Saturday, February 05, 2005

eBay, smeeebay

I made almost $300 at the Garage Sale today. That's certainly more than I expected. I got rid of probably 2/3 thirds of the stuff. We had close to 100 visitors, thanks to the sunshine! It was a beautiful day.

Our ads and signs said from 8-2, but we had people there at 7:20. I'm sure they were the ones that were in it for the money. They bought up a few antiques then I suspect they made their way to the next garage sale. I still think that would be my dream job. If I tried it again, I think I would rent a space in an antique mall rather than subjecting myself to the whims and scams on ebay.

I lost my job last October and my dad lost his the next week. We decided we would try our hand in ebay sales. We figured we would buy up antiques and collectibles at garage sales, thrift stores, and storage units for dirt cheep, then turn around and sell them on ebay.

I started posting some items of small value on ebay to learn the process etc. I started with a DVD of Felix the Cat that I bought at the $1 store and sold it for $3. Then I started searching at thrift stores for desirable items. My dad and I went to the Grand Re-Opening of the DI in Sacramento. He picked out a big stack of classic hardbound books. I think we profited most on those.

I started doing some research on storage unit auctions. I had known about the concept for a long time, but I didn't know how to go about buying one or what to expect to pay for one. My dad and I went to a small one on a weekday just to get a feel for them and learn what to expect. We found out from this family there, who go on a regular basis that the people there can be pretty competitive and they will make sure to outbid any new comers to discourage them from coming again.

They don't allow you to step inside the unit or even touch or move anything within the unit before they start the bidding. There are clues that will indicate, but not guarantee what kinds of things you might find in the unit, for example, the condition or size of the boxes, any writing on the outside, or any visible furniture legs or surfaces. One article I read even mentioned serial numbers, but that's really pretty far fetched.

I found an ad for a storage place that was planning to auction off something like 30 units and they mentioned some valuable items such as a grand piano that would be sold. It was on a Saturday, so our whole family went. There was a pretty good crowd there and it was the first time for a lot of them. We were allowed to roam around and look at the units and the other miscellaneous boxes and furniture that they had sitting out in rows. There was one unit that peaked my interest. All that was visible were some old boxes. But something about it told me that there might be something valuable inside. I remember pointing it out to my dad.

Then began the bidding. They went through a section of chairs and furniture before they started the bidding on the units. The one I liked was the first in the row. The auctioneer started the bidding at $25. For a moment no one bid. I threw up my number. There were no other takers. Gulp! I just bought a whole crap load of junk, I thought to myself. But hey, it was only 25 bucks! There must be something worth that in there.

We started hauling the boxes out, into the truck. When we reached the back of the unit we discovered an old cabinet radio from circa 1940's. It's not in the best of shape because they had another shelf with a leg resting on top that caused a flaw in the wood and it is missing the turntable, but we were sure pleased to find it there. We opened the boxes when we got home and found (among the mouse fesis, Pleck!) collections of antique dishes, plates, tins, Atari games, children’s videos, old post cards and greeting cards, piano player scrolls and a lot of garbage.

It was a lot of work to sort through the boxes, but it was like finding a new treasure in each one. It was even more work to have to wash every piece of glassware because of the mice that got in there. Some of the metal items were ruined because of it. Then we started taking pictures of anything we thought would be worth putting up on ebay. I was in charge of posting the items. They each had to be weighed plus calculate packaging. You have to write a description for each item, so we had to research some of them. Then we needed to come up with a reasonable, yet attractive price. There was more work involved than we anticipated, especially with such a large scope of items. If we sold the same or similar items I could create and save templates to use each time I posted an item. Instead, I nearly had to start from the beginning each time.

I had a 4 foot tall, orange vase that I bought at Denio's several months earlier for the purpose of selling on ebay. I posted it near the start of my short ebay career. After being listed for a couple of days I got an email from another ebay member saying that he is interested in purchasing the vase as a wedding gift for some friends of his in the Ukraine. He wanted me to send it to them giftwrapped. He also asked if I would assist him in sending them a money gift via Western Union. (This is where any other person with a lick of sense would say, um no thanks that smells like a scam to me.) He said he would transfer the money to my Pay Pal account if I would take care of the details of the vase and the money gift for him. He offered to pay me an additional $150 for helping him.

Temped to earn some extra money and eager to be a cooperative ebay seller I gladly accepted his offer. He sent the money to my Pay Pal account and I waited for the auction of the vase to end. He still had not bid on the vase through ebay. I sent him an email the last day reminding him that he had not bit on the vase yet and that I would like to sell it to him through ebay. He did not reply. The auction for the vase ended without any bids.

