NEW YORK - The for-sale listings on the online hub Craigslist come with plaintive notices, like the one from the teenager in Georgia who said her mother lost her job and pleaded, “Please buy anything you can to help out.”
Or the seller in Milwaukee who wrote in one post of needing to pay bills — and put a diamond engagement ring up for bids to do it.
Struggling with mounting debt and rising prices, faced with the toughest economic times since the early 1990s, Americans are selling prized possessions online and at flea markets at alarming rates.
To meet higher gas, food and prescription drug bills, they are selling off grandmother’s dishes and their own belongings. Some of the household purging has been extremely painful — families forced to part with heirlooms.
“This is not about downsizing. It’s about needing gas money,” said Nancy Baughman, founder of eBizAuctions, an online auction service she runs out of her garage in Raleigh, N.C. One former affluent customer is now unemployed and had to unload Hermes leather jackets and Versace jeans and silk shirts.
At Craigslist, which has become a kind of online flea market for the world, the number of for-sale listings has soared 70 percent since last July. In March, the number of listings more than doubled to almost 15 million from the year-ago period.
Craigslist CEO Jeff Buckmaster acknowledged the increasing popularity of selling all sorts of items on the Web, but said the rate of growth is “moving above the usual trend line.”
In Daleville, Ala., Ellona Bateman-Lee has turned to eBay and flea markets to empty her three-bedroom mobile home of DVDs, VCRs, stereos and televisions.
She said she needs the cash to help pay for soaring food and utility bills and mounting health care expenses. Among her most painful sales: her grandmother’s teakettle. She sold it for $6 on eBay.
Economists say it is difficult to compare the selling trend with other tough times because the Internet, only in wide use since the mid-1990s, has made it much easier to unload goods than, say, at pawnshops.
But clearly, cash-strapped people are selling their belongings at bargain prices, with a flood of listings for secondhand cars, clothing and furniture hitting the market in recent months, particularly since January.
Christine Hadley, a 53-year-old registered nurse from Reading, Pa., says she used to be “a clotheshorse,” splurging on pricey Dooney & Bourke handbags. But her live-in boyfriend left last year, and she has had trouble finding a job.
Piles of unpaid bills forced her to sell more than 80 items, including the handbags, which went for more than $1,000 on a site called AuctionPal.com.
At AuctionPal.com, which helps novices sell things online, for-sale listings rose 66 percent from February to March, much faster than the 25 percent to 30 percent average monthly pace since the company was formed in September, CEO Maureen Ellenberger said. She said she was surprised to see that most of her clients desperately needed to sell items to raise cash.
For LiveDeal.com, a classifieds and business directory site, for-sale listings for January through March rose 10 percent from the previous year.
“We can definitely detect economic stress on the part of the consumer,” said John Raven, the site’s chief operating officer.