Find $10,000 in Your Closet

by Jean Chatzky
Martha Wright in the New York City apartment of Elizabeth Frogel, who helped Wright sell her unwanted designer clothes on eBay. One example: the $2,000 Prada dress Wright is holding. She wore it only once.
Photograph: Photo: Ian Allen

How to Sell Clothes

Martha Wright has never minded spending money on clothes. “I’ve always been into fashion,” she says. “I just kept buying anything I could afford. My mother was the person who would sew two scarves together and wear them to a formal party where people were in $20,000 ball gowns. I wanted the $20,000 gown.” But now Wright, once a corporate trainer, is starting a new career as a life coach, and she’s looking to finance the change by unloading some of her collection.

Wright organizes her closets twice a year, and in the past, she gave away anything that was not working. “If I’ve moved something out of storage more than once and never worn it, out it goes,” she says. Each batch of castoffs generally contains some Miu Miu and Prada, a little Jil Sander, maybe even The Row. There will be at least one handbag (“When I switch to a new one, I never go back,” she says) and shoes, often Christian Louboutins. “I buy for a life I do not lead,” Wright admits.

Wright and I take about 20 pieces—including a worn-once black turtleneck from Akris, a Narciso Rodriguez shift and a grommet-embossed Jimmy Choo handbag—to show Elizabeth Frogel, who runs a business,, selling high-level designer clothes on eBay. The three of us discuss which items are most likely to sell and what the minimum bids should be. (Frogel passes on a dress that is “too worn” and several pairs of pants.) For handling the whole process—from listing the clothes to shipping them—Frogel charges 50 percent of any sales, a typical fee for this kind of service.

The auctions go online a few days later. Some items, such as a pair of Prada sunglasses and nearly new Louboutin camel patent leather pumps, get immediate bids. Others, like a pantsuit from The Row, don’t sell. Total sales: $2,696. Wright’s take: $1,348, a fraction of the $15,000 she spent on the items when they were new, but still good money. “I am so excited about letting go of all those clothes!” she says. “My life coaching business feels like a new beginning, and I’m glad that these things I don’t want can help me move forward.”

How can you re-create Wright’s experience with your unwanted designer pieces? First, always save everything—original sales tags, shoe boxes, flannel bags, those envelopes of buttons or thread. Next, sell an item sooner rather than later; you’ll get more for pieces that are on trend. Finally, look for “Top-rated” eBay sellers. For example, if you have a Chanel handbag to auction, go to eBay, type “Chanel handbag” into the search box, then scroll down and, under “Seller” on the left, click on the link that will give you only the top-rated sellers. Send messages to a few with details on what you have, and ask if they work with people in your location (which is necessary if they want to examine the goods in person, as Frogel does). If that proves unsuccessful, your next stop should be your local consignment shops—but visit the stores before you commit, to make sure they have items in the same categories.

Or you can post on eBay yourself. Here are some tips.

•?In your listing, include: the name of the designer and the item if you know it (Balenciaga Motorcycle Bag), “NWT” (new with tags), “authentic” and anything that can identify which collection it’s from (a picture of a model wearing the item on the runway is always a plus).

•?If there is a good backstory to the piece (you bought it on a recent trip to Paris, for example), that’s helpful; it makes the item stand out for buyers.

•?Don’t bother listing pants. They rarely sell, because it’s hard to gauge fit—and everyone knows at least one woman who never wears underwear.


How to Sell Jewelry

Leslye Fagin is shedding. After separating from her husband two years ago, she sold her house in Marlboro, New Jersey, and built a new one for herself, her daughter and the 84-year-old family friend who lives with them. “I was looking for a fresh beginning, a simpler life. And I needed money to decorate my house,” she says. In particular, she would like to get rid of an impressive amount of jewelry. Some came from her husband, some from her mother, some she bought herself but doesn’t wear anymore. “My priorities have changed,” she says. “Now it’s all excess. And to be honest, I’d rather have the money. It would make me feel more secure.”

We meet at the New York office of a friend of mine who runs a jewelry-buying business. We tell him we don’t necessarily plan to sell the pieces to him, but we want to get a sense of their value from two or three experts. (Buyers, unlike appraisers who aren’t in the buying business, will quote a purchase price for free.) As Fagin lays out dozens of rings, bracelets, pins and necklaces on the counter, it becomes clear which mean the most to her: There’s a pair of spiral-patterned diamond earrings from designer Jose Hess, some diamond-accented Roberto Coin gold earrings (“They’re beautiful, but too much for the life I live now,” she says) and a heavy David Yurman gold necklace with a diamond clasp (“I remember buying this for $8,000; I loved it, but it feels wasteful to leave it sitting in a drawer when someone could enjoy it”).

My friend takes out his scale and sorts the items into piles: 14 karat gold, 18 karat gold, sterling silver, designer and not. Then he breathes deeply and says, “What you have here, for the most part, is only worth its weight.” Minus, of course, the cost of the labor to melt down the gold or resell the piece (up to 10 percent) and a 20 to 30 percent profit for the dealer. Fagin is disappointed; she feels he isn’t giving the brand names enough of a premium. She was hoping for $3,500 for the Yurman necklace, but he offers $2,000. If it were Cartier or Van Cleef & Arpels, it would be a different story, he explains. He presents Fagin with the amount he would pay for the lot: $11,000, including $1,500 for the Roberto Coin earrings and $900 for the Jose Hess earrings.

