Second Hand Hustlin' in Silicon Valley
With unemployment checks running out, jobs running scarce, flipping garage sale and flea market finds has become a growth industry.
One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure – and for some of us in Silicon Valley, it is an entire economy. I have been working the garage sale, flea market, Craigslist circuit for years, and as unemployment checks run out and jobs continue to run scarce, I’ve seen a major increase in what I call “second-hand hustlers.” We are the entrepreneurs who scour your neighborhood garage sales armed with smart phones to check on values and make deals.
Families now are organizing yard sales year round, not just on the weekend anymore to make extra cash. That’s where we come in – to get that stuff, and sell it elsewhere. You can spot us at your local garage sale, estate sale, swap meet or flea market, hustling for those second hand goods so we can flip them online.
For over ten years I have been visiting yard sales, flea markets, and second hand stores searching for rare treasures to bring home – but have never seen the competition so fierce. On the hustle trail, I run into more and more people who are now doing this as their full time job. For some people second hand hustling is the only job they have, and for others it has become a second or third source of income. You might not realize that someone is a second hand hustler until you hear them talk about how many items they have on E-bay or how much money they have in their Pay Pal account.
When a friend was laid off recently he started buying different electronic items at the local swap meet and yard sales. He has been reselling them online and making a living for his family bringing in over $500 dollars a weekend to supplement the unemployment money that doesn’t meet all of his family’s budget needs. He says when he works the swap meet through the week, he makes as much doing this as his 9 to 5 job, and he isn’t too motivated to go back to the traditional workforce. In this gig he calls his own hours, spends more time with his kids, and has no boss to worry about.
Next to dealing drugs I don’t see any other more profitable untaxed hustle to get into. The best second hand hustlers specialize: antiques, vintage items, electronics, construction tools, basically anything they know that can be sold quickly or is hard to find online.
If you want to start second hand hustling always remember the risk can not outweigh the reward, always try and make at least three times the profit because every purchase is a gamble. The job comes with a lot of research and traveling. The difference between a pro and a rookie is in the preparation. First time buyers just go with their gut instincts to determine the value of an item, pros go with their smart phones and knowledge.
The best places to start second hand hustling is in the more affluent areas like the Evergreen, Los Gatos, Sunnyvale, Willow Glen or Santa Clara neighborhoods mainly because they sell better items, and have wider streets with ample parking and bigger yards to browse the items in. Second hand hustlers are in such a rush driving around that they don’t even stop, they just pull up browse from their cars and toss the items in the back.
After stopping at all the yard sales in the nice areas, we usually make our way towards the more populated areas on the other side of town, near the Capitol and Berryessa flea markets. It is not as easy to find parking here, and it seems like everywhere you turn somebody is trying to make some money. Yard sale vendors in these neighborhoods use fence posts and tree branches to hang clothes on, and items are set out on tarps or blankets on front lawns or driveways. These yard sales operate as small neighborhood thrift stores open seven days a week. And as the housing crisis continues and families face financial difficulties, more yard sale signs are turning into moving sale signs.
Vendors too are catching on though, and trying to cash in. A second hand hustler’s nightmare is stopping at a yard sale where all the items are priced too high and nothing is in budget. Those kind of bargain hunts are difficult because the vendors know exactly what he or she has and its worth. Just the other day while browsing around at a big yard sale, the vendor started announcing that all items bought in the next 15 minutes were 50% off. Immediately it created a skirmish amongst the crowd fighting to snatch up anything in site.
The truth is, every second-hand hustler is looking for their “mega-find,” one of those kinds of finds that lets you retire. My cousin’s done it. He told me that he was at an estate sale browsing around for any items that caught his eye. He was on his way out when he saw some speakers under a table. He asked for their price and was able to purchase them for sixty dollars for the pair. When he got home he tried researching them but found nothing except for the brand that was on the speaker case. He posted them on Ebay and immediately started getting responses. The bid reached two thousand dollars and then someone messaged him that he had written the brand incorrectly. He re-posted the items with the right brand name and was bombarded with bids so much that he finally had to take the speakers off of Ebay because one bidder had offered to fly from out of state to come by and look at the speakers the next day. The bidder flew to San Jose and wrote him a thirty thousand dollar check and paid for them to be shipped back to his home.
I haven’t found my mega-find yet. Til I do, you can find me, Iphone in hand, at your local sale, haggling with the best of them.
This article does a good job in making sense out of all that is happening to us poor folk in the Bay Area, having to sell pieces of our home/assets to make a living here until finally we have nothing to sell except our homes. And that's when people move out of the Bay Area to somewhere more affordable. I hope that we don't all have to do that.
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