How to Flip Stuff Like a Pro

(Guest Post by Pauline Paquin from Reach Financial Independence. Whose boyfriend is now my newest hero ;))

My boyfriend, like J$, has a passion for flipping and trading up stuff. While we live in Guatemala and there aren’t any garage sales around sadly, he does manage to buy a lot of stuff, all the time, and is a businessman at heart. His favorite motto is: “Cash is scarce. If I want to sell you something, I just need to find what you want to get rid of, and swap it with you.”

You would be surprised at what he has brought home over the years, and what he has managed to give people to acquire valuable items. His main interest is growing his Guatemalan coin and art collection. Sometimes he reminds me of this guy who bartered a red paper clip for a house in Canada. He did several flips to achieve his goal, but eventually, he got a house!

BF’s ultimate goal is to make enough flips so that he can keep his most valuable pieces at no cost by selling the cheapest ones. He has been collecting colonial and old Guatemalan coins for decades, starting with a small collection his father gave him. Then he got friendly with two old ladies who sold their coin collections at a fairly low price. Both parties had no idea how much the collection was worth – they basically sold it for the total cost of the main pieces and gave him what they thought was junk for free. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the hardest part about hustlin’ for me – figuring out that balance of ripping someone off vs. getting a good deal.)

He went back home with a big bag of coins, and one of them caught his eye that he had never seen before. After days of research, he found out the coin had never circulated and was a trial from the colonial mint. He sent it to an auction house in the US who valued it at $25,000. But the day before the auction, hurricane Katrina struck and few people were able to attend. The coin still sold for $8,000. By getting rid of one coin, he had made more than what he bought the whole bag of coins for.

And the story goes on. A few years ago, he had an empty house that he didn’t manage to sell. Mortgage payments were coming, and he asked a renowned Guatemalan painter if he would like to live there and pay him in art. The rent would have been $2,000, and the painter gave him $4,000 worth of art every month. Both were happy with the deal, since most art dealers pay under 50% of retail price to cover their gallery and staff costs.

He’ll flip anything

He has exchanged scrap metal for art, has come back home with a mandolin and a drum, and after using his 125cc Madass bike for a month, got bored and swapped that for art too. Because he always bids very low on the art, he manages to then resell it still under gallery value but making a profit.

Arturo Martinez painting

How can he do that? By giving people items they will use. They have art sitting there that does not bring them value. Give them a computer, an iSomething, a bike, for a total value of $1,500 and they will give you $2,500 worth of art, because art is less liquid.

Then he puts his art online for the usual art dealer’s markup of $5,000 (he used to have a gallery but closed it to retire early) and once in a while an art lover will pay his asking price or a little under.

Flipping coins

Coins have been more sought after since gold and silver’s prices have soared, but quite often people are too lazy to research the coin well and are happy to get rid of it for the price of its weight in gold. Because BF has been doing that for years, he knows the rare years and also when to spot a fake. Some colonial silver coins are barely worth more than their weight in silver because there is a ton of them still around. Others can be worth several thousands like the coin he sent to the US auction. He has been putting the information online as his research progressed, but even then many sellers will approach him looking only for the weight in gold.

guatemalan coins

After his own website, his main outlet is eBay to reach international numismatists. Because he is able to tell you the story of the coin, why it is rare, how many the mint printed back in 1796, he adds value to the item and if people are looking to confirm said information, his site is a reference anyway so they will find the same info over there – haha!

He has had an easier time flipping coins for cash, then buying more, than getting cash for art. He usually gets more art or art plus cash for selling a major piece. Now he has slowed down on selling coins and lets his collection appreciate with the raise in gold and silver.

Flipping houses and cars

That requires a really good eye, but he impresses me because housing hasn’t cost him a penny ever since he bought his first house. He lived in that first one for 5 years, then sold it for almost twice the price. The next one wasn’t selling for a while, but since he had the painter living there paying him in art he was not losing money (until the house sold for about double its buying price as well).

The housing market did play a part. But he hasn’t paid for a car in years either! He says it is a game of patience. For example this traveler rode his motorcycle all the way from the US to Guatemala and couldn’t go further South for personal reasons. Who will buy a US bike in Guatemala? BF, for a big discount. Then he traded it for some art. The bike cost him $5,000 and after using it for two years he was left with $10,000 worth of art.

bmw 1200cc bike

When we left to travel for over a year, he found a guy who really wanted a car and sold his car for quite a bit of art. He managed to sell one piece of art for the price of the car, and was left with the other pieces for free.

Tips and Lessons learned

I am in awe at how resourceful he is, and how he always brings home the most improbable item. But most amazing is the fact that two weeks later that item is then sent away as part of a new deal!

