Buy. Sell. Trade.
September 9, 2008 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Interested in buying and then selling stuff. I am running into two (and I assume, very common) problems. 1. The high quality stuff I find tends to be too expensive to buy. 2. The cheap stuff I find is really crappy. I know in order to make money, you need to buy low and sell high. But, this seems a LOT easier in theory than in practice! What am I doing wrong?

I am interested in selling video games, dvds, CDs/tapes/records, magazines, and books. I am also interested in selling vintage collectibles and jewelry.

I search thrift stores and pawn shops, and have little luck in finding quality items. When I do, it is too expensive. I don't know much about garage sales, is there a way I can find out who's having one? Are there any other places that I should check? Any other methods I should use? Any other items I should try selling?

I'd prefer to sell things through ebay, but craigslist is an option also. I heard of people selling things through resale shops, but I heard that it is really hard to make money that way.
posted by sixcolors to Work & Money (29 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What you're doing wrong is to assume that you can make a profit without adding any value of your own. The only way that is possible is for either your supplier to be a fool, or your customer to be one. (Or both.)

If your supplier and your customer are both rational, then your supplier will sell to you at a price comparable to what your customer is willing to pay, and there won't be any margin between them for your profit.

There are various ways in which you might add value. Even moving something from where it is plentiful to where it is scarce is a value add. But your business plan must be based on a fundamental understanding of just what value you do add to the transaction, and an understanding of how much value you add. If you don't have anything like that, then you are relying on trying to find stupid suppliers and/or stupid customers.

In other words, by trying to rook people.
posted by Class Goat at 10:42 AM on September 9, 2008 [5 favorites]

Carefully buying one item at a time and reselling sounds like a losing game because of the time invested in making all those little decisions. Even if you sell higher than you buy, you may rarely make enough to justify your time unless you're dealing in high-dollar items. If you're aiming at small sales, you have to make the process of buying and selling efficient. Buy a bunch of stuff very cheaply, without inspecting each and every little item beforehand. Buy out a whole houseful of old stuff when someone dies and nobody wants to sort through all their crap. Buy the whole collection of a video rental store that's going out of business.
posted by jon1270 at 10:43 AM on September 9, 2008

Uh, because if it were easy then everyone would do it?

Think about it: why would a thrift store owner sell CDs in the store at less than their going rate on (or whatever)? Everybody knows about ebay by now. Even thrift store owners.

I think I would avoid "commodity" items like video games, dvds, books, etc. You might have more luck with items that are more rare and also more difficult to sell. Though of course then you have to worry about holding a bunch of junk you can't sell and don't want.
posted by meta_eli at 10:46 AM on September 9, 2008

Around here, the people who buy from garage sales in order to sell on ebay generally go out not only very early on Saturday, but also on Friday afternoon. If you're getting to the garage sales Saturday afternoon, chances are they have already been picked over for ebay-sellable bargains by several sellers, meaning that your only chance is to be an expert in areas that are niche enough that most sellers won't know what's valuable. Do you have any hobbies where you have more expertise than your competition as to what has value? Use those skills.

Normally, there is a "favorite" local classified ads where people advertise that they will be having a garage sales. This might be a newspaper, or it might be online, or it might be a dedicated classifieds paper.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:47 AM on September 9, 2008

Yeah, your entire premise is based on the idea you hold information about an item's "true" value that the supplier doesn't. This approach usually doesn't work unless you have specialized training, like being an antiques expert or a baseball card collector, and are willing to put in an awful, awful lot of work towards finding those gems in that specific area that everyone else overlooked. Books and CDs aren't really going to cut it.
posted by Anonymous at 10:50 AM on September 9, 2008

I don't know much about garage sales, is there a way I can find out who's having one?

Newspapers have extensive garage sale listings; Craigslist as well. Get there at the crack of dawn, or earlier, or anything of value will be gone long before you arrive.

I have some knowledge of buying and selling toys and the like for a profit. To make money on stuff that just anyone could walk into a store and buy, you need to have a feel for what will in the future become a collector's item (and the knowledge of, for example, about how many will be made - if it's 'limited edition' or not), have the knowledge of where in the country or the world it's being sold (sometimes an item will be fairly rare, in, for example, the market of the Pacific Northwest, but more common in the south) have the cash to buy lots now, and the patience to wait several months or years until the value goes up. Start looking religiously at trade magazines for the items you're interested in selling. Go to every trade show you can and study them.

