For almost a decade, each time he walked into the garage, David Cohen passed by a forgotten item that would eventually yield him a small fortune. Technology offers an easy way to determine if you have such a hidden treasure.
Cohen's item was an original storyboard from the "Peanuts" comic strip, signed by its creator Charles Schulz. "It had been my father's, and I inherited it when he passed away," says Cohen, who lives in Irvine, California. "I stuck it in one of my garage cabinets after he died, and it just sat there for years along with the other junk we had accumulated."
One day while cleaning out the cabinets, Cohen rediscovered the piece. "I figured it had some value, but I wasn't sure how much. At one point, I almost listed it on eBay (EBAY) for 500 bucks." That would have been a big mistake.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%One of Cohen's friends suggested he get an online evaluation from an auction house. The process is simple –- just answer a few questions about your piece and submit some photos. Then you wait a few days or weeks to find out if you have trash or treasure.
He snapped pictures with his smartphone and submitted them to Heritage Auctions via its website. "A few days later, I was contacted by the head of their Dallas office, who told me my piece could possibly sell for up to $10,000. He also offered to list it in one of their upcoming auctions."
On the day of the auction, Cohen sat in his living room and watched the auction live on his laptop, still not convinced that his item would sell -– and if so, certainly not for 10 grand. And he was right. It sold for $22,000, which included the buyer's premium –- the commission the buyer pays to the auction house.
Each auction house has different rules and different names for the concept, also known as an auction estimate. Skinner, for instance, responds only if the item is "a good fit for a Skinner auction and the value exceeds our minimum lot level." Christie's invites only "items that are of a type and value typically sold at Christie's." Other firms will charge for an evaluation. If you want to submit an item for an online auction evaluation, follow these guidelines:
Include as much information as you can. This can aid in establishing provenance –- the history of an item -- crucial to determining authenticity, quality and ultimately price.
Take pictures in a well-lit area. Include closeups of any signatures, markings or distinguishing features.
Although you don't want to bombard an auction house with too many items as once, submit each item to multiple places so you can get the best sense of its value.
Remember that this is just an estimate for auction. If you are trying to document a piece for insurance purposes in the case of theft or damage, you should still have it done in person, either at an auction house or in-home by a qualified appraiser.
Brian Lund's blog offers more on small business, the stock market, investing and the secret to eternal life.
7 Clever Tools to Make the Most of Amazon, eBay and Craigslist
Do You Have a Hidden Treasure in Your Home?
Yes, FatFingers. The idea here is that sometimes people misspell items when they post them on eBay, and these misspelled listings tend to go unseen by most bargain hunters. If you can find them, you can bid on listings that few others have seen, and thus get better prices on them.
Let's say, for instance, that your dad is a big fan of Budweiser, and you want to get him some Bud-branded merchandise for his birthday. Punch in "budweiser" at FatFingers, and it will run a search on various possible misspellings of the word and return some hidden gems: This "budwieser" collectible belt buckle, for instance, was $3.99 and had zero bids with just hours to go. Or perhaps you'd prefer this Budweiser Lizards figurine, which makes the same spelling mistake and likewise had no bids shortly before the auction ended.
The only question here is whether you're comfortable buying from someone who couldn't even be bothered to proofread their listing. Still, eBay's a much better deal when you're not competing against any other bidders, isn't it?
BayCrazy can help you find items that have no bids (and are thus available at really good prices), but unlike FatFingers, it doesn't limit you to items that got overlooked because the seller can't spell. Its "Ending Now" search tool lets you see all auctions that are about end without bids, giving you the cream of the unwanted crop. You can also refine your search by category, put in a search term, and even put in the most money you're willing to spend.
That last bit is crucial: If you've just got a few bucks in your pocket, you can quickly see which cheap items you can get. I put in a limit of $5 and selected the "books" category, immediately turning up a wealth of cookbooks and paperbacks; all of them were about to end bidding, many of them at a dollar or less. It's like shopping a giant flea market.
