$21.23 turned into $63.23
I've made a few blunders in this experiment so far. Luckily, none of them have led to financial disaster yet. The biggest danger in this game is buying something you know nothing about. The only way to ensure that you'll turn a profit is to research the product ahead of time and know the ballpark that you can sell it for. Knowing that allows you to set your price limit for buying it in the first place. If you just wander into a yard sale and buy things that look cool, you'll have no idea whether they'll actually sell for double or not. This is the experience that clearly sets me apart from guys like Mike and Frank on American Pickers. They know the basic value of almost everything old. I don't. If there is a bottom line, it's that you should check everything on the item carefully. Open it, look on the bottom. Does it have extra features that make it more unique than other models? Does it look rare? Is it clean? Unusual? Two items I bought that I had some regret over were an antique electric fan and a pinball table. The fan was bought at the same time as the call box. I was feeling good about the honey hole I was in and figured everything there had high value. The fan was cool looking and I offered $40 for it, thinking I could easily double my money there. It was an impulse buy and when I got home and researched it, I found out that there are many fans like this that have been restored to gleaming quality and even then they don't go for that much. I still have it and perhaps I'll sand it, repaint it, rewire it and post it but not any time soon.
FAN UPDATE: 02/06/2012
Yesterday I got a call out of the blue about my 1930 Victor electric fan. I had just started to grow fond of the little fan and had visions of restoring it myself, as best as I would be able with my steel wool and Rustoleum spray paint can from Ace. I was elated to hear that the buyer was putting together a home office in period products and my fan would match his antique desk perfectly.
Step Three: Bought for $40, sold for meager increase to $50.
Project Profit: $33.23
The second item I bought on impulse was a wooden pinball table top. It is from 1978, made by Gottleib, the leader in the pinball world at the time. This one caught my eye because it was co-branded by Columbia Pictures, as an advertisement for Arabian Knights. The game is called "Sinbad". It's got some cool graphics with a sword and a guy with a turban, not to mention a hot lady where the ball shoots out of the shooter lane. I offered $20 for it and got it home, only to find that the identical game, working, with legs, glass, backboard, and all wiring (none of which my game had) didn't even sell for $150 on Ebay.
There was no way I'll come out ahead from this one, I thought.
Then I put it on Craigslist and hoped someone would see the art potential in it. I included some pictures in the ad and even put the table up against a window with the warm setting sun behind it, allowing the sunlight to shine through all of the colorful buttons on the table.
The next day I negotiated the sale of it to a guy for $50 (bought for $20). He was going to buy an LED light kit for it and mount it to the wall in his game room.
It was a lucky finish to a risky purchase. I will try not to do that again.
Step Four: Bought for $20, sold for $50.
Project Profit: $63.23