When I’m meeting someone for the first time and they ask what I do for a living, I tell them about my job as a freelance writer and then I pause. I have that split second where I decide if I’m going to tell them about my other job…buying and selling vintage stuff.

If I tell them, I can expect one of three reactions. Some think it sounds cool and fun. Some look at me as though I’ve just told them I sell pencils on a street corner. And a rare few say they’d like to try that someday and ask questions. So for this latter group of people, here are my answers …

How do you know what to buy?

That’s the six-million-dollar question for any seller! I started out buying what interested and intrigued me. I looked for older things (20-150 years old) of quality, uniqueness and beauty, that had a good price.

Six years later, my buying strategy hasn’t changed. The only thing I throw into the mix now is keeping an eye out for the “hot” stuff, like mid-century modern, designer costume jewelry, steampunk items.

But of course the real difficulty isn’t finding good stuff to sell, but finding it at a price that will allow you to make a profit! Initially I relied mostly on my intuition to help me make those decisions. Now I have more experience and knowledge to pair up with my intuition. And, on occasion, I whip out my phone and google an item, particularly artwork.

Here are a few of the things I’ve bought and resold…

Where do you buy your stuff?

In the U.S. we are swimming in excess stuff. This list is not comprehensive but includes my favorite sources for finding things. The things shown above, which have all sold, were all purchased at one of the sources below.

Estate Sales
It’s so fun rummaging around someone’s home! Going when a sale opens gives you the best selection. Going when it ends the best prices. I got on the mailing lists of local estate sale companies and also use estatesales.org.
Pros: Usually have lots of amazing vintage items.
Cons: Can be pricey and you may have fierce competition.

Thrift Stores
I think of thrift stores as old standbys. Some are open seven days a week. I visit my local ones frequently because my best finds are typically new items that have just been put out!
Pros: “New” inventory daily. Frequently have sale days, discounts or coupons.
Cons: Prices are going up. There can be a lot of junk. Some stores save their best stuff to sell online.

Yard Sales and Rummage Sales
I use Garage Sales by Map to find ones in my area. I avoid any sales that list baby clothes, kids toys, video games and appliances. Just not my thing.
Pros: Good prices. Negotiation friendly.
Cons: Hit and miss on merchandise.

I posted a Craiglist ad for items I wanted to buy and received six replies. I followed up on two of them (and bought things that I later sold for a nice profit), but in retrospect going on my own to meet them was not smart!
Pros: Can find good prices. Lots of variety.
Cons: Can be dangerous meeting up with someone to buy items. Go with someone else. Meet in a public place.

Online Listings
Yes, I buy from other online resellers if the price is right. I have found some super sterling silver pieces this way.
Pros: You can search for items from the comfort of your house!
Cons: Items may have undisclosed flaws.

How do you figure out your selling prices?

Research. A lot of research. First I try to make sure I know what I have. (Sometimes easier said then done!) Then I check current online auctions and listings (Etsy, eBay, Rubylane, etc.) and then I check what things actually sold for (I subscribe to Worthpoint for this). I also factor in condition, maker and scarcity.

Some folks don’t research items but pick a price they want to get and hope someone will pay it. While that strategy works sometimes, it’s not one I use.

Do you ever want to keep the stuff you find?

Oh sure! I only buy things I like. Sometimes I decided to keep an item, but not too often. I get a kick out finding new homes for the fabulous bits I find.