Here are a handful of the lessons he’s since learned:

1) Cash is king. The only way he trades easily is because he helps you get rid of what you think is worthless junk. He will give you a $5,000 car for $7,500 worth of stuff, but if you have $4,000 cash he will take that too.

2) Don’t be afraid to try. He always low balls people and more often than not, it works. His main reason is “what am I going to do with that, it is hard to sell, you know it better than me, you’ve been trying to sell for months!”. And people get tired and accept. When he has cash, he low balls even more. Then waits, and people call back once they put their pride aside.

3) When there is a will, there is a way. Don’t have cash? You must then have something the other person wants. Be it your car, a designer piece of clothing, an old computer… Ask the person what they will do with the cash, and then go and find that item so you can barter with it instead.

4) Try to get more stuff, even if it looks worthless. One day he came back with a whole furniture set for the price of a nice bed set and chest of drawers. He had a microwave, pots and pans, but was able to exchange those for art to a friend who moved back to Guatemala. People on the first trade didn’t mind adding what they thought was random junk to the deal and he got an extra painting thanks to it in another deal.

5) Listen. BF is always on the lookout for people getting rid of stuff. At the moment one of his friend’s son is selling an apartment and he is thinking about offering him a piece of land he owns for it. He sees opportunity everywhere. And he listens to people when they make their sales pitch too to hear what they want in exchange so he can then offer it to them.

6) Find trade ups. Once he came back with a small portable distillery one used to make alcoholic drinks at home with. The person who had that was desperate to get rid of it because that is not an easy thing to get off your hands. BF was able to trade that thing, worth over $1,000 by giving just $500 of art. The owner would rather have $500 cash of course, but between art and the distillery, he went for the art. If you can’t find an ideal situation for both, offer to take the item in exchange for things that are easier to trade. The other person may not want a laptop but they can sell it on eBay in two days. Like a game of chess you need to find what will make them move forward.

7) Be organized. He has an Excel spreadsheet with all the things he has bought, along with the buying price, selling price if it’s sold, and all profit made. He is looking for the moment his profit will pay for his whole collection and that is sometime soon. If you don’t keep track, you may resell something cheaper than what you got it for, or sell a valuable item lower than what it is really worth.

BF has always been pretty cash poor. As soon as he has a little cash, he invests in cattle, coins, art or real estate. But with that trading mentality, it never takes him long to sell something if he needs the cash. In the meanwhile, his collections are growing and now a big part of his net worth. That is a great side hustle because he doesn’t keep a shop, only an online presence and then eBay when he wants to sell more aggressively. So he can stop trading for months and then go right back to it.

Guest post by Pauline Paquin, who you may know from her blog Reach Financial Independence, Pauline has just launched Make Money Your Way to help readers multiply their sources of income with real estate, investing, entrepreneurship and online endeavors. Born and raised in Paris, Pauline writes about how she has been traveling the world for the past 10 years, while trying to build wealth and achieve financial independence, and how you can follow your dreams and reach your goals too. You can follow Pauline on Twitter @RFIndependence.

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  1. Lance @ Money Life and More July 11, 2013 at 7:33 AM

    That’s awesome! Sounds like yard sale flipping on crack… where there aren’t yard sales! I think I might try the yard sale thing this year after reading about your boyfriend’s success with everything else!

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 8:45 AM

      Yard sale flipping on crack, lol. You have to hit yard sales really early to snag the best items, and the more you know your stuff the better your eye at spotting a bargain.

    2. David Hunter July 11, 2013 at 9:29 AM

      Haha! Agreed!!

      1. J. Money July 12, 2013 at 10:05 PM

        I’ll be snorting that crack tomorrow morning – woo!!! (That is what you do w/ crack yes? Snort it? I have no idea really, haha…)

  2. Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle July 11, 2013 at 7:41 AM

    You may find the boyfriend inspiring but I happen to admire Pauline. I am a regular reader of Reach Financial Independence and I am continually amazed by the chances she takes. She is currently developing a tract of land in Guatemala in to a housing development.

    I need to be more daring financially and in my boring everyday life and reading about Pauline’s life constantly reminds me what is possible if you just take chances.

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 8:47 AM

      Thank you for your kind words Jane. There are a lot of opportunities everywhere, some don’t even require money to start with, like getting rid of your own stuff you don’t use.

    2. J. Money July 12, 2013 at 10:06 PM

      VERY COOL indeed! I hadn’t seen that yet – congrats Pauline! :)

      1. Pauline July 13, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        90 acres to play with! Should I reserve you a plot :)? I am trying to form a little geek community around so we can get broadband internet haha!

