Many people hit up thrift stores for inexpensive items they can wear, use or put on display in their homes. Some of the more savvy shoppers, however, go to thrift stores in the hopes of finding something with resale value. This could be anything from antique jewelry or vintage artwork to designer clothes and bags.
While it’s possible to make money through flipping items found at the thrift store, it’s not always easy. You’ll need a discerning eye, some patience, and a little background knowledge to make it profitable for you.
If you want to make sure you don’t end up buying something that’s not worth anything, here are several ways to identify whether an item is valuable without having to spend money on it.
Look for Gently Used Items
Items that are like-new may have decent resale value simply because they’re still in good condition. For example, real jewelry — which is typically heavier than costume pieces — can be a valuable find. The same goes for gently-used apparel, especially if it’s from a luxury brand.
Be wary of anything that’s faded, frayed or heavily worn out. “While you might be able to make a profit if the item is rare or highly sought-after, you won’t be able to sell it for as much as you would a newer, more gently-used item,” said Melissa Fiorentino, a professional stylist and trends forecaster at EditorsFaves.com.
Check for Designer Labels or Tags
Valuable vintage items, like clothing, kitchenware or records, often come with a label indicating that it’s valuable. With dishes, for instance, check the bottom for a brand name.
“If the item is printed (like a book, comic book, or record), check the print date and whether it says anything like ‘special edition,’ said Fiorentino. “For clothing, check the tags for things like ‘made in the USA,’ as the item could be vintage.”
“Items with the tags on them are also very valuable at a thrift store because you’re essentially getting a brand new item for a significant price cut,” added Andrea Woroch, consumer expert at Andrea Woroch.
Remember, go for items that are already in good condition or that you can easily and cheaply repair. If you find a lovely set of vintage glassware, for example, but it’s cracked, it might not be worth much. On the other hand, you may be able to clean and buff a designer bag made of genuine leather and sell it for a profit.
Assess the Material Quality
As the old saying goes, go for quality over quantity. “In my experience, there are several key signs that an item might be valuable at a thrift shop,” said Mac Steer, owner of Simify. “First, I look for pieces that have been well-made and well-cared for. If the item looks like it’s had some love in its life, it’s probably worth investigating further.”
Steer also said, “I look for pieces that are designed to last. If the item is made of quality materials and has a good design, it’s probably worth investigating further.”
Go for Unique Items
Another way to identify a valuable item is to see if there are others like it on the shelves. If there are, it might be a sign that it’s not highly sought after, and thus would likely sell at a lower price point.
“I look for items that are unique or one-of-a-kind,” said Steer. “This can be tricky because sometimes it’s hard to tell what makes something ‘unique’ or ‘one-of-a-kind’ until you start looking at all the other options out there.”
Items change in value over time and based on current demand, so keep this in mind when thrift shopping. “I look at how much space the item takes up on the shelf,” added Steer. “Does it seem like there are many other items like this one in the store? If so, it might be a sign that more people have been looking for that item and didn’t find what they were looking for. That means its value has gone down over time and you could get a good deal by buying now.”
Be Wary of High Price Tags
Always check the price tag before purchasing anything. The amount listed could be a sign that it’s valuable, or it could simply be overpriced.
“If [the price tag is] too high, I start to wonder why the store is trying to sell it for so much,” said Steer. “Is there something wrong with it? Is this just an attempt to unload something that isn’t worth what they’re asking?”
Check the Locked Display Case
“Thrift stores typically keep valuable items in a locked display case,” said Woroch. Some of these items could still be overpriced, but it doesn’t hurt to check what’s there.
Ask a store assistant for a closer look and check the item for any signs that it’s worth more than it costs — such as a designer label or authentic materials.
Do Some Advanced Research
Finally, conduct some research before purchasing anything so you can make an informed decision. This could mean visiting high-end shops that carry the same brand as what you’ve found at the thrift store. Or it could mean checking out old collectors’ edition magazines to see what types of items were listed. Additionally, see what other thrifters are selling online, and at what price point.
“As long as you are mindful of what you’re buying and do the research in advance to know what you could sell it for on your own, it can be lucrative,” said Woroch.
“The key is to be patient,” said Steer. “Thrifting is not an instant gratification kind of thing. You have to be willing to dig through racks and racks of clothes, looking for that one item that will make you money. And sometimes it takes months before you find something worth selling on eBay or Etsy.”
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