Making a decent amount of money off this will probably be like having a second job in terms of time and effort (in fact, there are many people who make it their first job, and put the same amount of hours, or more, into scouring stores, garage sales, etc. as a full time or more-than-full-time job).
posted by frobozz at 10:50 AM on September 9, 2008

You might consider setting up an ebay consignment business. This is where people give you stuff they want to sell on ebay, you do the legwork of moving it on ebay, and then you take a cut of the selling price and give the rest to the original owner. The downside is that it involves actual work, but on the other hand it is more reliable than hoping to stumble across someone selling a Picasso for $5 at a yard sale.
posted by skallagrim at 11:08 AM on September 9, 2008

A friend of mine used to do this. Here's what I remember. (First two points are particularly for university students, but the others will apply to everyone).

1.) The university would sell old computer equipment to students at a markdown significantly lower than going rate on eBay. This was not widely advertised, and he constantly checked to see what stock they had. They limited purchases to one-per-student-per-semester, so he would give cash to other students to purchase stuff for him.

2.) When the iPod Mini first came out, he bought as many as he could at the academic price, (again, asking other students to help after he had reached his quota) and sold them on eBay, mostly to people in the UK. The pink one was in high demand.

3.) He sold stuff on eBay for friends, in exchange for a cut of the profit. (Some people just would rather not mess with it themselves).

4.) GARAGE SALES. Bring lots of quarters, and offer extremely low prices. You have an advantage because at garage sales people simply want to get rid of stuff. Go early. Have a car with some decent cargo space.

5.) Browse eBay all the time so you know the going rate for things.
posted by kidbritish at 11:13 AM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have a fried who makes his living off eBay this way, trafficking mostly in antique crystal and china. As others have said, he does a lot of work getting up early, traveling around, and doing a ton of research. Some other notes:

- As Class Goat noted, a straightforward way toward profit is to add value. My friend, for example, tries to make complete sets by buying up individual pieces. A single cut crystal wine glass may not be worth that much, but a complete set of six is worth a lot.

- You need to buy a lot, and be prepared to hold on to it for a while. If all of your capital is tied up in a limited inventory, you'll wind up selling below the price you want/need.

- Things like books, CD's, DVD's, and games are all poor choices, IMO. The only money to be made there is in volume or (in the case of books, mainly) rare editions. The market is also totally saturated.

- If you focus in a specific niche, you can often find deals on eBay by searching on misspellings.
posted by mkultra at 11:20 AM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok, I'm going to check out some garage sales. I do have one concern about relying on garage sales. What happens during winter? Do people stop having them? Are fleamarkets a good alternative?

Another idea came across my mind that I forgot to mention earlier: how about finding old bikes, skateboards, computers, or whatever....taking them apart and selling the parts?
posted by sixcolors at 11:20 AM on September 9, 2008

Response by poster: I have a fried who makes his living off eBay this way, trafficking mostly in antique crystal and china.

Where on earth can I find something like that, especially for cheap? I never see anything like that, even at the few auctions and garage sales I did attend.
posted by sixcolors at 11:24 AM on September 9, 2008

I know in order to make money, you need to buy low and sell high. But, this seems a LOT easier in theory than in practice!

Basic economic theory says that if there is an opportunity to make money easily, that a lot of people will notice it and will start doing it -- and then will engage in price cutting and compete away the profit margin.

In other words, economic theory says that easy ways to make a lot of money won't last for very long. All reliable long-term ways to make money involve doing a lot of work.
posted by Class Goat at 11:27 AM on September 9, 2008

There was a period early in Ebay's history when everyone knew someone who had made big money selling some crappy old Star Wars figurines or whatever they had found in their aunt's attic. It was new and exciting for buyers, but supply was lagging behind demand, and so a lot of auctions got pretty giddy. And the economy was better, so people had the disposable income (or credit) to burn on frivolous items.

That has all totally changed. Ebay is full of scammers and is increasingly oriented towards larger, business-like sellers rather than the hobbyist who cruises garage sales for stuff once in a while. Lots of people are shopping garage sales and estate sales with an eye towards national or international prices, so regional differences are a lot harder to exploit. And the economy is in the shitter, so people are trimming back on silly luxuries like collecting old video games.