        1. J. Money July 15, 2013 at 7:49 PM

          If you want to raise some chickens and goats for me on it (or whatever’s the current hustle you’re doing with it) I’m totally in! Sign me up for one acre and we’ll split costs/profits :)

  3. Holly@ClubThrifty July 11, 2013 at 7:54 AM

    Yeah Pauline! Flip it real good!

    You guys are money making machines. I love to follow your progress. Great tips!

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 8:49 AM

      thanks! he is much better than me but I am learning haha.

  4. Free Money Minute July 11, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    My biggest issue with this is time. I don’t have much of it. Thanks for the tips. I will be after it again when I get some of my time back.

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 8:53 AM

      You know he doesn’t put a lot of time into it, but he is able to spot opportunity when it shows, and offer the stuff to his friends when they meet anyway. He has 4 or 5 guys who flip art and coins and regularly call him, so when he has cash and knows that is a good deal he buys to sell later.

  5. Sean @ One Smart Dollar July 11, 2013 at 8:51 AM

    That is really awesome. Proves that barter is alive and thriving. It’s not always about cash.

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 9:00 AM

      I am amazed at how easy it is for him sometimes. People just have to get something they want in exchange.

  6. John S @ Frugal Rules July 11, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    That’s awesome Pauline! I love your points and would think that #5 is a vital one so you can learn what the person really wants to you can work it to your advantage.

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      You wouldn’t believe what he brings home just because someone mentioned they had XYZ. Yesterday people came to our door saying they had Mayan jade necklaces, they were fake and otherwise it would have been illegal but they know him now!

  7. July 11, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    Absolutely amazing! I will try to use some of these tips.
    Thanks for the great post!

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 12:13 PM

      Thanks Leona, glad you liked it.

  8. David Hunter July 11, 2013 at 9:32 AM

    Does everyone see why Pauline’s boyfriend is successful at this??

    Because… He takes…………………… ACTION!

    Keep on Rockin’!

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 12:16 PM

      Well said David. Many times I told him “why the hell would you buy that, you’ll lose money” and a week later the piece of junk was gone for a profit. He takes risks with coins, some may not be legit, etc. but if they aren’t he makes a quick bundle of bad coins and sells it dirt cheap, better than getting nothing out of them.

      1. David Hunter July 11, 2013 at 10:12 PM

        Yep! Successful people take risks and your boyfriend is proof. You definitely found a keeper! :-)

  9. Michelle July 11, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    Great post! We are starting to get into flipping cars and such :)

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      Cars are awesome if you can get a good deal on a used one you can use it for a year and flip for the same price!

  10. Matt @ My Coin Blog July 11, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    I love the flipping of coins! It’s often a struggle, like you said J, between ripping someone off and finding a good deal. Rock on!

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      Well most coins aren’t worth much more than their weight in gold so if gold is now at $1,200 an ounce, you can buy and hold until it returns to $1,800 without ripping anyone of!

      1. J. Money July 12, 2013 at 10:09 PM

        yeah, but it’s those times when someone sells it to you for $12 instead of $1200 when you know damn well it’s worth $1200, haha… though this is different than buying say, costume jewelry and THEN finding out it’s real gold! I’ve heard people do that a lot and get lucky every now and then.

  11. Nick @ July 11, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    My wife and I like to flip furniture that we buy at yard sales. We restore it to its former glory and sell it for a profit. Also, I flip classic video games as I wrote on this very site. :)

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      That is awesome, if you are a bit handy you can make good money with furniture. A friend just made a table with a tree root she found on the beach, washed by the sea. She polished it and bought a glass top to be the table, it stands on the roots of the tree and the base of the trunk holds the glass, it’s really neat and she sold for a great profit.

      1. J. Money July 12, 2013 at 10:09 PM

        So cool!!

  12. Yana July 11, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    What a fabulous article! Will have to look more at Pauline’s blog; already added her on Twitter.

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 12:46 PM

      Thank you Yana, I am happy you enjoyed the post.

  13. Jake @ Common Cents Wealth July 11, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    Sounds like your boyfriend sure knows how to flip. That’s amazing how many valuable items he has gotten just from trading with other people. I am pretty good at trading stuff for cash and cash for stuff, but I need to work on trading stuff for stuff more often. That’s where deals can be made.

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      Stuff for stuff is great because he generally gets art and knows how to unload it in galleries and to art lovers. If you know how to make a killer ad on Ebay you can accept almost anything and get rid of it there. Generally his trades go for 30 to 40% below market value so he can resell easily.

  14. Derek July 11, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    I like your advice for low-balling. If you really don’t have to have the thing, why not give it a try. Even if you only have a 25% success rate, you’ll still come out way ahead!

    1. Pauline July 12, 2013 at 7:48 AM

      Usually people walk away, then they swallow their pride on the next day and take the offer. Otherwise, you can offer a bigger cash amount, raising progressively. But the best thing is to wait. We waited on our current house about 10 days before hearing back from the guy but got a real bargain.

