10 Items in Your Attic You Can Turn into Cash
Moving their parents to a new home was challenging enough for Jennifer Walter and Kristin Kuehner. But they also had to sort through dishes, glassware and furniture that would not fit in the new home. “Lots of tools. Dad has duplicates of everything out here,” said Jennifer, who, with her sister, organized items for a three-day yard sale. They did not have time to do much research. They found dolls in the attic and sold them all to a single buyer on the first day. “It was a ‘get it out of here’ deal,” said Jennifer.
A “get it out of here” deal can be a boon to the buyer but a loss for the seller. John Saller has been a Milwaukee-based eBay seller since 1997. He often picks through yard sales and thrift shops for items, some of which he sells online. Even the tiniest of items can be worth a lot. He once bought a bird’s nest salt and pepper shaker set for pennies at a yard sale. He sold it for $250 on his BuyOldStuff eBay site.
Saller advises doing research on your items, which includes asking for expert appraisals and searching eBay for “completed sales.” That’s where you will find what an item similar to yours actually sold for, not what a dealer originally asked for it.
Getting to know an item’s value is the first step. After that, make a choice on how to get it sold. Saller says there are three ways to do it: Sell it outright at a yard sale; go online to list it on Craig’s List, eBay or other forums; or put it with a consigner who will feature your items in a shop and take a cut of the profits when it sells.
Victoria Gerard is the owner of Ivana’s Trunk consignment store. She also manages estate sales for families in transition. Gerard has seen how items in the attic can turn into money makers. Gerard, Saller and other experts agree these 10 items are hot on the resale market:
1. Costume jewelry. Costume jewelry from the early 1900s to the 1970s can do well in resale. It doesn’t have to have a brand name like Trifari or Eisenberg. Fine jewelry, such as sterling silver and gold, is something different entirely, explained Gerard. If you are not sure what you have, take it to a reputable jeweler or a trusted reseller and ask for an estimate.
2. Antique guns, military items. You may not know whether the gun in Grandpa’s trunk is a valuable Civil War rifle, but someone who knows guns could determine that and suggest a price, even line up potential buyers. Military items are sought after by collectors, said Saller, “but not every uniform is worth something.” It helps to have a picture of Grandpa wearing the uniform and records that connect it to a specific war or battle.
3. Sterling silver. Aunt Louise’s tarnished coffee set has value. So do silver serving pieces. Collectors of sterling silver are always looking, says Gerard, but so are shoppers who want nice pieces for a holiday dinner party. Be sure to know what is silver and what is simply silver plate. “Silver plate will not cut it. There is no value to that,” said Gerard.
4. Artwork. Artwork should be appraised by a professional to determine value. Prints, paintings and art glass sell well because, according to Gerard, they can give a room a fairly easy facelift.
5. Antique furniture, Persian rugs. A highboy that dates to colonial times is desirable; your mother’s laminated coffee table is likely not. Old Persian rugs retain value and do not have to be in good condition, but be realistic about price when furniture is not in good shape.
6. Old toys, collectibles. The older, the better. Do you have the original box? That can increase the value. Tin toys and old baseball cards are still desirable. Trains were popular once, but not so much anymore, explained Saller, “The younger generation is not as excited about them because they didn’t grow up riding trains.”
7. Advertising items. Advertising items include a sign from an old store or salesman samples. Beer signs are popular. Collectors like old neon and old product advertisements that light up or feature animation.
8. Tools. Often, shoppers are looking to supplement their own workshops. Some collectors buy old wooden-handled tools. Take time to clean them. Provide an electrical outlet so buyers can plug in power tools to check if they work.
9. Records (LPs) and vintage audio equipment. Turntables, receivers, albums—all these things will attract audiophiles who like the sound of a record. Saller looks for these items at rummage sales and thrift stores. “If something isn’t working, it’s not necessarily a deal killer. It depends on what the repair will cost in time and money,” he said.
10. One-of-a-kind items. Certain unique items can stop a shopper in her tracks. Vintage holiday ornaments may bring good prices. “People hang on to them,” said Gerard, “so you don’t see the really old ones too often.” Old fur coats can earn hundreds of dollars in a clothing resale shop. They should be in good condition and preferably come from a non-smoking home (fur can retain the smell of cigarette smoke).
Those who buy and sell old items say do your research, and price your items with an eye to condition. If you wish to use a consignment store, look for one that has good reviews online or one that is recommended by friends. You could turn to the Web, but Saller warns that your up-front investment may trim your profits. “You may pay up to 20 percent of an item’s value to EBay for putting your item up. And then you still have all the time you invested to take a picture, list it, answer questions, box it and send it,” he explained. “Not for the faint of heart.” But if you find the right items, it could be worth your time.