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Make sure trash isn't really treasure

Know value of items before donating

By Teresa Mears Sep 14, 2009 3:05PM

It's great to clear out stuff you no longer use and give it to charity. But, as one unidentified Miami investment firm learned, you should make sure you know what you're giving away.


When the investment firm was renovating its offices last May, they donated a quantity of items to Goodwill, including a 2.5-ton bronze statue of a young ballerina. For months, the statue sat in a warehouse, until Goodwill employees did a little investigating before setting a price.


It turned out the sculpture was one of 10 created in 1985 by famed artist Sterett-Gittings Kelsey and is valued at $500,000. Goodwill decided the honorable course of action was to offer to return the statue, The Miami Herald reported. The investment firm took it back.


It's unlikely any of us have sculptures worth $500,000 lurking in our homes (though I'm going to check the garage this weekend just to be sure), but it does pay to do some research before donating items you no longer want. We've all seen Antiques Roadshow, where Aunt Mavis' ugly table turned out to be worth $3,000.


When I inherited all the worldly goods of a departed relative, I spent months trying to figure out which things that didn't appear valuable to me were actually worth money. A roomful of books I wasn't interested in reading fetched about $2,700 on Amazon, including $200 for one (to me) very boring book on commercial real estate. One cassette tape on an inspirational topic by someone I had never heard of sold for $109.


An ugly designer briefcase that was 20 years old but never used sold for $200 on eBay. Other things weren't worth selling. A carload of beautiful clothes went to a thrift shop that used the proceeds to help poor women, and half a dozen carloads of household goods ended up at Goodwill.


Kelly at The Centsible Life has some guidelines she uses to decide what to sell, what to donate and what to throw away. She, like me, has not made much money with yard sales, so doesn't bother, donating those items instead. Others do very well with yard sales. Jason at Frugal Dad has a good list of tips on how to hold a successful yard sale.


Goodwill itself has become more conscious of which items will fetch higher prices for its charitable efforts and runs online auctions for those items. Proceeds go to the same cause, providing job training and employment for people with disabilities.


What about you? Do you have tips on how to find out whether what you see as trash is really treasure, or at least worth real money? And what are the best tactics for selling it for the most money?



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