In other words, five years ago was the "buy low" time to enter the selling junk business; right now is the "buy high" time to get into it.

Another thing I have noticed locally is that a fair number of garage sales are circular, in that there are a bunch of people who spend their weekends cruising garage sales for underpriced items; they sell the valuable stuff on Ebay and hold a garage sale of their own every few months to offload the cheap stuff... at which a lot of the shoppers are people who are trying to buy cheap stuff in order to sell it.

Fundamentally you can't make a profit if you are paying retail prices. That means you have to either exploit market differences (buy sunshine in Florida and sell it in Maine), or you have to find people who are selling something cheaper than you can sell it for. Wholesale is the way you do that with commodity items — you buy three gross of something, and sell them individually. Otherwise it's the old story of putting in the hours to know how to spot hidden gems, know the market to know what will sell and what won't, and so on. You just can't do this by buying the stuff at antique shops, where the person running the business has already taken advantage of their knowledge and time to make a profit.
posted by Forktine at 11:28 AM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Where on earth can I find something like that, especially for cheap?

If any of us knew, why would we tell you? Wouldn't we take advantage of that knowledge for our own benefit instead?

One way for you to add value is to find for yourself some otherwise-unknown source for something that you can mark up profitably. But it won't last; as soon as you do, someone else will notice that you're making out and start doing the same, and then you and him (and all the others who will jump in) will engage in competitive price cutting.
posted by Class Goat at 11:30 AM on September 9, 2008

I always thought of it as arbitrage. I think the problem is that you're selling common things. (And in most cases, you're exploiting small price discrepancies. When you can do it with 50 million shares of stock, that adds up quickly, but you can't realistically buy 50 million books at the thrift shop and make a killing.)

For a little bit (back when I had boundless free time and plenty of money to play with), I got into the obscure niche field of reselling certain two-way radios. As a dork with no life I had come to know almost everything there was to know about certain lines of Motorola radios, and I'd just started by looking at buying one for myself. I soon found that a lot of the sellers didn't know what they were selling, but were instead getting them in bulk from municipal auctions and the like. They'd sell a handful of them at a time with very few details, untested and filthy from years of use in the field. So I'd buy a small lot of them, clean them up, test them, and then resell them with good descriptions, good photos, and show that they worked properly. I made a decent amount of money this way, but hardly enough to live on. But to a college kid, making a couple hundred bucks every few weeks was amazing, and I actually enjoyed working with the radios, so it was fun.

But I realized a few things... One was that I didn't even have the market on "Motorola VHF ASTRO Saber III" arbitrage cornered. I was routinely bidding against the same people. So I can only imagine how it is with books or CDs. Another thing I realized is that it's a risky business. I was able to make money because not many other people were willing to buy "as-is, untested" lots of expensive electronics. But I was occasionally reminded of the reason why...

To do well, I think you need to treat it as a hobby, and find an obscure niche that you're passionate about... And then go from there. If you do it because you enjoy it, you can view it as some extra cash, as opposed to thinking of it as something that's not overly profitable.
posted by fogster at 11:36 AM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Where on earth can I find something like that, especially for cheap?

But would you know it if you saw it? I go to garage sales a lot, and there is always a table of old dishes and glasses and pots. To me, and to most people, a $1 glass looks exactly the same as an "OMG!!!! Rare European crystal goblet worth $10,000!!!!" would.

The profit comes in seeing the difference between the glass that is overpriced at 10 for a dollar, and the one you can resell for a few bucks profit. But that takes a fair bit of specialized knowledge and time; things aren't conveniently labeled at the garage sale with their potential profit margins.
posted by Forktine at 11:37 AM on September 9, 2008

Response by poster: Well, I have a LOT of time on my hands, especially during weekdays...until I graduate in December. Possibly a spare hundred dollars or two. I have no problems with spending a lot of time and doing a lot of work, as for now.

It seems like the buying/selling game is a lot more complex than I previously thought. What are some good books and websites I can find on this subject?
posted by sixcolors at 11:46 AM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

My son just sold his collection of dvd's on ebay for 200$ to someone who is obviously going to resell them probably through their pawn shop. So there are deals out there on Ebay. Best if you have some kind of low overhead shop or flea market stall to sell from.

