Antique Picker or House Flipper: Should “Flipping” Be Your Side Hustle?

Written by Liz Alton on January 12, 2018

If you’ve ever watched HGTV or the Discovery channel, you’ve seen a host of different reality shows where the star is an antique picker, house renovator or car restorer who finds trash and makes treasures. Flipping items has become the hot new way to make money, and it’s culturally on-point with trends like DIY, maker culture and environmental sustainability. If you’re looking for a side hustle or another dimension to add to your existing business, here’s a closer look at how to determine if flipping is right for you.

A Failed Foray Into Flipping

My husband is an extremely talented DIYer, and I come from a long line of fishermen, farmers and other people who seemed naturally able to conquer a variety of mechanical challenges. I learned early on in my flipping venture that I don’t have that same DNA. There’s nothing quite like sanding and refinishing a beautiful turn-of-the-century piece of furniture and thinking, “Wow, this looks way worse than when it was battered and had character.” Later, I had more luck with collectibles, books and video game consoles, which — unsurprisingly — were more in my nerdy purview.

I’ve followed with fascination the stories of others who have found success. A couple I met at a dinner party scoured the nation’s flea markets for interesting antique cutlery, and then used it to put together quirky custom settings for big events. They’ve grown in popularity and now cater parties for celebrities and major weddings – and it’s become their primary source of income. Another woman I’ve met in the writing world contributes regularly to home décor trades, women’s magazines and similar publications, but has a dedicated income stream from selling colonial antiques online. One fun interview showcases how a family does general flea market flipping and makes tens of thousands of dollars each year.

What Can I Flip?

Flipping generally means one of two things:

  • Finding an overlooked treasure and selling it to the right market. For example, if you’re a toy aficionado, you might find a rare Star Wars figure and sell it to a collector.
  • Buying something and making a material improvement before selling it again for a higher price. One of the most common examples is to buy a house, renovate it and then sell it for a profit.

If you’re interested in diving in but don’t have the cash on hand for a house, there are a number of different categories to choose from. Here are some fun ideas of things you can flip:

  • Trailers or containers that can be turned into “tiny homes.”
  • Vehicles, especially older vehicles or cult favorites like Volkswagen vans.
  • Antiques of any variety, especially those from a recognizable era or made from quality materials.
  • Music gear, ranging from record players and vinyl albums to instruments.
  • Furniture, from living room sets to signature lamps.
  • Clawfoot bathtubs and other household items, like stone sinks.
  • Fashion, from high-end items like purses and shoes to kids’ clothing.
  • Books, especially rare and out-of-print editions.
  • Board games, puzzles and similar entertainment items.
  • Kitsch that can provide decoration, from vintage mason jars to old soda bottles.
  • Holiday decorations and items.
  • Collectible toys and action figures, especially those associated with specific eras (think the 1960s or the 1980s) or with franchises like Star Trek or Lord of the Rings.
  • Barware, kitchen tools and appliances — especially vintage.
  • Construction tools and power tools.
  • Camera gear, including vintage and modern bodies, lenses, tripods and other equipment.
  • Outdoor items, ranging from bicycles to iron lawn furniture to collectible lawn gnomes.

Get Started Flipping

If you’re interested in flipping, there are three things to consider:

  • Do you have the necessary skills to make the flip? This can be the knowledge to recognize a specific type of item or the ability to rehab an item into better condition.
  • Is there a market for the item? Look online to see if others are selling similar items through shops on Etsy, eBay or other platforms – or check local flea markets and craft shows for the right venue.
  • Do you have the capital to make your vision a reality? Buying a $100 dresser and refurbishing it might be more feasible for your situation than taking a loan on a $200,000 property.

If you’re at the intersection of things that interest you, where your skills lie, market demand and the ability to make an investment, it’s time to jump in. Consider doing a test run with a couple of items. If you’re interested in reselling 1990s toys, buy one or two and try to market them on eBay. Find out if the return is worth the investment and if you’re enjoying it before going all in.

If you’ve secretly dreamed of being an antique picker or flipper, there’s never been a better time. Freelancers have the flexible schedules and creative vision to make it a reality. Focus on the unique place where your interests meet market demand, and define a clear space to maximize profits — and have fun along the way.

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