Saturday, July 27, 2013

A J.K. Rowling book by any other name.....

From DOA to red hot!
It's fascinating how a change in events, or a new piece of information can cause an item's value to soar instantly. Case in point: a few weeks ago a big story hit the news regarding Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling. Apparently bored with the wizard world, Rowling decided to write a "whodunit" novel entitled "The Cuckoo's Calling." She wrote the book using the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. The book was published back in the spring to slightly above average reviews. Despite the decent reviews, the book promptly tanked. A total number of 1500 copies were sold in England-not exactly Harry Potter numbers! As the book began slipping into oblivion, it was "mysteriously" revealed that the real author of the The Cuckoo's Calling was not some some unknown author, but a slightly more famous scribe by the name of J.K. Rowling. Once this little piece of information made the news, book sales soared like Harry Potter on a broomstick. The book is now number one on the New York Times best seller list!

This is where the magic of supply and demand comes into play. Had you been one of the original 1500 readers who bought a first edition/first printing copy of The Cuckoo's Calling when it was allegedly written by some scrub named Robert Galbraith, you would have paid about $20. But now that everyone knows the book was written by J.K. Rowling, it's value has gone sky-high! First edition/first print copies are selling for several hundred dollars on eBay! (Current editions are now printed with Rowling's name on the inside-no value in that.) Kicking it up a notch, if you were one of the fortunate few who purchased a "signed" copy with Rowling signing her pseudonym "Robert Galbraith" you really hit the jackpot. These rare signed copies are selling on eBay for $4000 dollars!

It's amazing. A book that was originally ignored by most people goes from twenty dollars to nearly $300.....all because of a little piece of news! You have any similar examples? Pass them along in the comment section below....

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

William Shakespeare quotes in the garage

Shakespeare in love...with garage sales
There's an old expression from Shakespeare which refers to a person being "hoisted by his own petar."  In Shakespeare's time, a "petar" was a medieval bomb launched by soldier during battle. To "hoist" one's own petar meant that it accidentally blew up in face of the soldier who was trying to launch it. Although you don't hear the expression used too much anymore, it now means to have something backfire in your face! You may be wondering why I am boring you with this tidbit of medieval history? I mention it because while your favorite blog will never be confused with Shakespeare, your Dude was recently "hoisted by his own petar" at a garage sale! It's actually kind of a funny story too.

The "hoisting" had it's origins in a garage sale held late last fall by a young married couple. By sheer luck, I happen to be driving by the house when the new owner was posting a yard sale sign by the curb. Needless to say, I slammed on the brakes and stopped to take a look. Walking up the driveway, I met Josh who was the new home owner. He told me that he and his wife were recently married and had just bought the house. The house went up for sale after the previous owner passed away at a nursing home. The old timer left behind no heirs, so the house was sold with it's entire contents. Hearing this story, I realized this was no ordinary garage sale. It was more like a complete whole house sale! The old timer's garage bore this fact out. It was lined with wood shelves packed from floor to ceiling with tools, radios, books, records-basically a lifetime of accumulated "guy" stuff.

Given the huge amount of stuff in the garage, Josh and his wife were feeling a little overwhelmed with the job ahead of them. Since they had to begin the huge task of cleaning out somewhere, they decided to begin in the garage with an impromptu, and more importantly, unadvertised sale. From a garage sale pickers perspective, this was a golden opportunity for me. A sale that's not advertised on Craigslist or in the local paper means way less buyers to compete with. Wanting to waste no time on this garage sale treasure trove, I began looking through anything Josh would show me.

Amateur radio equipment: part of the huge garage sale booty.
Don't get me wrong, Josh was no naive, babe-in-the-woods when it came to selling stuff. He was careful not to give away the farm, and wouldn't sell any items he thought were really valuable. But I still scored some sweet deals, including a huge lot of HAM radio equipment. After buying the gear for $200, I later
pieced out everything, selling various parts on eBay and Craigslist. Overall, the radio gear netted me a profit somewhere north of $700 dollars. While I made a tidy profit on the the radio collection, I wasn't totally mercenary. Feeling slightly paternal towards the young couple, I gave them some advise on what was valuable in the garage and the best way to sell everything. After nearly hour of giving them a crash course on how to deal with all their garage junk, it was time for me to head home. My purchases barely made a dent in the garage. I wished them luck on cleaning out the rest, and told them I'd be back whenever they had their next sale.

