Monday, August 27, 2012

A philosophical question

I ran into an acquaintance this weekend, and he related a story to me about a fellow thrifter finding a genuine Rolex watch in small bag of assorted watches, which was purchased for $1 at a church yard sale.  

It sold on eBay for $1900.

After hearing about the fantastic find and sale, I was more than a bit jealous.  After all, it’s our business to buy low and sell high, and we all have mortgages to pay, tuitions to cover, and Disney trips to fund, and most of us can only dream about uncovering such a treasure.

Yet, something was bothering me, from a philosophical standpoint. Given the age of the watch, I’ll go out on a limb and say that it was donated by a senior citizen, either directly, or through an estate, and neither of which would have parted with it if they had known its value.  Of course, that’s true at any sale, but we aren’t talking about nickel and dime items.  Two grand is a lot money, and, for most people, could make a difference in their quality of life, at least in the short term.

So, the question I kept asking myself is at what point does our hobby/business/obsession become less about thrifting, and more about taking advantage of people’s ignorance and/or misfortune?  Is there a monetary value of a find that should make us stop, assess the situation, and be a good Samaritan, or should we always take the money and run, so to speak, regardless of the circumstances?  

Does our conscience have a price?

Admittedly, I don’t have all the answers, and, honestly, like most of you, I probably would have kept and sold the watch for the almost obscene profit. By asking the questions, though, I’d like to think that I haven’t quite become so jaded that I wouldn’t at least consider the implications of my gain vs. the donor’s loss. 

Elsewhere in my little corner of the thrifting world, Saturday again was hit and miss.  I did find five USB bar code scanners for $20; a family of Care Bears; several new games and puzzles; and assorted books and CDs.  I also had to work to make a nickel by buying the individual Twilight books for $.25 each to sell as a lot.

On a happier note, Ella returned on Sunday.  Despite enjoying two months of bachelorhood, it’s good to have her home.

Plus, she brought me a plush ALF to sell.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thrifting can be a depressing activity

The older I get, the less I like getting up early on Saturdays to attend yard sales. There just has to be a better way.    However, until I figure that out, I’m stuck being an early bird going after the proverbial worm.

On Saturday, the worms were few and far between, but I found myself driving to a 6 a.m. sale, arriving about 5:30 a.m. I had hoped that since it was at a church, it would be inside, but those hopes were dashed as I drove up and saw a few people setting up tables under the romantic glow of car headlights.

I sat in my car for a bit, not wanting to get in their way, but was invited to start perusing their wares, even though most everything was still in boxes.  I accepted their kind offer, but found it hard to see anything, let alone anything of value.  Luckily, another set of car headlights further illuminated the area, and I was able pick up a few items.  No one wanted to take ownership of pricing, though, except for an eight-year old girl, who seemed to be doing most of work anyway.  I actually had to negotiate with her on a couple of items; she was one smart cookie.

Unfortunately, that was the highlight of my day.  I attended a few more sales as the morning progressed, finding a few items, but generally wasting my time and gas. 

What would become my last sale of the day was at a storage unit, but it was being packed up as I arrived, even though it was only 10:15, and the ad said it would last until 1 p.m.  I got out of my car anyway, but the couple running the sale said they had to leave because they had to take their dog to the vet to be “put down.”  They pointed to the open passenger side door of their car, and I saw a small white dog sitting on a pillow, panting.  Apparently, the 10-year-old dog was suffering from congestive heart failure, had almost died twice that morning, and was obviously in distress.  After asking permission, I walked over to the dog, and gently rubbed its head and back.  Despite its ragged panting, the little dog raised its head, and with bright eyes, seemed grateful for the attention.  I kept the little pooch company until its owners were ready to leave.

I really didn’t feel like going to any more sales after that, so I went home, gave my dogs a couple of bites of cheese as a treat, and dreaded the day when I might have to make the same decision for one or both of my dogs.

I spent the rest of Saturday listing items on eBay and Amazon.  Sales had been strong both Friday and Saturday, and I woke up Sunday morning with about 33 items to pack.  After getting everything packed, I loaded the car and headed to the post office.  I never use their Automated Postal Center, but I love their oversized dropbox.  I dragged the largest of my totes full of packages inside, but after dropping a few in, the door wouldn’t open anymore.  Apparently, my packages had filled it up.  Great, just great.  The post office rarely empties the box, except at the officially listed pickup times, so I knew I would have to carry the rest of my packages inside the post office on Monday, and pretty much waste my lunch hour.

