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, Fla., to visit theme parks with his wife and 3-year-old son. I took it as divine deliverance. LaPedis graciously interrupted his adventures at the Happiest Place on Earth, and squeezed in coffee with me. He swore he didn't mind listening to my home-life problems when he could have been meeting Disney princesses. That's the kind of guy he is.
What's more, the garage-sale guru/art-gallery owner is just as much at home at a high-end antiques auction as at a low-end yard sale. Donald Trump describes him this way: "Aaron sees opportunities that others can't."
The guy buys abandoned, unopened storage lockers (ones in better ZIP codes) for a flat fee. He never knows what's inside. Dead bodies? A Steinway grand? He takes what he gets -- bust or bonanza -- and sells it.
"But how do you know what to sell and where and for how much?" I ask, since this is the skill set I need as I sift through mom's old jewelry, dad's tools, their furniture, dishes, collections and the random detritus that once meant something, if only to them.
"So you want to liquidate," he said, summing up my 15-minute rant.
"That's it!" I
LaPedis said, "A lot of people are turning stuff they don't want into cash right now, for other reasons. They see the bills coming in from Christmas, and feel that credit card hangover." Then he offered me this golden advice on what to sell and where to sell it -- which you, too, can use, whether emptying a loved one's home, downsizing yourself or trying to get ahead of bills:
Garage sales: Host one to sell household stuff worth less than $100: garden tools, baby furniture, kitchen ware, clothes -- "stuff you would never take the time to put on Craigslist," LaPedis said. Garage sales bring in money right away, and they're free. Accept only cash.
Craigslist: Like a yard-sale online, Craigslist can be 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 avoid shipping costs. Sell only to buyers who will pick up the item. Accept only cash. When a buyer is going to meet you, have someone with you.
eBay: Sell smaller, more valuable items such as collectibles and fine jewelry through this online trading site. You will likely get the highest value, but will pay eBay and PayPal fees and shipping. Remember: PayPal protects both buyers and sellers. Never send anything without requiring a signature to verify receipt. LaPedis also recommends insuring shipments.
Vendors: You can sell your items to a reseller, such as a flea market, antique shop or secondhand 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 only for the meltdown value of the metal. The exceptions are collectible 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, then compare offers. "Never put your gold in a bag and ship it to one of those outfits online, and then wait for a check. You will be at their mercy," LaPedis 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 that specializes in items made in multiples that are collected in sets. Big-time collectors may scan eBay, but they feel more confident buying at auctions, where a professional has reviewed the items. Auction houses 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 these items at their auctions.
Marni Jameson is author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.