Fast forward to this spring when I spotted a Craigslist ad for another garage sale at Josh's house. After making so much dough from my previous visit, I couldn't wait to get back into that garage! The ad's title grabbed my attention.  It read;
                                      "Garage full of old-timer's stuff"

Reading this, I groaned to myself. Why the heck did the kid have to use the phrase "old timer" in his ad?  His enticing description was going to ruin it for me! Now everyone and their uncle would show up at the garage and buy up all the great stuff! In addition to letting the proverbial cat out of the bag, the big strapping kid added one more funny, but slightly intimidating line to his ad:

                                             "No early birds-
            If you knock on my door at 7 AM, we're both going to have a problem!"

That warning was clear enough to me! I am not much an early bird anyway, so I planned to make it my first stop at his advertised start time. Despite the ad's buzz words, "Old timer's stuff," I hoped to beat the competition to Josh's house.    

I rolled up to Josh's house about ten minutes ahead of time on Saturday morning. I figured since we were now buddies the kid wouldn't mind. I walked up to the garage and Josh recognized me right away. But looking around the garage, I immediately could tell other buyers had already been through much of his stuff! Empty boxes were scattered around everywhere. I couldn't believe it...this was suppose to be my garage sale to plunder! Those rotten claim jumpers had robbed me of all the good stuff! I asked Josh if buyers had shown up early despite his warning? He confirmed my hunch, shrugging his shoulders as he described how the huge crowd appeared in his driveway waaay before the 8 AM start time. Seeing so many people, Josh broke under the pressure and let the early birds in to peruse his stuff.

But I couldn't get mad at the kid for cracking under the mob's pressure. Instead, I nodded my head like some kind of old garage sale sensei, explaining to Josh that the early morning crowd materialized because he used the title "old timer's stuff" in his ad.  He looked over at me proudly and said, "Yeah I told me to do that!" I paused in stunned silence for a moment. Then I forced a pained smile and mumbled, "Um...I did?"

Like a guy who'd just woke up from a deep coma, I listened in disbelief as Josh explained that when we met last fall, I instructed him to use the phrase, "Old timer's garage" in any future Craigslist ad. And apparently I wasn't done giving advise that day. Nooooo, I learned also that I blabbered to Josh about how guys like me will show up in droves to eagerly pick through an old timer's garage. Since I tend to be a little forgetful, this was all news to me. When Josh was finished telling me what I told him, he proudly pointed to the now empty boxes and thanked me for all my great advise!

Which brings us back to old Willy Shakespeare, because standing demoralized in Josh's driveway it dawned on me that I'd just been, yep....

                                         Hoisted by my own petar! 

After wiping the gunpowder off my face, I sheepishly responded to Josh's compliment with a half-hearted "you're welcome." I guess that's what I get for being a little too helpful! I wonder if Shakespeare wrote anything like, "Thou shall keepeth thy big mouth shut"?

Fortunately, I did receive sort of a consolation prize for helping the kid out. I'll get to that in my next blog. Have you ever been a little too helpful at a garage sale and it backfired on you? Share your story below!

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

A railroad crossing sign find !

I am back from a nice summer vacation! Although the sun occasionally hid behind the clouds, we still had plenty of beach, sun and surf.  More importantly, the family enjoyed themselves and that's what it's all about. The vacation didn't knock me off my routine however. Despite being away for most of the week, I was still able to make my garage sale rounds! I've noticed the hot summer weather has really thinned out the sales. But this didn't stop me from coming home with some of my favorite finds, including a few Lego sets, radios and some fishing gear. 

