How to transform your junk into cash

Published by Laura Howard on 20 October 2008.
Last updated on 23 March 2015

Car boot sale

Whether it’s the rising cost of petrol, a sudden hike in household bills or a considerably fatter mortgage repayment, many of us are now feeling the pinch. According to an ‘emotion survey’ by online greeting card service, 75% of people in the UK are worried about their finances, and a further 46% admit they are more anxious about how they will cope in the economic downturn than they are letting on to friends and family.

But the classic solutions wheeled out in the 1970s’ downturn, such as spending less and taking an additional job, are more difficult to carry out in 2008 – these days things cost a fortune and many of us are already working every hour under the sun.

That said, you could well possess other weapons with which to battle the economic downturn – for example, a house full of clutter that can be turned into pounds and pence. How this transformation occurs, however, will depend on what you are selling and how you go about selling it.

Selling on eBay

In theory, you can sell anything on eBay – from fish tanks to fertiliser – by listing the item, then sitting back and watching people bid for it.

Since 1998, eBay has transformed the face of private trading by making the whole process possible from the comfort of the seller’s living room. Today the auction site is the first port of call for many householders looking to turn their clutter into cash – but it does have its downsides.

Firstly, you’ll have to pay for each transaction you make. For example, if you sell an item for £5, and charge £2 for packing and posting it, you will pay a minimum 37p fee to eBay. While this doesn’t sound as though it will break the bank, regular small sales mean your fees take up a larger proportion of your profit, not to mention your time spent making regular trips to the post office.

Secondly, larger items such as furniture will also need to be sent to the successful bidder who, by the very nature of eBay’s wide audience, could be anywhere in the country.

Local newspapers

If your items for sale are big and bulky, the good old-fashioned classified section of your local newspaper could provide a more workable alternative.

While posting your advertisement will cost around £25, at least its recipients are guaranteed to live locally. You can also specify as part of the deal that the item must to be collected from your home.

Lorne Spicer, presenter of BBC1’s Cash in the Attic, says: “We all accumulate possessions. Whether it’s items we’ve inherited or been given, or things we’ve bought and then packed away, we all have stuff that we’ve forgotten about lying around in our houses, sheds or attics.

"If you’re addicted to car boot sales, can’t resist a charity shop and love to fill your home with collectables, then you could have hidden treasure in your home just waiting to be found.”

Car boot sales

If you are more practically than virtually minded, or simply have too much bric-a-brac to package and post, why not join the growing army of sellers attending car boot sales up and down the country?

According to a recent survey by Chevrolet, the car manufacturer, a staggering 1.1 million additional traders attended car boot sales this summer. The survey adds that the rise in the figures is because sellers want to capitalise on the growing numbers of people on the hunt for bargains in the wake of the credit crunch.

When it comes to flogging your wares from the back of your car, anything goes, but it’s worth noting that indoor plants are most likely to turn into cash, says Chevrolet. Plants are followed by ornaments, and LP records or singles, which are the second and third most popular items sold at car boot sales.

Other items featured in the ‘top 10 sales’ are toys, tools, children’s and vintage clothing, antique furniture and kitchenware.

Chevrolet also found that the average revenue generated by a seller is £142, while a typical household claims to have £870 worth of unused goods.

Keith Miles, manager of online car boot sales directory, has registered a further 125 car boot sales on the website this year alone, taking the total number registered to 625.

“The popularity of car boot sales has not diminished with the rise of the internet – in fact, it has increased,” he says. “Getting up on a Sunday morning and rummaging through bric-a-brac is something of a traditional British pastime, and a constant stream of buyers means that those with something to sell are attracted by car boot sales too."

"For a small outlay of between £5 and £9 for the pitch, they can easily make £50 in a day, and as the saying goes, ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’,” he adds.

However, in a ‘wheeling and dealing’ environment, full of seasoned traders, make sure you keep a close eye on what you sell. This year, a 1976 Rolling Stones LP signed by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Paul and Linda McCartney, and George Harrison, was bartered down to £2 at a car boot sale in Derbyshire. The LP has recently sold at auction for £4,000.

Experts think the album was signed as part of a celebration to welcome Ronnie Wood, who replaced Mick Taylor in the band in 1976.

Selling valuable items

Regardless of the sales method you employ to clear your clutter, you’ll need to ensure that each item fetches its full monetary value. In the vast majority of cases, this is easy to achieve – the old adage that ‘something is worth what someone will pay for it’ applies.

However, Mark Dodgson, secretary general of the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) advises that if you do stumble across an unusual relic in your loft or garage that has been passed down through your family over the generations, don’t just stick it up on eBay.

“It’s tough for the uninitiated to estimate the value of something, and expectations of the value of their possessions often exceed what they’re actually worth. Most of the time, our enquiries relate to inter-war furniture like tables and chairs that have little or no value,” Dodgson adds. “But, periodically, people can find items worth investigating.”

You can find out how valuable your item is by sending an image of the item to BADA and if the item is of value, it will forward the details on to the most relevant of its 350 member antique dealers.

Bear in mind that, even if your treasure is antique, the item may not be as valuable as it could be. “The condition of the item is very important, as is having the whole set if it is part of one,” says Dodgson. “For example, if you find a solid silver cutlery set that has six knives but five forks, it’s going to have a negative impact on its value.”

If you are lucky enough to come across an artefact that is worth selling to an antiques dealer, BADA recommends that you obtain a written description of what you sell. This will reduce the chances of not getting the full value of the item – whether the dealer knows the value of it or not. It’s also wise to use a dealer that is a member of BADA in the first place.

Finally, bear in mind that antique dealers are feeling the downturn just like everyone else, which means that it is more difficult to turn your treasures into cash.

“Many dealers are holding off buying any more stock at the moment, or are offering less,” adds Dodgson, “but ‘fine antiques’ will always retain their value.”

Rent the space you’ve created

When you’ve sold your junk and created more space, why not put it to good use by renting out a room?

According to recent research from Abbey, more than 18.2 million homeowners have at least one empty bedroom which, at an average asking price of £289 a month, could generate an extra £3,468 a year. And remember you can receive up to £4,250 tax-free gross rental income a year under the government’s Rent a Room scheme.

Phil Cliff, director of Abbey Mortgages, says: “With income being squeezed in so many ways, those looking to raise some extra money may find that freeing up their spare room could provide the answer.”

Top tips on selling successfully

* Make sure you have a PayPal account – it’s by far the easiest way to make transactions

* Having a photo of the item you’re selling will make it far more attractive

* Price your items attractively so potential buyers at least look at them

* Be fair with postage and packing charges

* Make sure you can dispatch items quickly, preferably the next day. Don’t put items up for sale if you’re going on holiday before the sale ends

* Pack the item before the sale ends if possible, so you can put it in the post quickly

* Communicate with your buyers – if there are any problems, such as your car has broken down so you can’t get to the post office, let your buyer know immediately

* Be philosophical. As long as you’re happy with your return across a number of items, don’t fret too much if one or two items go for a song

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