Then I get an email from another ebay member telling me that they tried to bid on the vase just before the auction closed but there was some error that prevented him from doing so. He asked if I would be posting it again and if so he would bid on it for sure. I waited to reply because I didn't know how/ if the other deal was going to pan out. I had this guy's money sitting in my Pay Pal account, so I figured it was a sure deal and I just needed to fulfill my part by sending the vase and the money.

I got the 4foot tall vase boxed up and gift wrapped, ready to send to the Ukraine and took it to the post office. When I get there I find out that the box is too big to send to that country. Great, what do I do now? I send the guy an email to explain. I remembered that I had some other clear blue vases in a similar fashion, but much smaller. I decided to send two to make up for the size difference. He seemed satisfied with that. So I box and wrap the other vases and get them sent. Then I sent the $700 Western Union. It turned out he gave me the wrong phone # for his contact in the Ukraine, so he gave another number.

This made the orange vase available again and I was able to send it to the second ebay member that wanted to buy it. I posted it again and he bid on it right away and it sold to him. I ran into problems again when I tried to drop it off at the post office with a shipping label I printed online. The clerk told me again that the package is too large, even to go to Texas. I would have to pay an additional $80 oversize fee. She also suggested packaging it with at least 2 inches of padding if it's fragile. It barely fit in the box I had it in.

I tried to compare shipping prices online with different companies, but there were too many variables to be sure. I didn't want to haul it around, and bring it in to each postal carrier to get a quote. I decided I would go with Fed Ex. I still needed to solve the packaging issue. I got some cardboard and I had to make an additional box around the one it was already in for more padding. Thankfully their price was less than what I was quoted online so I was quite pleased. According to the rules on ebay, the seller is responsible for making up any difference in the shipping fees.

That was such a relief to have that thing off my hands. The man I sold it to, in Texas thanked me for my trouble and told me how much it meant to him because his mother used to have one just like it.

A couple weeks went by and I didn't hear from the other person that I helped with his wedding gift. I sent him an email to make sure the vases and the money got to the couple ok. He replied and assured me that, yes they got it and they have decided to extend their honeymoon, so he wanted to send an additional $700 for them to help them out and would I please assist him again. I might be a fool, but am I am fool twice? YES! Damn, I could kick myself.

I had no problems in the first transaction, so I didn't see any reason to not follow through with it. Besides he was going to pay me another $150 to help him again.

He had someone else send me the money through Pay Pal this time. I gave the money to Western Union to send. A couple days later I get an email from Pay Pal saying that he is disputing his credit card bill with which he paid me through Pay Pal. He explained that he had not ordered anything from ebay and he couldn't understand what the charge was for. I started stressing out. I sent a reply to Pay Pal trying to explain the whole story in a few paragraphs. Then I sent him an email saying essentially, "You Idiot. Hello, it was me that you sent the money to for the wedding gift for you your friends." Within a couple days I got an email stating that the matter had been resolved amicably. What a relief that was.

Then I get an automated email from Pay Pal thanking me for bringing a spam issue to their attention. As if I had reported someone for violating their spam policy. I was quite confused. The next thing I know the first payment I received from him is on hold in my Pay Pal account. I gave them a couple days to look into it and resolve the situation. Instead, I discover that they have reversed the charges from my account and gave it back to him! And now the other payment from his friend was on hold too.

I called Pay Pal to try to get to the bottom of it. The person I spoke with was pretty puzzled by the situation and she said she had to speak with a supervisor to investigate the matter. When I hung up the phone with her I was hopeful that I would get my money back. After all, I was in the right. I had not done anything wrong.

In the mean time I sent and email complaint to Pay Pal reporting this guy as a fraud. I also sent him and his friend a scowling letter, telling them how it was a rotten and dirty deed for them to take advantage of a young single, working mother who is just trying to make some honest, extra money by selling on ebay. I got no reply from either of them. I expected to hear back from Pay Pal informing me that they corrected the reversal. But no. Shortly after receiving another email like the first about reporting spam, they reversed the second payment too.

Thankfully, the second money transfer had not been picked up yet by the other party. I called Western Union and had it transferred to come back to myself.

I called Pay Pal again. I was pretty nervous and upset. The girl I spoke with this time was quite cold when dealing with me. She would not give me any details about what their reason for reversing it was, but rather a list of possible reasons why they would make such a reversal. She explained that the transfer was not a secure transfer because there was not an ebay purchase associated with it. I asked her if I could fax some information regarding the incident to them for their review. She said I could, but that the case is already settled and there's really not anything I could do about it. I said, "Well, it's not settled in my mind."

I printed out every email that I received from this crook. I had the intention of faxing them to Pay Pal, but I still haven't. I guess I was pretty discouraged by the girl I spoke with there. This, coupled with the debt I already have, I had feelings of impending doom. I was reconsidering filing for bankruptcy. I think I have talked myself out of that once again, but I still don't have a solution to the vast debt I owe. Maybe I should hold a garage sale every Saturday.

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