Speaking of summer, if you take a look at the calendar you might notice that the first half of the year is now behind us. Pointing out the passage of time is one of my little obsessions. For some reason I like to point out mile markers on the calendar. For example, it's important to me that every year I tune in to watch QVC's "Christmas in July" program. This is because I take some strange pleasure in noting
Hey, we're half way through the year!
that the Holidays are just five months away! (Ironically I am not the only blogger wired this way-check out latest blog-ha!) In another example, at the dinner table this week I'll probably announce that there's only six weeks of summer left. A few days ago, I pointed out to my disinterested family that because the first day of summer had past, the days were now getting shorter. Mrs. Dude finds my habit a little annoying and often warns me that I am wishing my life away! I usually respond by telling her that my weird obsession could actually be a sign that I am some sort of crazy genius! She feels I got the crazy part right, but the genius? Not so much.  But annoying or not, there's no denying we are now at the year's mid-point. That's very important to me because I started the second half of the year off with a bang.....or more appropriately......a choooo-chooooo!

Several weeks ago, I walked into my favorite little thrift store and came across what was a genuine "first" for me. Leaning against the wall was a vintage railroad crossing sign! Suffice it to say that railroad memorabilia is one of the most consistently strong markets out there. Every weekend hundreds of railroad meets are attended by collectors who passionately buy, sell and trade railroad memorabilia. For many of these railroad buffs, the classic crossing sign is often the "piece de resistance" of their personal collection!

All aboard for a great flip!
The sign I found would make any collector salivate!  It was the real deal....heavy, huge and  built to last. The four foot lengths making up the sign consisted of porcelain wrapped over steel.  The sign had a nice patina going for it too, with just enough rust and dirt to give it a seasoned look. Even better, the glass reflectors mounted in the porcelain were almost all intact. It also had one more thing going for it. Stamped on one edge of the sign was something you rarely see any more. It read,"Made in the USA".

My personal hero, Mike Wolfe of American Pickers, often likes to say that the time to buy something is when you see it. In other words, don't hesitate to buy a unique item-you just never know when you'll get the same chance again. That's how I felt about this old railroad crossing sign. How often do you find one of these things? For me the answer might be never! Gazing at this piece of railroad memorabilia, I knew I wasn't leaving the store without it. But bringing it home at the right price was another matter. Once again I would have to tangle with Dana, the thrift store's "all-business" manager.

My old pal Dana had marked the sign at $200 dollars. As is her usual practice, she researched similar signs on eBay and priced it accordingly. I also did some quick price checking on Ebay using my phone. Railroad crossing signs are surprisingly abundant on eBay, with some listed for as much as $500 dollars. Pricing depends on age, condition, style and even the type of reflectors used in the sign. For example signs with "cat eye" reflectors sell for more money then signs with clear glass reflectors. Although this sign had clear glass, I knew I could still make some decent money if I bought it for the right price.

After doing my price comparisons, I was ready to negotiate with Dana. I started the dance by asking her how long the sign had been on the sales floor? Dana was up front, informing me the sign had been out for several days starting on the weekend. Since the weekend always brings in the most shoppers, this told me Dana may have set the price too high. I tossed out my first salvo, offering $100 bucks for the big sign. Dana countered at $175, offering some mumbo-jumbo about how the sign still had its original brackets and u-bolts, thus making it more valuable. I chuckled to myself, speculating that Dana must have found an overpriced eBay listing that included u-bolts with the sign. Why else would she be throwing this bit of hardware minutia at me? After some more friendly negotiating between pros, I finally worked Dana down to $140 on the sign. Just to sweeten the deal, I even had her throw in small fifties era desk lamp that had been languishing on the store shelves for weeks. Selling the lamp should net me a twenty dollar bill, effectively bringing down my cash outlay to a very acceptable $120 dollars.

Arriving home, I propped the sign against a sturdy tree and photographed it. Hoping that collectors would go nuts over the sign, I quickly posted the monster on Craigslist with a cross-my-fingers price of $500. That dreamy number met with just one phone call from a railroad buff who asked me what I really wanted for the sign? After that first inquiry the silence was deafening, telling me my price was too high. I then dropped the price down to a more reasonable $300 then went on vacation. (In fact, it was exactly a week ago I was sitting on the beach...whoops, there I go again!)

