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Make a mint by selling hidden treasures online

A dog-eared copy of the first Superman comic has just sold for a staggering £735,000! You might not have something that valuable hidden under the bed, but you probably have some stuff you don't want but someone else does. So get set to sell them with our step-by-step guide to online auctions.

Snap some photos, pop up your listing, post off your possession and pocket the cash. Job done. Release the clutter from your cupboards, and you could be onto a nice little earner.

Our recipe to sell through online auctions

Stuff you'll need

  • Computer, tablet or smartphone, to list your items
  • Camera or smartphone, to take photos
  • Packaging materials, for anything that needs posting
  • Scales, to calculate postage costs
  • Time, to get to the Post Office or courier drop off point

Time it'll take

A few minutes to post online, a few days for the auction to end.

How you'll do it

1. Open an account

First, open an account on an auction site like eBay and put in some contact and payment details. You might be required to link to a PayPal account, which is a bit like a bank account that lets you receive payments easily without handing out your bank details to strangers.

2. Buy if you want to sell

Strange but true: if you want to sell stuff, you need to buy some stuff first. Buyers are reluctant to shell out serious cash to sellers with zero feedback. So start by buying a few cheap and cheerful items. Pay promptly. Leave feedback for the sellers. Wait for them to leave (hopefully glowing) feedback for you.

Never sold on an auction site before? Start small. Don’t charge in with a mega expensive item as your first listing – think cardigans not cars. Build up feedback from successful sales, to get more bidders and higher bids in future.

3. Stomach the costs

You’ll usually pay for the privilege of selling online. You might get a handful of free listings each month but you'll then pay for every item after that. You need to allow for a slice of the selling price AND postage. There are also fees for added extras, like listing in more than one category. Finally, PayPal takes a cut of the final price if your buyer used it to pay.

4. Love your listings

Lavish a bit of time on your listings. Think about the words people will search for when writing your title. Search for similar items, to check the category, title and details they use. Write an accurate description, including the condition, size, colour, any brand names and special features. If it’s brand new, still has tags on, or comes in the original packaging, say so. Make it sound attractive – think “vintage”, rather than “old” or “second hand”. Be honest about any marks or damage. Remember, buyers can ask for their money back if the item isn’t as described.

If in doubt, have a look at what other successful sellers put - you can see the prices paid, and the magic words used to describe their items.

5. Get snap happy

Good photos get better prices. Unleash your inner Mario Testino - clear photos, plain backgrounds and good light. More expensive item? Take pics from several angles. You can usually post some photos for free. Take close ups of any marks or damage mentioned, so bidders know what to expect.

6. Price up the postage

Weigh your item including the packaging, then check costs online. Shop around for parcel delivery – you may well find cheaper options than the post office. Put down the costs of tracked and signed for delivery, if you’re keen to stop dodgy buyers claiming stuff hasn’t arrived. Just don’t try whacking on charges for recorded delivery when you’re only selling a pencil… Bulky items, from tents to treadmills? You can often choose collection in person only, but this will limit the sale to local customers. Quote the cost of a courier, and you’ll get a much wider audience.


Start hoarding packaging materials, like padded envelopes, cardboard boxes, bubble wrap and sturdy plastic bags from catalogue deliveries. Reusing packaging, rather than buying brand new, will cut the cost of selling your stuff. Need new? Try pound shops.

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7. Start price

Putting a teeny starting price can encourage more people to bid, hoping to bag a bargain. Don’t want your iPhone going for peanuts? Set a higher starting price or bung on a reserve price, and take the hit on a higher fee.

8. Finish time

Lots of bidding can happen at the last minute. Make sure your listing finishes when people are likely to be browsing the web, rather than fast asleep in bed. (Think 7pm to 9pm mid-week and Sunday evenings). Longer auctions mean more people see your stuff. You get a choice of a few days to more than a week, so opt for longer periods for more chance of your unwanted Snuffle Bunny getting a good price. 

If you’d like your auction to start at a particular time and date and then finish at a busier time likely to attract last minute bids, click on “schedule start time”.

9. Rapid response

If you get any questions, answer promptly. Add the Q&A to the end of your listing, if you think other potential bidders might want to know too. Then keep your fingers crossed that the bids will pile in at the last minute, and push up the price. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

10. Prompt delivery

Auction over? Wait for the payment to be confirmed. Send an invoice including the postage cost if you need to chase it. Make sure your item is packaged safely and securely, and get it posted off quickly, within a day or two. Cover your back: put a return address on the outside of the packaging, and ask for proof of postage. Then let the buyer know the item is on its way, send a tracking number if you have one and leave feedback for the buyer.

Always post your item to the address listed on PayPal. Ignore any demands to send stuff to friends or family elsewhere. Stick to the official address, or you won’t be covered by eBay’s seller protection.


This guest post is from Faith Archer and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the Money Advice Service. You can find out more about Faith and what she does on her blog, Much More With Less

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