By Margaret Heidenry | realtor.com
Basements and attics are where a home’s castoffs go to die. Everything from grandma’s costume jewelry to huge desktop computers may be hiding in these dark corners; you might very well forget entirely what’s there until a move or decluttering mission unearths them, forcing you to drag these forlorn objects to the curb.
And yet: Like fine wine, certain items hiding in attics and basements get better with age, and might actually be worth some real money. We all know not to throw away that first-edition “Superman” comic book or Mickey Mantle’s rookie baseball card, but far more surprising things these days can fetch hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars. As proof, check out these surprising money makers, Here’s hoping you haven’t trashed them already!
A red-hot category right now is anything analog, like old stereo equipment and speakers, says James Massey, founder of WhatSellsBest.com, which tracks more than 200 categories of top-selling items on eBay. For instance, Massey recently saw a vintage Marantz stereo amplifier fetch $15,060. While a five-figure paycheck is rare, Massey frequently sees stereo items going for thousands of dollars every week.
Other outdated collectible tech includes old Apple computers, like the Apple II computer that recently sold on eBay for $5,000. Apparently, Macheads love getting back to their roots!
Swoosh, there it is. If you have a pair of the original early-year Air Jordans—and you never wore them—you are sitting on a sneaker gold mine. “Last year, there were a pair on eBay for $30,000, and I think the first-year 1984 pair sells for a bit more,” says Reyne Hirsch, a former appraiser from Antiques Roadshow and author of numerous books on collecting. We mentioned the bit about never having worn them, right?
Got old board games or trading cards stashed away? Massey recently saw a 1999 first-edition Pokemon card fetch $18,000, and an original 1974 Dungeons & Dragons board game go for $6,000. Classic video games also demand top dollar. A vintage Nintendo Video Game Cartridge in its original box recently sold for $20,000!
You might have more than nostalgia and patriotic pride on your hands if you inherited your grandfather’s World War II memorabilia, says Hirsch. WWII uniforms are often also worth thousands, depending on the condition and the affiliation. For example, authentic wartime leather bomber jackets, especially those featuring painted-on decoration on the back, can sell for a few thousand dollars.
Jonathan Greenstein, who owns and operates an auction house in Cedarhurst, NY, remembers a call from a client whose husband had passed away. She was cleaning out the basement when she came across a stash of his belongings, including a two-centuries-old silver Torah shield. Greenstein recognized its value and ended up selling it at auction for $25,000. Another client was about to chuck a menorah that “looked old and dusty.” After Greenstein saw it, he was able to discern that it dated back to the 1600s. As it turned out, the value of something that almost went out in the trash was $50,000.
Ephemera is a category of old paper items that were never intended to be saved. So when they are saved and discovered later, they can be worth big bucks. In Chicago, the most valuable ephemera usually predates the Chicago fire of 1871. “We have sold restaurant menus for over $100 each and city maps for over $3,000,” says Bruce Treadway, owner of Caring Transitions in Illinois, which specializes in senior relocation, downsizing, and estate sales.
Boxes containing clumps of fake-gem-encrusted earrings and bracelets are usually worthless … except when real jewelry sneaks in. Deb Blue of Blue Moon Estate Sales was preparing an estate sale when she came across a ring. The estate’s family assumed it was a cheap piece of junk. On the contrary, Deb discovered it was a 3-carat, European-cut diamond ring worth thousands.
And even actual costume jewelry occasionally has more value than you might think. “Last week, we sold a collection of costume jewelry for over $8,000,” says Treadway.
Once you find an item—hands off!
The biggest mistake people make, says Massey, is not researching the value of items. That’s is how valuable items get thrown away, donated, or sold for pennies on the dollar in a garage sale. So when in doubt, check before you chuck it!
Also keep in mind that collectors usually want their items to be in their “original state,” which means as untouched as possible. Even original, mint packaging—we’re talking the retail box an item came in—can be worth thousands of dollars for certain types of rare items (think original “Star Wars” toys).
Even if you think an item looks dirty or needs repairs, it’s always best to seek the advice of a reputable expert first, says Massey: “Sometimes, even cleaning an item—and wiping away its original aged patina—can erase more than 95% of its value.” This is especially true with rare coins and guns. So when in doubt, save yourself the elbow grease and get it assessed first.