Hello! Please enjoy this article from a reader, Rush Walters, on how he flips garage sale and auction items on eBay as a side hustle to make extra income.
Depending on who you ask, there are pros and cons to being a high school teacher. One con: income, One pro: having summers off.
Both my wife and I are teachers in a small mid-Missouri town. During my first year (2015) as a high school teacher and head boy’s tennis coach I was making a whopping $38,000 a year.
Needless to say, the budget was tight some months.
When I got married in 2018, I thought a second income would be very helpful, but a second salary would not come until 2019. Long story short, my wife is from Bolivia and was not able to legally work for a year until she received her permanent residency status (green card).
Two people living off of one middle-class paycheck, let alone a teacher’s paycheck, was challenging. Thankfully my wife and I were decent at budgeting, and have been using a successful budgeting process since we have been married, but I’ll save that story for another day.
Financially we were fine, but what about the fun money? What about going out to eat with friends during the weekends? What about going to the movies? What about my “want” purchases?
This is when the idea of flipping items on eBay from garage sales & auctions came into full effect.
At the time, I heard about one of my coworkers making a significant amount of money from flipping sports memorabilia on the side. I thought to myself, “I could do that, I don’t have much of a sports background, but I do have an eBay account and I have been to garage sales before.”
So I began waking up Saturday mornings at 6am, grabbing my coffee thermos, heading to the local gas station to purchase the local newspaper, and marking up the classifieds with my pen.
Sifting through the junk at garage sales to find the gold!
I would circle all of the sales that started that day only. Forget the 2-day garage sales that started the day before. I am not saying that you cannot find anything of value at these sales, but everything has already been picked through and all the good stuff has been bought.
Flipping items on eBay quickly became my side hustle! Starting out I sought some advice from my coworker I mentioned earlier.
I mean this guy is really into it, he would travel on the weekends to trade shows in other states and if he was going solo he would sleep in his car to save money. He is frugal, well some people like to call it “cheap,” haha.
Along with advice from him, I honestly learned a lot through experience. Trials & Tribulations. From a good flip I gained money and joy, from a bad flip I learned a lesson. Throughout this process I also learned about the value of my time.
Is it worth spending half a day at auction just for one item that may bring me $20?
I am going to share with you my step by step process for beginners flipping items on eBay. I have made mistakes and I have enjoyed successes, but most importantly is that I learned from my experiences. Experience is one of the best teachers you can find.
How I make extra money reselling items on eBay.
Step 1: Mining for Diamonds
You will be mining for the “diamond(s) in the ruff” as they say.
There are three specific tools you will need before you hit the ground running. Let’s start with the most obvious: cash money. Make an effort to go to the bank the day before you go garage saling.
In the morning when I would buy the newspaper at the gas station, I would ask the register if they could change a $20, but I quickly found out that changing a $20 at the local gas station isn’t always reliable. Some gas stations have enough one dollars bills to spare, some do not. That being said, I have done it many times, but sometimes I am only able to get 10 or 15 one dollar bills at a time.
This limits my bartering power. You are not going to be able to go to the bank in the morning because they are closed and ATMs do not output dollar amounts in increments of 1.
My top tip for cash is to always carry $1 bills on you. Reason being, when you barter you will need to have the ability to pay any amount, not just increments of $5. I try to carry twenty one $1 bills on me at all times when I’m garage saling. If you make a purchase that you have larger bills for, use your large bills. Only use your dollar bills when needed.
Tool #2 is the newspaper. Always buy your local newspaper the day of the sale. Your local gas stations should always have a copy. As soon as you get in your car, pull out the classifieds portion of the paper, throw the rest in your backseat, pull out your pen and start circling all the garage sales that open for the first time that morning. Make a mental note of the times, obviously you want to go to the earliest ones first. Don’t spend forever doing this, you are on a schedule!
Have a game plan, you know the town you live in, take the most strategic route you can. Do not go all the way out to the East side of town then turn right around to go all the way to the West side of town. Go to the East side and hit up all the sales along the way. There isn’t a specific game plan that I can give you for what sales to hit first, only some pointers.
