No sooner did I put out my cry to the universe — “Help! I have to clear out my elderly parents’ stuffed-full house and I don’t know what to do with it all!” — than it answered.
My super-second-hand-sales-savvy friend Aaron LaPedis flew into town.
The author of “Garage Sale Millionaire” (Wiley) had come to Orlando to visit theme parks with his wife and 3-year-old son. I took it as a sign. Divine deliverance. LaPedis graciously interrupted his adventures at The Happiest Place on Earth, and squeezed in coffee with this neurotic home columnist between visits to Sea World and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
He swore he didn’t mind listening to me blubber about my home-life problems when he could be meeting Disney princesses at Epcot. That’s the kind of guy he is.
What’s more, the garage-sale guru slash art-gallery owner is just as at home at a high-end antiques auction as at a low-end yard sale. The Donald Trump describes him this way: “Aaron sees opportunities that others can’t.”
I mean, the guy buys abandoned, unopened storage lockers (ones in better ZIP codes) for a flat fee. Like buying an oyster from a pearl diver, he never knows what’s inside. Dead bodies? A Steinway Baby Grand? He takes what he gets – bust or bonanza — then sells it.
“But how do you know what to sell where, and for how much?” I ask. This is the skill set I need as I sift through mom’s old jewelry, dad’s tools, their furniture, art, dishes, collections, and the random detritus that once meant something – if only to them.
May the force be with me.
“So you want to liquidate,” he said, summing up my 15-minute rant.
Like men often do, he changed everything in a word.
“That’s it!” I said. “I’ve been thinking about this all wrong! I’m looking at this job as disassembling my parents’ past! As writing the final chapter to a bygone era! When I’m just liquidating! Selling assets that can help pay for their long-term assisted living.”
Light bulbs were flashing in my brain like paparazzi. The pure obviousness was dawning on me. “I’m being sentimental when I need to be practical! Oh, Aaron! You’ve helped me reframe everything!”
He looked at me as if I needed a tranquilizer, and nodded politely.
“A lot of people are turning stuff they don’t want into cash right now, for other reasons,” he said. “They see the bills coming in from Christmas, and feel that credit-card hangover.”
“I’m liquidating, not erasing history!”
More polite nodding, then LaPedis offered me this golden advice on what to sell where, which you, too, can use whether emptying a loved one’s home, downsizing, or trying to get ahead of the bills:
• Garage sales. Host one to sell household stuff under $100: garden tools, baby furniture, kitchen ware, clothes, “stuff you would never take the time to put on Craigslist,” said LaPedis. Garage sales bring in money right away and they’re free. Inside tip: Accept only cash.
• Craigslist. Like a yard-sale online, Craigslist is perfect for those who want fast cash and don’t want to pay someone else to sell their stuff. It’s the place for larger, lower-end items, like bedroom sets, office furniture and appliances. Because buyers are local (or should be), you skip shipping costs. Inside tip: Sell only to buyers who will pick up the item. Accept only cash. Never checks, certified funds or wired money. When a buyer is going to meet you, have someone with you.
• eBay. Sell smaller, more valuable items like collectables and fine jewelry through this online trading site. You will likely get the highest value, but will pay eBay and PayPal fees and shipping. Inside tip: Use PayPal. It’s the safest payment method as it protects buyers and sellers. Never send anything without a signature required. LaPedis also recommends insuring shipments.
• Venders. You can sell your items to a reseller, such as a flea market, antique shop or second hand store, but be prepared to get only about 25 percent of the value.
• Jewelry buyers. Despite what you (or your relative) paid, expect to sell gold and silver jewelry for meltdown value. The exceptions are collectable coins, fine watches and jewelry from high-end designers. (Think Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier.) Jewelry stores will buy your gold for its weight and purity. Go to a few buyers and compare offers. “Never put your gold in a bag and ship it to one of those outfits online and wait for a check. You will be at their mercy,” he said.
• Pawn shops. Go only as a desperate measure. Pawn shops will typically offer you only 10 cents or less on the dollar.
• Collectors: Rare books and coins do sell on eBay, but sellers may do better going through an auction house, like Heritage, which specializes in selling items made in multiples that are collected in sets. Big time collectors may scan eBay, but feel more confident buying at auctions, where a professional has reviewed the item. Inside tip: Auction houses will typically take 10-to-15 percent. Find out up front.
• Auctions. Consider taking antiques and fine art to a local antiques dealer, who can take them to an auction. But if your item is worth more than $5,000, contact Sotheby’s or Christie’s in New York about selling the them at their auctions.
May the force be with you.