Cashing in on Your Closet

By Susan Tompor
Detroit Free Press

Kathy Adams, 52, has created her own consignment boutique of sorts out of her closet.

That L.A.M.B. bag that always seemed too heavy and its matching brown-leather-with-suede-trim accessories? She sold it all for $675. Yes, she paid about $1,000 for those items at Nordstrom. But it’s gone, out of her life, and she’s freed up some cash to buy something else.

“Once you start selling things, it’s pretty addicting,” said Adams, who lives in Sterling Heights and sells online via the Poshmark marketplace where sellers and buyers go online or via mobile phone for women’s clothing, shoes and accessories.

It’s 2014 and time to de-clutter. It’s also time to consider whether there’s actually a way to make money unloading skirts that were marked down 70% but never did fit, trophy purses or all those blazers that you’ll never work enough hours to actually wear.

For some women, selling stuff is a creative hobby to find money to buy more cool stuff. For others, who are struggling financially, selling stuff is a far less thrilling way to make ends meet.

A fast way to make big bucks? Not exactly.

Over the years, I’ve found myself disappointed when a sweater that cost me $30 could be bought by a resale shop on the spot for $3. So I continue to donate some items to the Salvation Army and sell some to resale shops for what I call extra “coffee” money.

Even so, spending a little time looking at the art of reselling could give many of us pause. When you see office jackets priced at $15 at a resale shop, you quickly realize that even buying a jacket for $50 on sale doesn’t mean it would be worth $50 forever.

I met one retired woman in mid-December who was carrying what some might consider “investment” clothing into a resale shop in Clawson.

She had a smartly tailored Banana Republic suit and a Lafayette 148 executive-style dress in her arms. Rita, who lives in Oakland County but didn’t want her full name used because she’s embarrassed by her financial situation, said she thought her clothes were worth more than $500 new. She sheepishly admitted she had received the items at a clothing bank, but they didn’t really fit her.

She was offered less than $15 on the spot. She declined the money and decided to see whether she could get more money by going to a consignment shop.

Some consignment shops can give you 40% to 45% of the price the merchandise sells for at the consignment shop.

You also must wait for an item to sell before you get any cash. But Rita later told me the consignment shop didn’t want her items because the shop wasn’t buying winter items right now. She plans to donate the clothes now to someone else.

Sellers online can run into snags, too. One seller complained to the Better Business Bureau that she sold a flawless bag via Poshmark but the buyer said it was stained and did not want to pay after receiving the item.
The complaint eventually was resolved when $28, after a 20% commission to Poshmark, was directly deposited to her account.

Another woman complained to the BBB that she sold size 8 Ugg boots in good condition but then the Poshmark buyer didn’t want to pay and argued the boots were stained. The seller had paid $135 for the boots and sold them for $50. Later, $40 in earnings, again after the 20% commission, was released to her.

Yet sellers who are prepared for some hassle say unloading some of their own stockpile can turn into a way to raise extra cash.

Think of this one like recycling metal at the scrapyard but with slightly more panache.

Amber Gauthier, 34, said she has been able to make about $50 a month selling size 8 to size 10 clothes that are too big for her after she lost 15 pounds. She has sold shoes, including polka dot flats that cost her $15 that she never wore. She got about $8 for those flats.

“But it was better than zero dollars,” she said.

To make things work for her, Gauthier said she has taken time to learn the culture of where she sells items online.

A Poshmark seller needs to build a following in that social network and show enthusiasm for items being posted by other sellers, too.

Prices, while negotiable, need to be realistic, based on what’s selling at a particular store or site. A cashmere sweater bought on sale for $100 might sell for $30.

Monica Kmet, who determines what clothes will be bought from customers at Regeneration New & Use Clothing in Pleasant Ridge, said the store only buys styles that will sell at that store.

Some stores only buy certain items during a month. In January, for example, Bellocchio, a consignment store in Royal Oak, will buy only accessories, said Carol Dowling, co-owner of Bellocchio. The store often lists its brand new items on its Facebook site.

Many of those brand new items are designer handbags.

“We’ve had brand new Chanel,” she said. Some customers switch allegiances and then they just don’t want another designer.

Some items turn into be super bargains. Someone sold $450 Prada boots for $50 on Poshmark and Kathy Adams is thrilled to own those boots now. “They look brand new.”

“I am a big shoe fiend,” Gauthier said. She said she has about 100 pairs of shoes but realized that it’s OK to go through her own closet and sell off some pairs that she maybe wore once.

“It made it a lot easier to want to get rid of things,” said Gauthier, who has two daughters ages 7 and 10.

Adams, who has no children and whose husband works at Chrysler’s Warren Stamping plant, said she has sold some other handbags, including Coach bags as a way to trade up and buy a $3,000 Chanel purse at the Somerset Collection in Troy.

“It’s money sitting there,” she said.

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