And it doesn't stop there: The site offers other unusual ways to hunt the site, including a search tool that lets you see auctions scheduled to end in the dead of night -- thus allowing you to make a last-minute bid while most of your competition is asleep. There's also a "Local Bargains" section that limits your search to sellers in the area, allowing you to pick items up in person instead of paying for shipping.
Craigslist is a great way to find second-hand goods in your area, from used cars to bookshelves. The problem is that merchandise tends to go on a first-come, first-serve basis: If you're not there within a few hours of something being posted, someone else will snatch it up.
You could spend all day browsing Craigslist and running a search every 20 minutes for the kitchen table you need for your new apartment. Or you could just have NotiCraig do it for you.
NotiCraig, which we discovered this week via Lifehacker, allows you to punch in your city, price range, keywords, and email address. And any time a posting that matches those terms go up -- a kitchen table under $100, for instance -- you'll immediately get an email alert so that you can be the first to contact the poster. Depending on how broad the search terms you use are, you might find yourself with an inbox full of largely irrelevant posts, so it might help to segregate these alerts in a separate inbox (and then cancel the alert as soon as you find what you were looking for).
For more advanced users, Lifehacker also recommends IFTTT (If This, Then That), which lets you set up alerts for more complicated situations or use one that someone else has created. It can be used for deals (for instance, "send me an email if there is a deal on iTunes gift cards"), but it can also be used for other actions involving a host of websites, like texting you the weather report every morning.
CamelCamelCamel is in the business of tracking the numerous price fluctuations of items on Amazon. It's a good idea to check it before you buy: You might find that the item is usually cheaper but is currently in the midst of a temporary price spike, in which case you might consider holding off.
But it's also got alerts, which is great for shoppers who simply refuse to go above a certain price. Punch in the item and your target price, and as soon as it falls within your price range, you'll get an alert. Amazon isn't first-come, first-serve like Craigslist is, but price drops on the site often last for a fairly limited time. (Consider, for instance, its recent pricing war with Overstock.) Get one of these alerts set up, and you can take advantage in the brief window you have.
So you set up your alert on that video game, and today you finally got an email informing you that it had dropped below your $30 threshold.
But wait! It went all the way down to $23.90. And since Amazon's free-shipping threshold is $25, that means that you'll have to pay a $4 for shipping. You're faced with the bizarre situation of wishing that the product was a little more expensive so that you could get it for less.
Now there's an easy solution: FillerItem.com helps you find small, cheap items to get you to the free-shipping cutoff. Put in how many dollars or cents short of $25 your cart is, and it will return a list of "filler items" of that price or higher. In this case, we're only $1.10 short, and FillerItem offers a list of a hundreds of tiny items. Many, you probably don't need, like pipe adapters and screws; for a buck and change, you could add one to your cart and then throw it away.
But if you want something you could use, FillerItem puts in bold any item in your price range that's popular on Amazon. For $1.18, for instance, you can get a 12-pack of Bic pens. So, throw in a box of pens, get your total to $25.08, and save a few bucks on shipping.
We mentioned this one in our roundup of tools that guarantee the lowest price, but it bears mentioning again here. FreePriceAlerts is a browser plug-in -- a small program that installs in the background of any major web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari). It's silent until you get onto a product page on an e-commerce site.
That's when it springs into action: It appears in the corner of your screen to tell you whether the site you're on really has the lowest possible price. Often it will find another site -- perhaps one you hadn't even heard of -- that has the same product for a lower price, which it displays for you.
As we noted in January, the tool doesn't account for shipping charges. In the case of that pack of Bic pens, the alerts popped up to tell me that I could save a whole 30 cents by buying the same pack of pens from one of Amazon's third-party marketplace sellers ... which would charge me $5 to ship the pack of pens. When something like this happens -- or when it recommends a merchants that you haven't heard of and don't trust -- you can easily hide the alert.
But it's nice to have around to remind you to shop around, and it can save you some serious dough by turning up better offers that you may not have known about. And like every other tool on this list, it's totally free.