Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Online Markets Take The Yard Out of Sales

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By Louisa Jaggar
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, June 5, 2008; H04

The truly 21st-century yard sale is not taking place on driveways or a patch of lawn in front of a house. It's being held on Craigslist, eBay and other online marketplaces. These sites, especially eBay, expand a seller's potential customer base astronomically and increase the odds that one person's junk becomes someone else's treasure. What's more, rain or shine, the Internet sale goes on.

"Craigslist is my top choice for selling big bulky items, such as sofas and dining room sets, because the cost of shipping big items on eBay can be exorbitant. EBay is perfect for selling small items, brand names and collectibles," says Jennifer Hearn of Bethesda, who has sold an entire house, down to the windows and the kitchen sink, using Craigslist and eBay.

Even people with relatively little Web experience find these sites straightforward to navigate. The only requirements are having something worth selling (and on Craigslist and eBay, even your uncle's stuffed wildebeest head can sell), access to a digital camera and a computer.

Whatever online site you use, consider this basic advice:

· Before you post something for sale, research the going rate for similar items. "No matter what or where you are selling online, the best place to find current prices is eBay's 'completed listings,' " says Nicholas Kawczynski, a 19-year-old college student from Gaithersburg who is setting up his own online store.

· Sell to your audience. These sites are attractive to real bargain hunters, so they're probably not the place to try selling an original Picasso.

· Make your listing descriptive but brief, and use a large, easily readable type font. Be sure to include color, dimensions and condition of your items.

· Always use photos! They're the No. 1 online selling tool.

Timing is key. Many items sell year-round, but some are seasonal. Sell Halloween costumes in September and October, Christmas decorations after Thanksgiving, and lawn furniture in early spring. If you hurry, you might still catch buyer interest in that old bicycle.

EBay Tips

Courtney Carlson, mother of two and an eBay enthusiast, has experienced firsthand how eBay expands a seller's audience, even for the quirkiest items. "I had a Holly Hobbie quilt that my grandmother sewed for me when I was a little girl. I put it on eBay for $5 just to get rid of it, but, to my great surprise, five people bid on it. Those five Holly Hobbie lovers bid my price up to $59! Shows how huge the universe of eBay buyers really is."

EBay is set up to be user-friendly, walking you through steps on how to upload pictures, enter text and calculate shipping. Registration is free, then eBay charges approximately 4 to 8 percent of the selling price. A dining room set that sells for $500 might cost you about $20 to sell.

· There are two basic types of sales: auction format and a fixed-price, buy-it-now listing. Auction means you set a minimum bid and buyers bid over a set time period. It makes sense to start the bidding low unless your item is valuable. A low price brings more viewers, which translates to more bidders.

· Describe the condition of your item clearly and accurately, including a list of any accessories. Indicate if the item is damaged or is missing components. The eBay site includes a feedback forum, where members can rate sellers and their items, so be honest about what you're selling. Sellers with a high rating attract more customers.

· Check your auction listing every day. Potential bidders often post questions about the items, and if you don't answer quickly they might drift away.

· The buyer pays shipping costs, but the seller is required to estimate what that cost will be. If you underestimate the cost, you pay the difference.

· Indicate that you accept only PayPal for payment. PayPal is a secure, fast way to send or receive money online. PayPal charges approximately 2.9 percent of the selling price and is worth every penny to protect you against scams.

· Once payment is received, pack the item carefully and ship the next day. If an item arrives broken or damaged, the buyer can file a claim with eBay and PayPal to get his money back.

Craigslist Tips

In 1995, Craig Newmark started a free e-mail list announcing events going on around San Francisco. Now the widely known Craigslist has spread to more than 500 sites worldwide and includes job, real estate and classified ads. For the most part, Craigslist sales are local and person-to-person.

Go to and look under the For Sale category for the types of items you want to sell. Craigslist posts your listing with up to four pictures for seven days at no charge.

When you post your items:

· Craigslist does not offer PayPal on its site, so it is best to indicate that you take only cash, unless you already have a PayPal account.

· Do not include your address or phone number. Request that interested buyers e-mail you their names and phone numbers so you can call and schedule a time for them to view your item.

· Make it clear on your listing that the buyer is responsible for pickup.

One More Alternative

If this seems like too much time and effort, there is another option: Call Drop and Ship at 301-951-0771 or visit This online consign- ment store takes your yard sale and puts it on eBay for you. Most items for consignment are dropped off at the Drop and Ship shop in Bethesda. (For larger items, shop personnel will come to your house.)

Drop and Ship will take the photos, write the listings, check them daily, collect payment, ship out the item and send you a check. The only condition is that each item must have an estimated selling potential of at least $100.

Davis Kiyonaga, the store owner, is helpful with tips and advice and, as a bonus, promises to examine your item and provide an estimated eBay market price.

Drop and Ship typically uses eBay's auction format and will recommend a starting price for each item. You always have the option, though, to set your own minimum. Drop and Ship charges 30 percent for items that sell for less than $1,000; the percentage goes down as the "sold" price goes up.