When semesters turn over local college students practically give away their nice crap which they have no idea what the value is because they didn't pay for it. Also, most college dorms have a free box. Find it. Students give really nice things away. Especially on moving day. Our local landfill has a freebox which some people lurk at and make a living from reselling what they find.

Yardsales right now are a bust IMO. Everything is overpriced. Not worth the gas money.

We used to bid on contents of storage lockers when the owners didn't pay their bill. This can be a goldmine if you can get over the queasy moral issues of profiting off someone's tragedy.

You know how you learn the value of crystal? You don't study anything you just buy what you think is beautiful if it is priced low and you triple the price to sell it. And you don't look back. Move on to the next thing.

Learn how to bargain with people to get the lowest price.
posted by cda at 12:25 PM on September 9, 2008

Community is something that goes a long way in selling things online.

If you are a known member of a community (that has a section for buying/selling or specifically endorses it) then you automatically gain some credibility over random eBay and Craigslist sellers. I've paid 20-50% higher for items that I could get on eBay because I "knew" these people better than some random seller and I felt I could trust them to properly describe what they were sending as well as pack and ship it correctly.

There are several nearly identical items and shops on Etsy. If you can link to your Etsy shop from your local Arts & Crafts board or something (and it's welcome and not spammy!) then you're two steps ahead.

If you have been posting intelligently on a home audio board for two years, you have some credibility when you are selling components you find for cheap at garage sales. The buyers know that you know exactly what you're selling and that your "reputation" is probably not something you'd throw out for $20.

My suggestion is to pick something that you're genuinely interested in and find out where its enthusiasts hang out online. Join the community. Learn about what you're selling.
posted by ODiV at 12:35 PM on September 9, 2008

I had a friend whose boyfriend bought up lots (as in collections) of items, such as things from storage buildings, foreclosed homes and estates. Early Saturday and Sunday morning he'd haul his goods down to the local flea market and make a killing.

One of his best profits would come from people moving out of apartments. It's impossible to have a garage sale in an apartment and when I moved, after donating and giving away things, I still had a good amount of just....stuff that I didn't really want to haul cross country or throw away. I practically gave it to the guy and I found out later that he made over 500 dollars off of it. I don't know how he got in touch with other apartment dwellers, but I suppose that it had something to do how many people he knew and word-of-mouth.
posted by bristolcat at 12:48 PM on September 9, 2008

You have to pick one type of item, preferably with a dedicated audience, and then get to know that item really well. It helps if it's something you already like or have an interest in. I buy clothes. Specifically plus size clothes. I started selling just as a method to recoup my losses on stuff that I never wore. I also found plus-size fashion communities where people talked about what they loved and what they were looking for. I started accidentally making a profit on things I was selling.

Now, I am always looking for thing to sell. For instance, when I was visiting my parents, I found a bunch of dresses on clearance at Ross. But the important thing was that they were a very desirable brand, that I was intimately familiar with. I purchased them for about $13-$15 , knowing that the retail was $50-75, and that I could sell them for $30 to $40. I sell on e-Bay and directly through on-line communities.

I've also been able to purchase on e-Bay, and then resell on e-Bay at a profit. I bought a lot of 11 clothes items for $100, knowing that one dress retailed for $150, and I could sell it for $75. I kept two items for myself, and sold the rest. My profit was about $100 (plus two shirts!). But this only works because I know what is desirable and sell-able to a certain group of people that I can advertise directly to. You also have to be very aware of profit margin and the time and energy it takes to sell. I never intentionally buy something unless I think I can earn at least $12 profit on that item.
posted by kimdog at 1:40 PM on September 9, 2008

Go to and search for auctions in your area (you can search by zip code).

Go to a few and just watch & learn. Personally, I find it hard to make a profit on things I'm not personally interested in -- I love records, and I can look through a collection of 1000 old albums and know the handful of albums that might be worth $$$. I'll frequently buy big collections like that (often dirt cheap, at auctions), with the full knowledge that I'll be tossing 60% right in the garbage, putting 30% aside in bins to take to a flea market and sell for $1 a piece eventually, and keeping 10% that are worth selling on eBay.