Upon my return from vacation, I received an inquiry from a guy who wanted to buy the sign for his father. He asked me if I would consider coming down on the price further? Feeling all groovy from my week long vacation, I told this very considerate son that I'd take $275 for the sign if he picked it up that night. The son agreed and we met at a local gas station to seal the deal! His father got an awesome birthday gift and I drove away with a total profit of $135, doubling my money in the matter of a few weeks! Interesting to note, the railroad sign deal occurred exactly three days ago...dang I did it again! Anyway, it was an incredible flip, and in my crazy mind, a great way to start off the second half of the year!

I hope the second half of the year starts off great for you too! If you had any great railroad collectible flips or anything else, share your story below.


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Friday, July 5, 2013

Beach Vacation Deal

Money in the Garage will be on a brief hiatus this week as the family and I head down the beach for summer vacation. In anticipation of my week away, I've been feverishly posting last minute eBay auctions. I like to have auctions running while I am away. At the conclusion of every beach day, I always check in on eBay to see how my stuff is doing. This is usually conducted while sitting in a damp bathing suit with with adult beverage in hand. In addition to posting last minute auctions, I also have to prepare outgoing items to ship. This includes bringing packages with me on vacation. If a buyer pays me while on vacation, I walk their pre-packaged item down to the local post office. So even though I am on vacation, I am still working!

I hope you take some time off this summer too. Use a few of those hard earned eBay dollars to enjoy yourself-you've earned it! In the mean time, I'll leave you with a beach theme post from last year. So until next week, enjoy summertime.....Dude!

A day at the beach...with a cart

Beach carts for sale!
It's pretty much summertime around these parts. In my local area that means time to head to the beach! From now until Labor Day, people will flock to the beach for summer weekends and vacations. This creates a fun little niche market for me during the summer months...used beach carts. If you live near a vacation destination like the beach, lake or mountains you may be able to become a used beach cart salesman like me!

For those not in the know, a beach cart is built similar to a light-weight baby stroller. In place of an infant seat however, is a large mesh net  suspended on the frame. These carts can hold all kinds of beachy stuff-chairs, towels, toys and anything else needed for the beach vacationer. The lightweight cart is a necessity for young parents when hauling their kid's massive amounts of required beach gear. Because they're easily maneuverable over the sand, older folks also like them  for transporting their chairs, summer reading and umbrellas. The not-so surprising fact about a beach cart is they can be very expensive when bought new. The price of a new beach cart in a typical summer resort town can be $80 or more! But here's the great unknown fact (until now) about beach carts...people sell them at garage sales for next to nothing! 

I've already bought and sold three beach carts this season. My total cash outlay for all three carts came to $12 bucks. The reason I get them so cheap is because they're largely ignored by garage sale buyers. The cart seen in this photo was snagged at a garage sale at 11:00 am. The homeowner was ready to close for the day when I came walking up his driveway and spotted the cart. The poor cart looked lonely, all folded up and laying flat in the driveway! Since the thing had been sitting all morning, I knew the owner was primed to let it go cheap. He wanted five dollars for it, but I offered him three and he was happy to take it! I tossed the cart in the back of my truck knowing with Summer vacations right around the corner, I would easily flip the cart for mucho money!

So how much do I get for these carts? How does two twenty dollar bills sound? Yep, using Craigslist I've been averaging $40 per cart. Not bad for a three to five dollar investment! The last one I sold went to a nice gentleman in his late Sixties. I met him at a local McDonald's to make the deal. He told me he and his wife go to the beach every summer. He desperately needed the cart because his arm got sore carrying all their beach stuff down to the Ocean. This fella happily forked over $40 dollars to me to save his poor arm!

Do you buy and sell a niche item that most people would overlook? Maybe something unique to summer vacations or the area where you live? Tell us about it!  

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