How 'eBaby Boomers' are finding extra cash in their closets
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
A growing number of baby boomers are making money by taking a lifetime of possessions and selling them online.
The Mail in Britain calls them "eBaby boomers" and cites a survey by MGM Advantage, a UK-based retirement income company, that says 1 in 5 people of the post-war generation are selling off their property online because they haven't saved enough for retirement.
Marsha Collier, the author of "eBay For Seniors For Dummies" and "eBay for Dummies," tells the Deseret News this isn't what is going on. She says selling online is natural for seniors and aging boomers who are using the Internet more. For example, she points to statistics from researchers at GlobalWebIndex, an Internet marketing research firm. The researchers found in 2013 that 55- to 64-year-olds were Twitter's fastest increasing demographic, growing 79 percent in nine months. Although less than half of 1 percent of Twitter users disclose their age, Beevolve, a social media monitoring company, says only about 6 percent admit to being over 46 years old — leaving a lot of room for growth.
GlobalWebIndex also found that Facebook and Google+ grew 46 percent and 56 percent respectively among people aged 45 to 54.
Collier says that even though usage statistics are hard to find for eBay, she believes the increasing numbers of older Americans on other Internet services show a growing familiarity and comfort with engaging online. And as baby boomers retire, they have more time and, as Collier puts it, "a bucket load of stuff to sell" from a lifetime of purchasing things. Heading into the golden years and selling stuff is "a natural fit," she says.
It isn't necessarily that baby boomers haven't saved, she says, but that they see they can "monetize all the possessions they have collected over the years, and turn them into something concrete."
Ivan Sacks, a financial strategist in Dallas, sides more with the idea that there is a growing need for money among cash-strapped boomers as they approach and enter retirement.
"There are more people who worry about how they are going to pay for their parents or for their kids in college," Sacks says. "There is a desire for more money than what they needed previously. Kids have moved home and don't have full time jobs. So there is a definite need for additional money."
As people go through life, they accumulate property. Gifts, inheritances, necessities and niceties fill homes. Glen Beckstead is chief cost estimator at MHTN Architects in Salt Lake City and has a side business selling antiques and collectibles online — and helps other people sell their stuff as well. Beckstead says one reason boomers are selling is because they are beginning to downsize. "You may as well get the money out of it," Beckstead says, "rather than throwing it away."
Not getting rid of things also places a burden on family later on, he says.
Anthony Christensen, an antique dealer who has a large store, Anthony's Fine Art and Antiques, in Salt Lake City, agrees. "I think you are burdening the children when you are giving them things, and I think you are assuming that because you had it that they want it," Christensen says. "Don't assume your children are going to want it because you liked it. So sell it. Get rid of it — whether you sell it by eBay, or sell it to a dealer or put it in an auction or whatever you do."
What to sell
Collier says people would be surprised by what can sell on eBay. Ashtrays, matchbook covers, postcards, vinyl records. "Walk around your house," Collier says. "We all have cool stuff that we don't care about anymore."
Beckstead says people may have things that are quite valuable. "But it is usually the things they don't think are worth any money," he says.
For example, he says people might think an old Bible from 1847 might be worth a lot of money. But that's not likely because Bibles are extremely common. On the other hand, he says, a book about architecture from the 1990s could be worth $300.
Just because something is old also doesn't mean that it is very valuable. "Generally, something that was valuable when it was sold will maintain its value as time goes on," Christensen says. "Whereas something that was out of grandpa's shed that's 100 years old, doesn't necessarily mean that it is valuable."
How to sell
Christensen, the antiques dealer, worries that people looking to augment retirement or savings quickly might accidentally sell things for far less than they are worth. Beckstead recommends looking online to see what something is worth. But even so, some items may be so specialized that only an appraiser or dealer can ascertain their true value.
"There are things that people have that are valuable that they don't know about," Christensen says, "but knowing that requires such a specific knowledge that it is difficult to know. For the most part, people don't have much that is valuable. It is very rare we find anything of real value."
But having things that are not really valuable doesn't mean that they have no value and can't be sold. Small things sold here and there can add up quickly.
"How can you turn down an extra $500 a month when you can make it with so little effort?" says Collier, the author of "eBay for Dummies."
She says that the process of online sales isn't really that difficult once people give it a try. "Getting started, that is the whole key," she says. "Get started and get in the rhythm. You can't make money if you don't (put the items online)."
Christensen, however, doesn't think selling online with services such as Craigslist, KSL Classifieds or eBay is the answer for everything. In many instances, such as with larger and more valuable antiques, it may be easier to use a dealer or someone like Beckstead who can buy items or help sell some things online.
"EBay is good and it's bad," Christensen says. "It is good if you know what you're doing."
Beckstead says getting help isn't that difficult, but that people should ask around to find good dealers and consigners. He recommends looking at antique sellers online and seeing if there are comments about them online. "Call someone with good feedback," he says.
But never assume that something won't sell, Beckstead says. When his mother moved to a new house, he rescued thousands of dollars' worth of things others might have just thrown out, he says. He also recently sold some glass-negative photos damaged in the rain. The person who had the negatives thought they were near worthless because of their condition. They ended up selling for tens of thousands of dollars.
Assets and fun
Sacks, the financial strategist, sees the selling of things a little differently. To him, it is merely transferring assets from one form into another. He says if people think of it in this way, they may use the money differently.
"You should be selling it for a reason: because the thing you are going to be buying has more value," he says. "You shouldn't be selling your assets to just pay off expenses, but to put the value in a better investment."
Collier's attitude is lighter and not focused on a few valuable items as much as it is on selling everything that a person wants to get rid of.
"What's more fun than having people sending you money?" she says. "What is more fun than cleaning out your closet and getting money for it?"