Obviously hit the first ones that are open first. Hit the ones that are in the same vicinity. Hit what you are looking for. I personally like to flip old video games for a number of reasons, so if I see a listing mentioning video games, I will put that sale on the top of my list. The final thing you need to consider is the type of garage sale listing. Here are the top 3 listings you need to know:
Moving Sales – The name the game is in the title: “moving.” These sellers are motivated to move and get rid of their items. Sure, getting some extra money is a plus, but they just want to get rid of items so they can move without having to worry about them. They are motivated to sell and are very open to deals.
Estate Sales – The best of the best in my opinion. These sellers are not moving, but they want to get rid of everything. I would argue that they are more motivated to sell compared to anyone else because they are just cleaning the estate of everything, sometimes for any price.
The normal “Garage Sale” – The most common sale, these sellers are more motivated to make money rather than to get rid of items. They are the hardest to barter with, but have some of the most valued items because they are priced to sell.
Online Garage Sale Ad from my local newspaper
All in all, you can probably find deals at any of these sales, the title of them only helps me prioritize which one I am going to first. If both a garage sale and estate sale begins at 7am you better be dang sure that I am going to the estate sale first.
Some local newspapers have a digital version of the classifieds listed as well as a paper copy. The only benefit I’ve found to this compared to the paper copy is that it helps me make my decision on whether or not I want to go garage selling the next day. Typically my paper posts the day-of classifieds for Saturday online starting at midnight, which makes sense. You will have to do your own research if your paper offers this.
So if I see that the online classifieds are only listing two garage sales for the next morning, chances are I will not go unless the listing description is promising/convincing.
Also, people do post ads on Facebook and they should be considered, but I have found that if it is on Facebook it will be listed in the paper too, at least if it’s worth going to.
As soon as you’re done marking up the classifieds and establishing your game plan, head to your first sale, it never hurts to be early. I am going to repeat this, it never hurts to be early. I stress this because although the listing may say that they open at 7am, I have seen them open at 6:50am. Yes 10mins. makes a difference! A 10min window could be your chance to cash in on a great deal or could be a missed opportunity to cash in on a great deal if you show up at 7:00am. If you are there before it opens, no worries, wait in your car until they open. Yes I know I know, it may seem creepy to wait in your car outside their house but hey it will not be creepy when you’re walking away with great items to flip.
Always make every effort to be first.
You need to be the first person at the sale so that you are the first person to see what they have to offer and the first person to land the best deal. People are vultures out there, they want the best meat first and do not care who is in the way.
Last but not least, you will need your smartphone charged and the eBay app up and running. On the app you are able to conduct a search for previously sold items. This tool is your key for finding the current values of items. This tool is great because it is always updated and always accurate.
You find the “Sold Items” button under the filter when searching for a specific item, as shown in the picture below.
Left image: “Sold Items” button Right image: Sold Items Search Results
Once you have learned more about what sells and what does not, you can move quicker.
Again you are on a schedule, I am not saying you need to run from sale to sale, but if you don’t find any deals at one you are wasting your time just walking around.
Your time could be spent better at another sale, where you could be beating someone else to the punch.
Step 2: Bartering
Here comes the pivotal point. When to say yes, when to say no, what price to ask?
When bartering for objects in the $20 and under range, I most often start by offering half of what they are asking. Example: the item is priced at $10 so I will offer $5. Now I know that 8 out of 10 times I am probably not going to get the item for half off, but it’s a starting point to get the item for at least 25% off the original price. So why do I shoot for half off you might ask?
There is a good chance that they are going to counter your original offer, therefore if you start your offer at 25% off the original price they could counter with 10% off the original price. The seller, as well as the buyer, wants to get that satisfied feeling. You as the buyer are satisfied with getting a deal whereas the seller is still happy with making money although it might be a little lower than what they were asking.
