Sep 13

Note from Joe – following is a guest post from one of my readers and fellow Usenet group poster, Elle. (Do you know what Usenet is or am I really showing my age?) Thanks, Elle!

Joe has run a column or two on ‘accumulating stuff.’ I ran into this in particular with two elderly relatives in the last ten years. Both relatives went into nursing homes. Their families were left with the responsibility of taking care of their belongings. Many of the relatives’ possessions were not wanted by anyone in the family. Yet the possessions had value.

Estate sales can take away much of the stress of this process. But the drawback to an estate sale is that commissions run on the order of 40%. For those wanting to retain more of the value of the goods, a low-labor alternative to an estate sale may be eBay.

Prior to this past June I had been using eBay exclusively for small purchases such as hard-to-find books, OEM car parts, swimsuits, repair parts for appliances, DVDs and more. Then in June I suddenly needed to dispose of some sterling silverware. I began doing some research. With trepidation I set up an eBay seller’s account for the first time and put some of the silverware up for auction.

I was surprised at how easy setting up a seller’s account is. Follow the prompts at If you do not already have a paypal account, then follow the prompts for paypal as well. When I started selling a few months ago, there were three fees: a listing fee (which sometimes is waived but otherwise runs around a dollar); a final sale fee (presently 9%); and paypal fees (presently 3% + 30 cents). There is no charge until you put something up for sale. In some cases, there is no charge until there is a sale. Also, eBay has recently had promotions where the listing fee for many items is waived.

The items you want to sell preferably are easily mail-able, so smaller is better. With a scale and tape measure you can use’s online postage calculator for good estimates. The postage calculator was invaluable and completely accurate for all my shipping costs. When posting the cost of shipping, always add one to a few dollars more than what the USPS calculator gives, to cover the cost of
packing supplies. Mailing envelopes and bubble wrap costs do add up quickly. I try to keep shipping costs low so as to increase the chance of a sale. When I am buying something on eBay, I am aware I am always a little turned off by a shipping charge clearly higher than the actual cost of shipping and supplies.

For fragile items I see eBay sellers using “standard flat rate shipping.” I have an antique clock of my relative’s that I hope to sell on eBay for a few hundred dollars. I see similar ones on eBay being offered for a shipping cost of about $20.

A friend also selling a relative’s belongings counseled me to keep my starting prices low. Try a starting price of 99 cents for items you expect to go for between $10 and $50. Try $9.99 for items you expect to fetch more than $50. Auctions seem to get more attention and better results than fixed price items, as long as the starting price of the auction is low. At auction most of the time (but not always), the item gets bid up to a reasonable value. I tried starting at higher prices and often found little-to-no interest (based on the number of views), and always no sale. All the items I successfully sold on eBay started at prices much lower than their final auctioned price.

Watching one’s auctions and the market at work is fun. About half the items I have sold were bid up substantially in the last minute.

In addition to estate sale items, I had some other items taking up space in my house. I was delighted to find them good homes using Ebay. The alternative was the city dump, which by itself costs money.

One peculiarity to me was how long it took buyers to pay. One buyer took almost three days. (I sent a reminder late on day 2, and the next day payment was made.) On average people took about half-a-day to pay. I advise waiting at least two days before contacting the buyer with a reminder. When I was heading near the post office anyway, I sent an invoice shortly after a sale saying if payment is made by such-and-such time, then I can have the item in the mail by afternoon.

I always included a hand-written thank you note. After dropping an item off at the post office, I let the buyer know I have shipped the item, so he or she can look for it in the mail.

The internet has many how-to sites on selling on Ebay. Some are a bit outdated, since Ebay’s policies do change over time. One interesting caveat is there is a wide difference of opinion on when to have one’s auction end. Some say on the weekends. Some say on Wednesday early evening California time. And so on. I am doubtful it makes too much difference for most items.

When I first started selling on Ebay, I decided I was taking a calculated risk. I also reasoned that the education I was getting from this process might offset any potentially small loss I might take. I have sold six items now. All but one reached a price that beat the price I would have obtained through other resources (scrap silver recycler; automotive junkyard; used book resale store). After six weeks of selling on Ebay, I have come to think of it as a high-tech garage sale and recycler. Overall I have come out ahead both in education and dollars.


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