Lugging my packages back to my car, I decided to head over to the local Goodwill, just for grins.  To my surprise, I actually found a few books and a new in package game.  Taking my loot to the register, I got my favorite clerk, I’ll call her Nancy, who always has a tale of woe.  Nancy, a petite dirty blonde, appears to be in her late 40s, maybe early 50s, and it’s a cliché, but you can almost see years of bad breaks and/or bad decisions on her face.  I asked her how she was doing, and she sort of shook her head, and looked as if she was wearing the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Tallying my purchases, she told me that her sister suffered a stroke last week, and that she was exhausted from trying to work and provide care-giver support while her sister recuperated.  While she detailed her ordeal, I thought that if this woman didn’t have bad luck, she’d have no luck at all.  A few weeks ago, her divorce from her husband was finalized, and someone poisoned her two dogs.  She was more upset about the dogs.  Before that, her grandmother was in the hospital in serious condition.  Before that, she was hobbling around the cashier stand, suffering from chronic back pain.  For whatever reason, this woman seems to attract bad karma.

As always, I listened politely, sympathized with her, wished her well, and left, not wanting to hold up the line.  I think she enjoys venting for a few minutes to a semi-stranger (me), but I suspect that if circumstances warranted it, she would talk for hours about her troubles. 

Sunday was pretty much shot after that, so I decided to begin “Operation Straighten the House Before Ella Comes Home.”  I’ve got a week to de-clutter the house before Ella returns next Sunday.  It’s not going to be fun.

How was your weekend?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Exhausting weekend - One week later

Last week, I posted about my bulk buy of media at an estate sale.  It included many boxes of books, new DVDs, new computer/video games, and CDs.  I paid $910 (initial scouting plus estate buyout), and drove back and forth between my house and Macon (about 20 miles) three times to get it all home.

After working all last week, and most of this weekend, on listing, I decided to take a look at my progress, and to see if I am even close to getting my money back out of the deal. 

I have listed all the sellable books on Amazon; non-sellable books, worth less than $1, have been donated.  I also have reserved two boxes of low-ranked books for Amazon’s FBA program, and I have several boxes of books, and a Star Trek book collection, that will be listed on eBay as sets.  Neither the FBA nor eBay books are included in my tally.  I also have listed all the CDs, and a tote full of video games.

So far, I’ve added … drum roll please … 321 items to my inventory, of which 56 items have sold for $506 (plus shipping allocation).  So, in a week’s time, after expenses, I have made about half my money back.

The other 265 items have a combined listing price of $3024.

I still need to list all the new DVDs and the rest of the new computer games, but Ella, who is coming home from Ohio on August 26, has decreed that she wants to see the DVDs before I sell them.  I guesstimate, though, that the DVDs and games will bring in at least another $1000, probably more.

I write this not to brag, but to point out the benefits of buying in bulk.  I’ve been fortunate enough on several occasions to purchase collections, including 500+ classical music CDs, a Christian bookstore closeout, and, of course this one.  I’ve also missed out on a few because I was too timid to pull the trigger on the sale.

Granted, initial monetary outlays can be huge, by thrifting standards, and your positive return on investment can be measured in months or years, as opposed to weeks. 

However, the benefits, both immediate (initial bump in sales) and long-term (I’m still selling classical CDs) can help keep your bottom line steady as opposed to the sales slumps/spikes that we’ve all come to know and hate.

Monday, August 6, 2012

An exhausting weekend

Saturday started out so innocently.  All I wanted to do was hit a few yard sales, pick up a little inventory, and come back home to catch up on my listing.  Granted, there were quite a few sales on my morning’s agenda, including a church sale, but I was predicting an easy, hopefully productive, day.

However, it was this sale that put a kabash on my best-laid plans:

Estate sale Saturday 8/4/12 8AM – 12PM Furniture, electronics, thousands of books, hundreds of DVDs and music CDs, computer games. Lots of new items in the box.

I arrived early, about 7:30, and the sale was already crowded.  Tables full of books were lined up and down the driveway, with some in the yard as well.  Boxes of books had been shoved under some of the tables.  Two CD stands were full of CDs, and there were totes full of new, in shrink-wrap DVDs.  Did I mention the boxes of new computer games?

Taking a deep breath, I went to work with my scanner, and soon filled a box, then another box, then another box, and finally a fourth box.  The folks in charge had been adding up my purchases per box, and I told them when I reached $110 (all the money I had) to let me know.  My fourth box took me over the top, and I had to stop.  I hadn’t even scratched the surface of the DVDs, CDs, and software, though.

As a side note, a good Samaritan picked up a vintage Commodore computer that had a $10 price tag, and handed it to the proprietors of the sale, saying they should put it on eBay for lots more money.  Thanks a lot, I mentally said.

Upon paying my tab, I asked the proprietors what they were going to do with the remaining media at the end of the day.  They said that they would take offers for the lot, or give it to the Salvation Army.  I made it clear that I was interested in purchasing it, and they told me to come back at noon.

From there, I had to stop for more money, then decided to visit the church sale, and head home to unload the car.  I picked up a few things at the church, but I already was thinking ahead to noon.   There were no other dealers at the sale while I was there, so there was a pretty good chance that most of the “good stuff” would be left.