You also need to take in mind that most garage sellers are not out there to make money for a living. Their purpose is to get rid of items they do not want anymore and it is a bonus if they are able to get cash in return, it’s not like they are running a pop-up business. Most of the time they are more motivated to get rid of items compared to just making money.
When you are bartering you also need to establish your stopping point. What is too expensive for you?
The lower the price you purchase your item for, the larger window of opportunity you have to make money. This decision all depends on how much you want to make. The details are in the margins, if you see a video game that sold on eBay for $15 and you bought it for $5 that’s a decent amount of profit.
You tripled your money.
When you look up an item on eBay you need to be as specific as possible, so your search results are as accurate as possible. If you cannot find an exact copy of the item that was sold, find the most closely related item and use it to set your standard for the value of an item and establish what you are willing to pay for it.
Do not get caught up in the excitement of the deal. Yes it’s exciting and yes it’s enjoyable to have success flipping products, but do not let it cloud your judgement or your knowledge. I am going to be honest, money does not care about your feelings.
Stay focused, get what you set out to get for the right price.
When I run into an item that I am still learning about I always ask myself is it worth the risk of X amount of dollars?
Are you comfortable with potentially losing X amount of dollars?
Risk is always involved.
I can remember when I purchased some collectible Harley-Davidson Steins. I did not know too much about them, I saw what they sold for on eBay and then decided to take a risk. The seller gave me a price that I was comfortable with so I purchased two of them. I broke positive, but only made a few bucks for a good amount of work. I am glad I did not lose money, but I lost my time.
My time is valuable and so is yours.
Behind every flip, there is a lesson to be learned.
Before we get into the final step, I am going to share with you lessons I have learned from my faults and successes.
Lessons to be learned
After dropping my wife off at the airport in the city, I figured I might as well hit up some auctions on my way back home.
At the time, I had been to auctions before so I knew the routine, but I had never been to an auction with the goal in mind to flip items. I had a few successful garage sale flips under my belt so I figured auctions are the next level in my side hustle pursuit.
I saw this collection of old American coins, mostly Kennedy half dollars and some steel pennies that were made during the war due to the shortage of copper.
I did the math, if I sold 50 of them at $5 a pop I would make $250 so I’d be comfortable with spending $200 for the lot. I remember that I liked that fact the coins are a small item so they would be easy to mail. I also liked that it was a collection therefore I could build my inventory without having to go to multiple garage sales to keep my eBay listings updated. I bought the coins, but I had to bid against others which drove up the price and my valuation was wrong 😬.
I did not know much about coin collecting and on top of my little knowledge of the items, I did not have good cell phone service in the building so I could not follow my rule of valuing items on eBay.
I knew that there was a market for collectible coins, but I did not take into consideration the specifics of coin collections. Collecting coins and currency is a whole other ball game. Let alone the quality certifications behind them.
Let’s just say I was in the negative on this flip. I believe I sold around $50 – $70 of the around $200 I spent on them. I also bought a collection of lighters that day for around $90 and sold them for around $20 – $30.
On the flip side of things my first big sell was a fishing lure. I bought a small tackle box of fishing lures and gear for $15 at a local garage sale.
When I was evaluating the price of the lures on eBay I was confident that I could make my money back and I was comfortable with risking $15. I had trouble choosing a listing price for the lures, I just did not know what to start them at.
Let me remind you that this was when I was first starting out. I asked my coworker what he thought, he suggested that I start auctioning them at 99 cents. So that’s what I did. That way I could see if they are worth anything and learn from my first attempt at selling lures.
Certain Fishing lures are very collectible.
I sold one for $100!!
This was my first big sale and I was ecstatic! I caught the eBay fever!
My first big flip: collectable fishing lure
Step 3: Quality eBay Listings
I am not going to go through how to list an item step by step by step, but I am going to discuss my top recommendations when listing an item.
The reasoning I’m not going to go through it step by step is because eBay does a great job at outlining what is required for item listings.
I am going to give you what you need to take your listings from a default basic level to a high quality level.