Fagin’s confidence is shaken. “I don’t know if I’ll sell anything,” she says. “I don’t feel right letting these pieces go to people who don’t appreciate what they’re getting.” Then she remembers why she’s there. “Of course, it doesn’t make sense to hold on to things I’ll never wear again just because I think the sale number should be higher. I’d rather have the money.” Around the corner at Circa (, which deals primarily with used jewelry and operates nationwide, we go through much the same process. The buyer sorts and tests the metals, then makes an offer: $2,500 for the Yurman, $17,000 for everything. “I’m sooooo happy!” Fagin exclaims.

The difference in offers most likely lies in the fact that since Circa buys so much jewelry, its buyers arrive at a price based not just on weight and brand name but also on the design of a piece; they will offer more for items that are particularly beautiful or unusual, which pleases Fagin. In the end, she sells the Yurman necklace plus a dozen assorted pieces with no sentimental value, for a total of $6,200. Circa says it will make good on its offer for the remaining items anytime, and Fagin intends to go back. “It’s like having an insurance policy,” she says.

To sell your own jewelry, get bids from three dealers, but check with your local Better Business Bureau first to make sure they have no history of complaints. (This is important. The week we were out selling, New York State Representative Anthony Weiner called for an investigation into Cash4Gold, which buys through the mail, alleging that the company pays only 11 to 29 percent of the actual value of gold sent to it.) And understand that no store wants to be your first stop, for fear that you’ll use its offer to leverage a better one elsewhere. So don’t let the dealers know their place in the order of visits. In addition:

•?Don’t be alarmed by the acid test, in which your jewelry is rubbed on slate, then dabbed with a little nitric acid to reveal whether a piece is 14 karat, 18 karat or not gold at all. This is normal and won’t harm the piece.

•?Brand names matter—but not all of them. Jewelry signed by Cartier, Tiffany or Van Cleef & Arpels often fetches two to four times the value of the metal. Pieces by David Yurman, John Hardy and other midlevel designers can recoup 20 to 60 percent of their retail price. The value of nondesigner jewelry varies from piece to piece.

•?Vintage pieces may be worth a lot, particularly if they are signed or very rare.

•?Prices of diamonds have risen, so if you bought one more than 25 years ago, you may be able to recoup your cost, depending on the stone’s shape, size and quality. For newer diamonds, look for 25 to 50 percent of what you paid.

•?Jewelry with precious stones—such as emeralds, rubies and opals—is evaluated according to the quality of the gem and the design of the piece.

•?If you’re familiar with selling on eBay and have a recognizable piece (such as a ring still available at Tiffany), then you may want to use the site to auction your jewelry. Otherwise, stick to dealers. 


How to Sell Furs

When Nina Peskoe Peyser’s mother passed away in September 2008, not long after her father, the big job of clearing out her parents’ house fell to her. Peyser made sure her family members got the sentimental items they wanted, and then she sold the valuable art. That left her with three furs: a sheared mink jacket, a mink-lined raincoat and a mink stole.

We set out to sell the pieces at Ritz Furs, a New York institution now located in the garment district after decades on Fifty-seventh Street. Keith Tauber, who married a granddaughter of the original owner and now runs the place, explains that fur shops typically do business in these three ways: They take furs on consignment, in which case the owner gets 50 percent of the total but doesn’t get paid until the coat has sold; they buy furs outright at 35 to 40 percent of what the shopkeeper thinks the garments will eventually fetch; or they give you part of the value of your fur (typically about 60 percent) to trade for one in the shop.

Tauber eyes Peyser’s minks. “Your sheared mink jacket is like gold to me,” he says, explaining that real sheared mink is still in style and goes for a premium. “Your mother paid $5,000 or $6,000 for it. I think I can get $2,000 to $3,000,” he says. “You’ll get half that if you consign, or I’ll give you a check for $800 today.” The raincoat could sell for $700 to $1,500. Peyser decides to hold on to the stole, so Tauber offers $1,000 for the two other coats together. Peyser counters with $1,300. (Note: Don’t be reluctant to bargain in consignment shops; these days, dealers expect it.) After they agree on $1,100, Peyser sighs. “I’m relieved to get it over with,” she says. “I needed closure after the deaths.”

How do you sell furs yourself?

•?Ritz ( buys nationally, as does Chicago Fur Outlet ( Call the company, then send pictures and a description. If there is interest, mail the coat (insured!).

•?Or look in the Yellow Pages under “fur dealers” to find resellers in your area; these are better than nonspecialized consignment shops because the salespeople push hard to get a higher price.

•?Avoid eBay if you can; furs are difficult to sell on the Web because the price closely reflects the fur’s condition, which bidders need to see firsthand.

•?Always have legal documentation showing you have the right to sell an inherited fur. A copy of the will or a letter from the executor of the estate will do the trick.

—With reporting by Arielle Mcgowen

Jean Chatzky is More’s finance columnist and the author of several books. Read more of her advice here.

Originally published in the May 2010 issue of More.

First Published Wed, 2010-03-31 08:05

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