Since I'm personally not interested in superhero comic books, it's almost impossible for me to go through a big stack of those and be able to pick out the few that might be valuable, even though it would obviously be an advantageous skill for me to pick up. But you can't become in expert in every sub-genre of collecting, and getting to know, say, the Precious Moments figurines market well enough to buy them at auction (or garage sale, etc) and sell for a profit is very difficult if you don't find Precious Moments figurines to be absolutely adorable.

Here's a typical purchase for me: I like old magazines, so when I saw a couple of boxes of old Good Housekeeping magazines from the early 50's, I had a pretty good idea that I could pick them up cheap and make a small but reliable profit on them: I got them all for $22, and a couple of weeks later I sold them for about $180 all together. But after you add up the hours I spent writing auctions for them and all the other work involved in selling them, it's not a very impressive hourly wage (not that I'm complaining).

Knowledge is EVERYTHING in this business. A box of early 70's porn magazines, for instance, is generally pretty worthless.....unless you are the only person at the auction who realizes that 3 of them are issues of Gallery that each have one of Stephen King's first published stories and are now worth $50 a piece.

As others have mentioned, doing this takes a LOT more time than most people realize. I spend at LEAST 30 hours a week at the computer writing auctions/dealing with bidders, and if you add up all the time going to flea markets/auctions, it's probably an additional 20-30 hours a week (don't forget gas money, which has definitely become something I have to factor in when considering an auction that's 90 miles away). Auction writing is pretty much drudgery and takes a lot of discipline, but I LOVE going to auctions & flea markets....still, there are times when even that definitely feels like WORK.
posted by the bricabrac man at 2:05 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

After looking at your previous questions in an attempt to give a thoughtful answer - because this is what I do for income - I'm curious about whether answering this question the best I can will be of any use, though I'll still hope to help.

The range of your previous questions, from getting started in graphic design; procuring the money for a better camera; getting stock photo gigs; taking great photographs; filling time during the day; bartending without taking classes; selling your photographic images...

and then I put them together with your questions about understanding people; your hunger for novelty; having difficulty reading mannerisms and character traits; having a perceived identity crisis; having ocd/germaphobe issues; having potentially offensive communication complaints and family responsibility issues to boot...

...but it was this question: "How do people STAY ignorant?" We all came into the world ignorant about how life works. Some wisen up, others stay in the dark. What is it that separate those two kinds of people?" and then admitting your own naivety that decided my best answer for you.

Taking all this in, looking at the great responses you've gotten, and considering this admission:

"It seems like the buying/selling game is a lot more complex than I previously thought. What are some good books and websites I can find on this subject?"

I'd like to tell this story (found in a few places and something I learned early on in my own career in the buying/selling of antiques) to preface an answer to today's question as well as that former one:

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”

So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.

“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.

“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”

To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”

So, what I am seeing is that there is this recurring thread of needing to find income without much personal investment - be it money, education, research etc.

But most especially the two things that seem to be lacking don't seem to be based in the items you're hoping to deal with. I'd think that really, what's missing is any passion for this venture. It's not really idle work. And part the work I'm thinking you may have some difficulty with is making a connection - to both your the people you need to interact with in order to make any of these endeavours happen, and to what you're involving yourself in. Sales is kind of a contact sport, and you need people skills. You have to make people want to buy stuff from you - it's not always about price and description on a page. And then on top of those two things, there's the skill or a knack or a gift for finding the good finds - whatever you want to call that, too. That's the value added stuff others mentioned, and why I told that story - the life before that second.

It's not about learning or reading books or figuring out some niche or calculating profit margins. It's an unidentifiable something that many things lead up to, and then come together in a way that works. So, I'm kind of saying - you either "got it" or you don't. If you've "got it", you'd probably know by now and wouldn't need to ask this question.

The short answer? Find someone who is doing what you want to do, and work for them first. Initially, you'll make more money working for someone else, than you will as a novice entrepreneur anyway. Apprentice for a bit, if you must - to find out if you can do this and if you should. You'll make more that way, for one thing - the education is more valuable than any money and you'll have it always. You'll also meet many of the people you'll eventually be dealing with - also valuable. That's what I did, and it only took about twenty-five years to make a living from it. This same answer goes for any of the previous pursuits of income that you've considered. And for whatever you do after you get your Master's.