By now if you were using the “sold items” feature on eBay during step 1, you should already have the eBay app installed on your phone. To list items you need to make a free account on eBay. The company does a great job and gives you a straightforward process for setting up an account.
I don’t have much complaints to say about the app, it provides an easy and understandable process for listing items.
Starting out, I would recommend that you focus on the “auction” listing more than anything else. You have the potential to make money and you can learn how expensive people value your specific item.
When you set up a “buy it now” listing, you set a constant price that won’t change.
Whereas buyers in auctions determine the final price; the sky’s the limit.
Another beautiful aspect that auctions offer is that they drive competition! Think about it, say you’re missing the last few presidents in your campaign button collection and president #3 is up for auction. President #3 is hard to come by so you know that you’re going to do whatever it takes to obtain his button……so is the next guy…..and the next guy…..and the next guy.
That means one thing for you: $$$$$$. I think you get the picture.
I believe this is what happened with my $100 fishing lures. Two guys were going at it, to add to their collection.
Now this doesn’t happen with all items, not all items are a part of a collection. The principle of supply and demand rings true and through auctions you are able to witness this process as a seller.
Let’s get into pricing.
Always start your auction at a price below what the previous item sold for. This may seem like common sense, but I have seen plenty of auction listings starting at the price they are valued at. Let me remind you that they have zero bids!
I wonder why. 😐
My rule of thumb is that the lower the starting price, compared to what it is valued at, the higher attention your listing is going to attract.
With a low starting point, potential buyers are going to see it as a deal to be made! I typically start the listing from $10 to sometimes $20 below what it is valued at. Also do not forget to take into account eBay’s 10% listing sellers fee. For most items eBay only takes 10% of your sold price. Here is a detailed list of eBay’s fees.
Once you have an idea for a ballpark price, you are going to want to take quality pictures of your product.
- the back
- the front
- the sides, and
- a bird’s eye view
Display every picture necessary to give potential buyers a full understanding of your item.
Once your pictures are uploaded you need to complete the description of the item, this is often overlooked/partially completed.
Now do not over do it, but your item’s description needs to be specific.
Example, if I am selling a video game that I have never tested on a console and the case is missing the original manual I would put the following in the description:“Untested and missing manual as seen in pictures.”
By saying this, it both informs your buyer and covers your butt. I have had it happen to me a few times where a buyer will purchase a produce that has a defect, that I mentioned in the description and showed pictures of 🙃, complaining that it is broken or not what they originally purchased. I then reference my original posting and they can’t win the argument. I will not refund them their purchase because they did not read the description.
What about reviews from the buyer!?!
If a buyer who is in the wrong attempts to give you a bad review, you can call eBay’s customer service, explain the situation, and ask for it to be taken down. Of course eBay must agree that you are in the right, but if you are right they will back you up.
1 point eBay, 0 points grumpy buyer.
Last tip on listing an item: shipping.
When starting out, always have the buyer pay for shipping. Ebay has a good system in place that calculates how much it will cost per person based upon their location.
All you have to do is enter the item’s weight and dimensions of the box/package that you plan to ship it in. When filling out the shipping portion of your listing, be sure that everything is correct otherwise you will be charged for extra shipping if your items actually cost more than you anticipated.
This is a lesson that I had to learn more than once.
- Establish your game plan for garage selling. Know where and how to mine for gold.
- Barter like it’s nobody’s business! The lower the price the greater the window of opportunity you have to make money.
- Simply follow directions when creating a listing, be thorough with your pictures and description.
Finally and most importantly, learn as you go.
After you do your research and read up on how to flip items on eBay, you need to try it! Experience is one of the best teachers.
I have experienced bad flips and good flips.
The path to success is not perfect otherwise everybody would be doing it.
Author bio: Rush is a Mid-Missouri high school engineering teacher and tennis coach. He and his wife Mia have no kids, only a smart Bernese Mountain dog named Zion. Along with teaching, he runs one blog; Clim & Joe’s. He enjoys exploring, cooking, board games, and time spent with his wife and family.
Are you interested in flipping items for resale? What questions do you have for Rush?