Reselling an item online seems like one of the more mundane tasks in our digital world. So why does it still feel like fixing cataracts with a rusty safety pin?
Both Craigslist and eBay have been in existence in some form since 1995. Kids who were born at that time can not only drink legally by now, but possibly had their first drinks purchased by parents who made a living selling items on Craigslist and eBay. Now with options like Facebook Marketplace, LetGo, and other online second-hand stores, there are more places than ever to host an online garage sale.
The trick is getting people to follow through and actually buy something.
Since moving into our house five years ago, my wife and I have had tremendous success selling items online. The previous owners left our property filled with items they considered gifts but, more likely, didn’t make the cut when they downsized from a 2,400-square-foot house with a barn and various sheds to a two-bedroom apartment.
We sold a bedframe, box spring, and mattress (we were surprised, too) for $200 to a mother and daughter on their way through town. We sold a large Weber charcoal grill ($250) to a gentleman who somehow crammed it into a Mercedes-Benz convertible. In our greatest coup, we sold a wrought iron spiral staircase — the only indoor stairs to our basement — for full price to a gentleman from Seattle who wanted them for his man cave. The sale price of those stairs paid for us to build an actual basement staircase, which is much more functional for carrying laundry than stairs you’d ascend halfway to pose for a wedding photo.
Selling powered garden tools is another challenge entirely. When we bought the house, it came with a Sears Craftsman LT2000 lawn tractor of unknown age that turned out to be the exact wrong piece of machinery for mowing roughly 1.5 acres of pasture. The 42-inch deck was small, the two blades fared poorly in tall or slightly damp grass, and the mower belt popped loose and was chewed to oblivion any time the terrain got too bumpy… which tends to happen on mole-mounded, uneven pasture.
Selling that lawn tractor turned into a 12-month odyssey that taught me a handful of lessons about reselling this specific niche of home items. Here is that journey in four steps:
April 2017: Craftsman LT2000 riding mower $800 (or best offer)
Lesson learned: Know your market
I posted the tractor just after buying a commercial-grade, zero-turn-radius mower built to mow the sides of turnpikes. That mower was the tool for the job, but came with a price tag that I wanted to whittle down by selling the old tractor.
There would be no whittling.
The tractor sat on Cragislist for weeks as other, newer tractors sold for roughly the same price. Those tractors hadn’t had three mower belts replaced within the last year. Those tractors had tires without slow leaks that even tire centers couldn’t identify. Those tractors were built in the 21st century, where it was clear that my Craftsman was old even by driving mower standards. There’s a strong chance that it was 15 or even 20 years old when it hit the market.
When the competition is more reliable and has less wear for the same price, it presents better value for the dollar. I priced my tractor poorly.
October 2017: Craftsman LT2000 riding mower $800
Lesson learned: Know your calendar
Know who’s thinking about lawn maintenance in October? Nobody.
My tractor was one of just five listed on Craigslist in my area at the time, but it received maybe three bites. Craigslist customers can be a bit flaky on their best days, but an overpriced lawn tractor being sold in October isn’t going to make them less so. I decided to hold onto it until spring and try again with a new strategy.
March 2018: Craftsman LT2000 riding mower $500 OBO
Lesson learned: Know what you’re selling
At $500, my tractor was on par with other similarly aged equipment in a flooded market. However, I posted it on both Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace and received a whole bunch of inquiries that I began scheduling as test drives.
When the first testing day came around, however, it wouldn’t start. I lost that sale and figured that a dead battery was the biggest problem. I noted this in the description and got another inquiry. This person offered to jump start it and said he’d buy it if it would start. Seemingly out of spite, it didn’t.
I changed the battery spark plugs, changed the fuel filter, and fixed a cracked vacuum hose and tried to start it up again. Nope. People will pay $500 for a used mower, but only if it runs.
April 2018: Craftsman LT2000 riding mower $150
Lesson learned: Know your limits
By this time, I was receiving suggestions from Craigslist and Facebook posters alike. Some suggested the tractor’s solenoid was no good, others said the fuel pump, while even others suggested it might be a carburetor issue.
I hadn’t used the mower in a year at this point and didn’t want to drop another dime into it. It still had a tag on it from the last time it had been serviced, but I knew I wasn’t going to recoup all of the service hours I’d put into it or the transportation charges from when it had broken down. (P.S. — If you own a tractor of any kind, it also helps to own a utility trailer.) I just wanted it to get to a good home, and not at my expense.
When I posted the tractor to Craigslist and Facebook for the final time at that reduced price, suddenly it was the most popular 20-year-old mower in Oregon. I received dozens of queries within 24 hours, but the best came from a gentleman two towns over. He not only came in at full price, but wanted to convert it into a yard buggy for his wife, who’d developed fibromyalgia and was having a hard time getting around their 18-acre property.
I told him that it was a terrible pasture mower, but would make an excellent buggy or cart. He came to my house in a contractor’s truck with a hydraulic bed, pulled my tractor onto it with a winch (the tractor fought it all the way, locking its rear wheels in defiance), and paid me in cash. He thanked me and handed me a religious leaflet, I wished him well and warned him against driving through the blackberry bramble.
I accept that I’m no expert in these matters but, like many of us, I’m learning as I go. In the spot where that lawn tractor once stood, there’s now a brush cutter, a trimmer and a leaf blower left by the previous owners, all in various states of repair. All have been rendered redundant by a combination tool left to us by my father-in-law’s neighbor, who simply gave it and a number of other tools to him after she and her husband split.
I’ll be selling all of those redundant tools online as well, but I’ll research the market, comparable listings, and the working condition of these items in advance this time around. I probably won’t get rich doing it, but I won’t waste time or money this way, either.
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