Phillips: Web auction setup needs care to set up

Phillips: Web auction setup needs care to set up

February 20th, 2010 by Ellen Phillips in Opinion Columns

Many of us already are readying our returns and praying Uncle Sam doesn't march us to the bank to empty our account to pay more taxes. If you're like me, just to be on the safe side, I'm gathering merchandise from around my home to make a few bucks.

While I've used the behemoth selling site e-Bay, fees sometime outweigh any proceeds or time spent trying to sell items.

When I came across a Woman's Day article recently that offers alternatives, I figured my reader buddies could use a selling boost. (Let's think more about actually buying at online auctions after April 15.) A couple of tidbits first, though:

1. Be absolutely certain you understand the fee schedule and, as important, trust the person (as much as you can depend on a complete stranger who lives on the other side of the country) to whom you're selling. Read the buyer's feedback ratings carefully and stay away from those whose ratings aren't waaay up there.

Frankly, I'm leery about selling or buying from someone outside the U.S., too.

2. Set up a Paypal account ( Even though you pay a small fee for each transaction, if you're defrauded or anything else untoward occurs, Paypal turns into Jack the Giant Killer. Ole' Jack certainly saved my financial neck a time or two.

3. It's always better to set a lower price and sell that purple and orange triangular vase from your third marriage than be more proud price-wise of the sucker than you should. (Just think about that potentially empty guest closet.)

4. Take a good clear photo of each item on an appropriate background. For example, if you own a dressmaker's dummy, let "her" wear the clothing you're offering. Don't stop there; in the product description, fully explain the item, down to the very tiniest of flaws. Buyers appreciate honesty.

Selling jewelry? Wear a piece so lookers can tell how the pieces actually appear in person. Use a black, navy, or royal blue scrap of velvet as background and the articles appear even richer. Don't neglect to mention any flaws.

I bought a vintage rhinestone pin with a small stone missing to wear for the holidays. I couldn't see the defect from the photo, but the seller pointed it out in her honest description. I'll buy from her again for this reason alone (well, plus the pin was cheap).

OK, these hints are just appetite-whetters. I'll detail a few of the Woman's Day investigatory sites next week. So in the meantime start gathering up all your stuff, making photos and writing those item reports.

Tax Tip: Do you know about the tax-free (de minimis) benefit? This Latin term generally is used to describe something too insignificant to be of consideration. From a tax standpoint, a de minimis is a small amount not subject to taxation. For example, on Form 1099-S, Proceeds from Real Estate Transactions, any transfer of less than $600 is considered de minimis. So far as your company is concerned, a gift to an employee of less than $50 also is considered de minimis. You're a winner.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business. E-mail her at