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 2:18 PM

      Thank you Christine, it starts with one little step, then it becomes a side income, then a full income, then… it is up to anyone to put time and effort into a side hustle.

  15. Jim July 11, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    Wow, BF seems like an interesting person, This was a great, entertaining read, thank you. I am training myself to recognize opportunity as well, although I am no where near as successful as BF. Maybe he could teach his craft?

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 4:06 PM

      He is quite a character, but it is also a sort of 6th sense for Guatemalans. Nothing goes to waste. Everything gets a second life. Because imported products like cars are expensive, it is not uncommon to see cars from the 70s completely beaten up but still alive and working. It helps a lot that people often consider buying second hand first, before they go to buy something new. Then his skill is a lot of human interactions, being a people person is indeed a gift and quite hard to learn if it is not innate. I know I don’t have it and I struggle or have him do the talking!

  16. SavvyFinancialLatina July 11, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    I love yard sales, although I haven’t mastered the art of reselling for a profit. I think I’m going to start with buying a fixer upper, picking up skills through remodeling. Trade skills are so valuable. Especially since most people only have soft skills now. Like me. SO many degrees and I can’t solve a wire problem.

    1. Pauline July 11, 2013 at 5:49 PM

      haha, I learned recently and it is much easier than it looks. Also, there often are ads about building materials on craigslist, people unloading extra paint or bags of concrete once their work is over.

  17. KK @ Student Debt Survivor July 11, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    Love the idea of flipping and trading stuff. One man’s trash, right? A few years back I was doing really well buying lots of brand name clothing at yard sales and thrift stores and selling them as lots on ebay. These days the fees on ebay and paypal are so high it’s not as good of a side hustle as it once was, but I’m sure there are still folks out there making money doing it.

    1. Pauline July 12, 2013 at 7:51 AM

      He got away from Ebay for the outrageous fees as well, before he was going to the post office almost every day to ship a coin or two. Now it is mostly word of mouth. In the US I guess you could still try Craigslist and ask for cash on collection.

  18. Mike Carlson July 12, 2013 at 3:40 AM

    Your boyfriend is really amazing. Being wise enough in flipping some things without having to spend too much of a cash is really a talent.

    1. Pauline July 12, 2013 at 8:01 AM

      Yes, I admire his skills, trying to learn but I am not such a people person…

  19. Shafi July 12, 2013 at 4:48 AM

    Flipping coins is one of the best businesses in the world. As they say a one-thousand mile journey starts with your first step.

    1. Pauline July 12, 2013 at 8:17 AM

      you can really get the ball rolling once you get into studying coins and get closer to a few numismatists. I am too afraid of not spotting a fake.

  20. DC @ Young Adult Money July 12, 2013 at 7:14 AM

    Your BF is really talented when it comes to flipping! I haven’t really gotten into the whole flipping thing, but it sounds like something I would really enjoy doing.

    1. Pauline July 12, 2013 at 8:20 AM

      if you enjoy yard sales and have a good eye it could be a fun hobby. I lack the patience to negotiate both on the buying and selling side.

  21. Taynia @ Fiscal Flamingo July 15, 2013 at 3:40 AM

    Can you please introduce your man to my man. He could teach my husband a thing or two. :)
    I am in awe!

    1. Pauline July 19, 2013 at 12:23 PM

      haha, he is starting to get in demand!
      My next guest post: how I rented my boyfriend to pay for my US holiday lol

  22. Anton Ivanov July 17, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    Our of curiosity, how much does your boyfriend spend on making deals happen per day/week? Sounds like it would be a good amount from the number of trades he does.

    1. Pauline July 19, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      like how much time? At most an hour a day, he often talks about life with a friend at sunrise on Whatsapp, if the friend mentions a deal, sends a pic and a price, by breakfast the deal is done. He calls the housekeeper, let her know X will come for that piece of art and leave that and goes on with his day.

  23. Alexa July 18, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    This is a very interesting post. I like the idea of flipping things but have only done a handful of times. It sounds like your boyfriend has a very valuable skill.

    1. Pauline July 19, 2013 at 12:26 PM

      Yes, it is a gift, I wish I was half as talented.

  24. Jim C December 27, 2015 at 12:46 AM

    Interesting post and some really good advice. The lowball situation where I live is something where you have to tread carefully. So many people try it “no lowballers” is common to see in a ad for item(s) for sale.

  25. George TheFlipper February 20, 2016 at 8:01 PM

    Great tips, my blog is dedicated at teaching people how to flip things for profit. Things that people can find at garage sales, thrift stores, retail stores and even online.