Good luck, whatever you choose - I mean that sincerely.
posted by peagood at 2:12 PM on September 9, 2008 [11 favorites]

Where do you live? Is there a good concert market? Upcoming bands with shows bound to sell out? The profit margins are huge in ticket speculation if you can pick the right shows. This may or may not be illegal in your area. And ethically, some people look down upon it.
posted by yeti at 2:29 PM on September 9, 2008

Response by poster: Where do you live? Is there a good concert market? Upcoming bands with shows bound to sell out? The profit margins are huge in ticket speculation if you can pick the right shows. This may or may not be illegal in your area. And ethically, some people look down upon it.

Good Lord, yes, there's a good concert market. And a REALLY good sports market. It is not illegal in my area. This is something I am looking into, in the future, when I have enough money to purchase tickets in the first place.

The idea that this is unethical is bullshit. It is not the same as taking bottled water and really jacking up the prices, in a situtation where people are literally dying of thirst (didn't this happen at one of the woodstocks?). Concerts and ballgames are luxuries, not necessities. I'm not ranting about you, yeti, I'm just peeved that some people in general look down upon it.

Metafilter: So, what I am seeing is that there is this recurring thread of needing to find income without much personal investment

Did you not read that I am have no problem in investing my time to make money selling things? I wish I have a lot of money right now, but I don't.
posted by sixcolors at 2:53 PM on September 9, 2008

I'm very curious about this, so I checked back in -- I did read everything - every answer too. I had a slow day and dinner in the crockpot and needed something to focus on in between email responses. You won! I completely and thoroughly understand that you have time - as evidenced by your previous questions too. You're not getting it - despite all the good answers to the other questions you asked and the good answers to this one. It has a lot to do with time. It's not one bit about having money. It's about you, yourself, more than any tangible factor. One guy started with one red paperclip, and it wasn't the value of the paperclip that started it, it was the value of his time and effort and the idea. Another guy started with magic beans...It's investing yourself personally, and it's dependent on your personality. And actually getting out there and doing it. School of hard knocks. Risk. Innovation. Inspiration. Networking.

Here, I'll use your sports tickets example. The auction house I used to work for had season's tickets, and were up for grabs to any of us. I never once took my turn in over three years, and there were many weeks when nobody went because we were all busy and so we passed them on to our best customers (or anyone in the lobby who'd go, as far as they'd tell us). That's what they were for, in addition to being one of our perks (and it's not like they were Leafs tix). BUT, if Craigslist existed back then, or if I'd cared to make the effort, I could have easily reserved some, as was my right, and flipped them for lunch money. And would have, if someone had approached me, because working 70 hour weeks handling thousands of items doesn't make you want to invest your time in doing such a thing. I would consider it a valuable service. I would also like to be able to call one guy to do any ticket getting I'd like, because I hate navigating Ticketmaster websites or going to box offices, and I hate getting the dumb subscription calls afterward. I'd pay a premium for that, and even more if my service provider was likeable. So, you don't necessarily need to be able to buy a block of expensive tickets after standing in line or waiting on hold at Ticketmaster for days - but you might want to be the person everyone you know, and everyone they tell, goes to when they've got a ticket or two that they can't use, and wouldn't mind an extra twenty - or who'd add ten to any ticket if it got delivered to them without more effort than one phone call to one guy. From the day of show tickets that get offered around on our neighbourhood Yahoo group, to the ones available through my husband's office, to the ones I see offered by Facebook friends - I'd say it can be done if you have a good network of people that trust you, and it's a feasible way to start. One ticket at a time. Then, after taking the money earned from that, you take next steps, and grow it.

That's all I'm saying. Don't look at the big picture - look at the next step. In my case, I'm taking three enamelled silver bowls I found at an Estate Sale out of town a few weeks ago, that I bought for half-off their original prices of $3, $8 and $18 to a dealer I know in town who specializes in such things, and will ask $10, 20 and $25 for them (and will take $50) - and he will offer them at retail for likely, $35, $45 and $65. Hidden in those cost are all sorts of things it took a lifetime to learn, such as how to find the GOOD estate sales, knowing the items' varying values (fair market, retail etc.) and knowing the difference in local markets, and being patient to get the end of sale prices. Also, waiting out slow summer cottage season to flip them, knowing that the film business has been slow and that finally, dealers are starting to buy for Christmas. Knowing this particular dealer from thirteen years of business dealings, creating a good feeling about dealing with me and cultivating trust and offering the right product at the right time are also key. As well, knowing what he has to buy them for in order to sell them at a profit (considering in antiques, he may have to discount too) and keeping our relationship light and friendly and personable in between dealings. All of that is the $5000 for one stroke.
posted by peagood at 3:48 PM on September 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

Ahh, peagood has the goods! :)

One observation about the original question..
I search thrift stores and pawn shops, and have little luck in finding quality items.