I arrived shortly before noon, and the proprietors of the sale began negotiating with me for the remainder of the media.   They wanted me to make an offer.  I hate it when that happens.  I opened the bidding at $200, which was low, and they knew it.  They countered at $500, but then started actually counting the remaining DVDs and games, and it ballooned to $1200. I balked at that, and they dropped the price to $850.  I asked how much for just the DVDs, CDs, and video games, since I had been through the books, and got all of the good ones earlier in the day.  They said $600, but I was greedy, and countered with $800 for the whole lot.  After some discussions, they accepted.

They wouldn’t accept a check, so I had to run to the bank.  By the time I got back, they were in the process of boxing up everything, and moving it to the end of the driveway to load in my moving van.  Of course, the only problem is that I didn’t have a moving van, only a Honda CR-V.  So, we loaded the CR-V to the brim, and I took off for home to unload.  I was back in an hour (20 minutes home, 20 minutes to unload, 20 minutes to return) for the second load.  Same process, and one hour later, I was back for the third load, which filled the car without an inch to spare.

I’m fairly certain the car needs new struts now.

Any progress that I had made clearing out our Great Room/Warehouse while Ella was away was lost in the span of a single afternoon.  Two loads actually went into the house, and the last load went to my storage unit.   My laundry room was full, my kitchen was full, and the Great Room/Warehouse, while not full, soon would be.

I was exhausted by that time, but I still needed to sort the books, so I sat on the kitchen floor with my scanner, and checked every book, separating the chaff from the wheat, so to speak. As expected, most of the books weren’t worth much, and I boxed up all the books to be donated (six boxes), put books to be listed in totes, and put aside books that I actually wanted to read.

On another side note, during loading at the estate sale, I had learned that the former owner of the media was only 47 years old when he died.  His tastes in books ranged from religion to science fiction. In fact, I got four or five big boxes of Star Trek books, plus a small box of trading cards, in the deal.

After going through the books, I decided to add up just the new DVDs and computer games to see if they were worth as much as I hoped they were.  So, I scanned each one, and kept a running tally in my head. I lost track after $2500.

On Sunday, I started listing the bounty from the day before, but wanted to differentiate between my first haul $110 and my second haul $800.  So, I listed just the first haul, which totaled just over $1000.  Later, I listed all the CDs from the second haul, and decided to call it a day.

I plan to send most of the new DVDs and computer games to Amazon (FBA) to sell for me. I’m not really sure what I will do with all the Star Trek books.   The Salvation Army and/or Friends of the Library will get the cast-off books.  I also separated two copier-paper sized boxes of nice religious books, which aren’t worth anything online, but probably would mean something to a nursing home or a small church school, etc.  I am researching that.

Oh, by the way, the Commodore computer was in the garage as we were negotiating a price, and I asked if I could look at it.  They agreed, and I discovered that the computer was in the box, but the power cord was not. Obviously, the value of the computer plummeted at that point.  I relayed the bad news to the proprietors, and they later asked me how much I would offer for the computer.  I politely declined.

So, obviously, my weekend was consumed from approximately 7:30 a.m. Saturday to late Sunday evening.  No one can say that I don't put my heart and soul into this business.

How was your weekend?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pushy buyers

Since I’ve started selling online, I’ve been blessed with some wonderful customers, most of whom buy my product, then ride off into the sunset without a word spoken between us.  Amazon and eBay consider no communication between buyer and seller a good thing, and so do I.

Over the weekend, though, a pushy potential buyer happened upon my auction for a large lot of action figures.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, she bid, became the high bidder, THEN emailed me to ask if I would accept a cashier’s check.   My listing specifically said PayPal only, and I said as much in my email to her.

Her return email:

“i did not get your message in time and I won the bid. it would have to be casheirs check or money order. i am so sorry but i had paypal and it was hacked into and i will not get another one.”

OK, first off, she hadn’t “won the bid,” since there was still a day left on the auction.  Secondly, no, it wouldn’t have been a cashier’s check or money order because I don’t accept those kinds of payment. 

I then told her, via email, that she could either retract her bid, or if she won, she could cancel the sale.

I can empathize with her PayPal story, but that doesn’t give her any leeway to change the terms of my auction.

Thankfully, I didn’t hear back from her, and she didn’t “win the bid.”  Had she won, and not been allowed to use her preferred method payment, I probably would have received a negative feedback.  After the auction, I added her to my blocked bidders list.

On a totally unrelated subject, I’ve been busy this week trying to clear out our Great Room/”Warehouse” before Ella returns from Ohio later this month.  It’s a mess (a good mess, but still a mess), and one of my friends suggested that I would be a prime candidate for the TV show “Hoarders.”  She was kidding, I think.  However, as a precaution, I don’t answer any phone calls from the Hollywood area code.