Think Twice Before Discarding: Lynn Katzen’s Unlikely Business

Lynn Katzen examines a table full of tchotchkes to determine what will sell on eBay. (Provided)

Lynn Katzen walks into an old brick house in Bolton Hill, exchanges salutations with its owner, and sits down in front of a dining room table filled with tchotchkes: jewelry, spoons, serving plates, ceramic statues, decks of cards. In less than an hour, she’ll take many of these items home with her in a cardboard box with one mission: Sell them on eBay.

An afternoon like this is typical for Katzen, whose business card reads “I Sell Your ‘Stuff’ on eBay.” Katzen compares the business to Catherine Keener’s store in the film “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” although without a storefront.

In 2008, Katzen was working as the associate director of the Baltimore Jewish Council when her family decided it was time to move. Upon trying to declutter the house and hang on only to bare necessities, Katzen became aware of an excess of possessions in the family’s basement. Feeling overwhelmed, Katzen took a piece of advice from her husband, who suggested they sell it all on eBay.

Within a year, Katzen went from knowing nothing about selling items online to making it her full-time profession. Former clients have called her an expert when it comes maximizing eBay sales. The process isn’t as simple as one might think.

“I started to learn which things were of ‘eBay appeal,’ so to speak,” Katzen said. “There are some things we spend a lot of money for that may not resell so well. But then there are some things that you could’ve been handed for free that might sell unbelievably well because its not available for sale to the public.”

Katzen said the first item she sold on eBay was one of her own decorative dreidels. She then sold other Judaica such as old Seder plates. After hearing about her success at making money getting rid of unwanted items, friends started to call. At first, she just sold the items of her friends and acquaintances. But when she got a call from someone she’d never met, she realized she could turn this into a full-time job.

The transition from the Baltimore Jewish Council to having her own business went smoothly and allowed her to spend more time with her family. “My kids were still young,” she said. “I was still schlepping them everywhere. This job allowed me to be a mom, but have a business out of my home.”

The Bolton Hill home belonged to a return client who, after downsizing three years ago, is ready to move. After their first meeting, Katzen was able to sell a dozen silver wine goblets, a set of pens and a watch.

“Nobody wants to do this themselves,” said Katzen. “That means taking pictures, listing it, bubble-wrapping it, packing it, going to the post office.” Katzen was happy to lighten the burden for her friends, accepting only a small fee in the process.

Katzen does not charge for home visits, and even allows for her clients to keep 60 percent of the final sale price once the items’ auctions have closed. After subtracting fees from eBay and PayPal, Katzen estimates she takes in about 27 percent of the final sale.

The Bolton Hill client has lived all over the world. In her travels, she’s amassed an assortment of foreign-made trinkets like Afghani and Pakistani silver jewelry, Danish spoons and old Royal Doulton figurines. Items like these, Katzen thinks, will be pretty easy to sell.

“The best item to sell on eBay is something you cannot get in a store,” she said.

While Katzen understands the appeal of collecting something like exotic jewelry or a 700-piece train set — which she has stored in her basement right now — she finds other collectibles more puzzling.

Katzen recalled a group of items that she nearly told her client to throw away. “She had a shoebox of expired credit cards,” Katzen said. After she told the client she could throw the box away, the client expressed some skepticism. “She said, ‘I know there is a reason my husband saved these.’”

Katzen did some research and, to her amazement, learned that expired credit cards are, in fact, collectibles. “Thousands and thousands of dollars later, they were all sold,” she said.

The highest-selling item from that shoebox was a ripped, paper credit card from the first year that American Express began printing cards.

“If there is something to collect,” Katzen said, “there are collectors.”

Over the years, Katzen has amassed a wealth of knowledge about countless items in order to determine whether they will sell. She attributes her learning experiences to her clients.

“I get to meet so many cool people. Besides just taking their stuff, I get to learn something,” said Katzen. For her, that’s the real treasure.


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