Target shops that are in the business of moving massive quantities of inventory at cheap prices. Visit early, visit often, and know your stuff, and you can do well enough. I don't think of pawn shops as fitting that description. Pawnshops are run by people who are already trying to optimize price a little, and they don't try to turn over the entire inventory every week.

To that end, peagood, being in Toronto, might appreciate this little project of mine.

Auctions are good too, but it is the same story in a lot of ways. I went to one a few months ago where a certain lot of computers was selling for ~$400 each mid auction, more than double their 'value'. They could only move the first 18 of 20, so the remainder went into a big lot that would be sold at the end. The same happened with another model, 14 sold at $200 and they couldn't sell the last two. At the end, all the dealers had been driven off by the high prices early on, and none of the regular folk were willing to handle an entire pallet load of old computer stuff. I jumped in at the auctioneer's opening $100, and nobody could react. Translation, gold mine for me!
Anybody want a Bay Networks power supply? I've got 8 that I can't bare to throw away yet :)
posted by Chuckles at 10:25 PM on September 9, 2008

One generally lucks into bargains. Bargain hunters, whether they're collectors or people looking to make a profit, generally become professional, full-time bargain hunters. Let's assume that all the commenters above are correct (i.e. 'Your entire premise is based on the idea you hold information about an item's "true" value that the supplier doesn't.'). You'll have the best chance of lucking into bargains that may be worth more than what you've paid for them by frequenting flea markets, garage sales, and yard sales (specifically moving sales). It might be worth checking out estate sales, as well. These sellers will be more motivated to move the items they have for sale, sometimes at the expense of profits. Flea market sellers may not want to lug all their stuff back home, and those who will be moving soon may be even more motivated to sell their entire stock at any price.

I agree with -harlequin-. It might be easier to make a profit if you become an expert on a certain sort of collectible and concentrate your buying and selling to that sort of product. The value of CDs, DVDs, and games may change over time (Some that were once in high demand are now in bargain bins.. You'd have to stay ahead of the curve of popularity for this to be lucrative), but a person looking to fill out a collection would be more likely to spend a little more. And, if you were an expert in a particular sort of collectible, you would be able to determine if the table of glassware, jewelery, postcards, or magazines, etc. at a flea market it worth the investment.

Check newspapers and online for garage, yard, and estate sales. I'm not sure where you're located, but it seems like warmer states like California have flea markets year round. I'm in Philadelphia, and, generally, flea markets are spring through autumn. You might still find a few in the next few months. Here are a few links to flea market directories and sites. Good luck.
posted by Mael Oui at 10:27 PM on September 9, 2008

Peabody brings up some good points. With that out of the way, one place I haven't seen mentioned is retail clearance racks. If you know what something is going for outside the walls of the store, or have the ability to hold onto it, you might be able to make money on it.

For example, Target briefly carried a tool that was popular on the Internet, but not at all popular in their shops in my area. The tool normally (and still) sells for $30 online, but Target had marked them down to $7.50. I listed one and sold it within a few days, then went back and bought the rest of their stock. I didn't make a ton of money though (maybe $5 per item) as each tool was costly to ship.

If you can haunt clearance racks and ebay, you could get a feel for where price differences exist, or you could exploit seasonal differences. Say, pick up summer baby clothes (currently marked down more than 50%) and hold them until spring. It shouldn't be as reliant on fashion trends as other clothes might be.

The thing is, you're competing with people who have been doing this a while. They know what day electronics/clothes/toys are marked down, and will descend on the clearance lady in no time. They hang out at places like slickdeals to know what bargains to watch for.
posted by drezdn at 8:28 PM on November 20, 2008

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