting photos and writing descriptions) and customer service, you'll pay a transaction fee of 3.5 percent per item you sell.

If You Can Handle Rejection, Try Your Local Consignment Store: Most consignment stores don't actually buy your used or vintage clothing and accessories outright; they just provide a marketplace for potential buyers. If your consigned items don't sell within a particular time frame, the price is often marked down; if it still doesn't find a buyer, eventually you'll need to pick up the item or allow the store to donate it.

Pros: The marketing is handled by someone else. All you have to do is drop off your item during the hours when the shop is accepting consignments.

Cons: Although most consignment stores will ask you what you paid for the item, they retain the right to price your item at whatever amount they think the market will bear. There's also no guarantee that the store will accept all -- or any -- of the items you bring in to sell. One man's treasure is another's tacky reject. You also pay to avoid the hassle of selling your own stuff: Consignment stores typically take a big cut of the sales price -- anywhere from 35 percent to 50 percent. Before you opt to consign anything, find out the fee and terms since they vary by store.

Michele Lerner is a contributing writer to The Motley Fool. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend eBay.


Turn Your Closet Clutter Into Cash: Which Resale Method Is Best for You?

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.

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.

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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