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Residents sitting on the virtual dock of the eBay

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Whether you're an eBay novice or nut, North Bend resident Heidi Lewis insists that everyone's home is overflowing with potential cash.

The stay-at-home mom first heard of the company three and a half years ago when her Mary Kay contract ended and she was stuck with nonrefundable items such as receipt books and shopping bags.

"Someone said I should sell my inventory on eBay and I said, 'e what?'" Lewis recalls. "Then when I saw it I said, 'Whoa! This could be fun.'"

It was fun indeed. She found buyers for all of her listings and her stash of discontinued makeup sold for more than the retail price.

It was then that Lewis joined the tens of millions of members worldwide who have helped eBay become the leader of online auctions.

Since its debut in 1995, the company has launched Internet sites in countries such as Germany, Australia, and the newest addition, Hong Kong. If those facts are baffling it might be even harder to consider that eBay facilitated the sale of $14.87 billion worth of goods in 2002.

On any day there could be 16 million items for auction listed in 27,000 categories. Almost anything can be bought or sold through the online company except for a few taboo pieces such as fireworks, alcohol and body parts. However, skulls and skeletons can be auctioned off for medical purposes.

With so many items available, it was time for Lewis to shop. One of her first projects was to re-create her childhood Fisher Price Little People collection. Today's plastic versions are a lot rounder and bigger than its skinny, wooden predecessors.

"It was fun for my brother and I to rebuild the vintage Fisher Price for my children," Lewis said.

Then, during her annual spring cleaning, instead of selling her castaways in a garage sale she saw potential eBay cash.

"I said, 'Hmm, I wonder.' So I advertised it as 'Dollar Days,'" she said.

The moniker really paid off since Lewis collected 1,000 dollar bills.

She sold her grandmother's old Lionel train set for $125; an IKEA clock that she bought for $10 went for $22; a new Space Needle bolo tie from the Seattle World's Fair sold for $33; and the best story of them all, a rusted, apple-shaped tea kettle with a broken lid was snatched up for $12 by an apple collector.

"I haven't really been attached to things and I love to tone down and clean out," she said.

But the Lewis household might have a size advantage over most families in the area. With sons Austin, 7, twins Carson and Casey, 5, and Marshall, 4, the family is always needing and outgrowing clothes, sports equipment, bed sheets and such.

But even smaller families or singles have items that can be auctioned off, Lewis said - that old stack of LPs, CDs you don't listen to anymore, books you've already read, unwanted presents and home d├ęcor that doesn't match a redecorated room.

"We sold wedding gifts we hadn't even opened," Lewis said. "Everyone has wedding gifts."

Over the years Lewis has sold nearly 1,000 items but is reluctant to disclose how much money she's made so far. She must be doing quite well because the proceeds have funded vacations, new clothes, homeschool curriculum, household items and more.

Although she and her husband Jack would like to expand the business someday, they would rather invest their time now with their sons instead of sales.

"I have a word of caution for other moms," Lewis said. "EBay can be fun, but it can also be addicting."

"Our children are small for such a short time. We don't want them to leave home remembering mom was on the computer a lot," she added.

Lewis usually devotes a couple of hours a week during the spring and fall months to keep up with her auctions, but chooses to work either early in the morning or during her children's nap time.

Sharon, who asked the Valley Record to withhold her last name, also values time with her husband and children. She has been selling items on eBay for the past year and a half and makes about $400 a month.

"I want to be home with my family and this affords me to stay home with them," she said. "It's been a lot of fun."

The North Bend resident specializes in selling children's and women's clothing, exercise equipment and homeschool materials.

Her favorite success story is how she found a name-brand exercise gadget for a few dollars at a garage sale and sold it on eBay for much more.

"Where else can you pay $3 and turn around and sell it for $88," Sharon said. "The person on the other end is getting a good deal so you don't feel like you're ripping them off."

"It's one of the few markets where you get a good return for your money," she added.

Carnation resident Robin Sofola is one buyer who doesn't feel ripped off at all. In fact, this eBayer made about 150 purchases since 1996. She credits her history partially to her love for collectibles - specifically old Cream of Wheat advertisements and black Americana salt and pepper shakers from the 1930s, '40s and '50s - and clothes for her 3-year-old daughter Funmi.

"I don't have time to run to Marshalls and Ross. It's a hit and miss," she explained about looking for new brand name children's clothes at discounted prices. "So when you can just find it online and you don't have to pay the gas, and I get it below retail, it's a deal for me."

Sofola admits that buying on eBay can be very addicting. She's what is called a "sniper," a person who waits until the final moments of the auction to place their bid. Now, with advances in technology, an online company does the sniping for her.

"Before when I had to sit in front of the computer, I got an idea of what it's like to be addicted to gambling," she said. "It's a competition. Your adrenaline is going up and when I saw that I was the highest bid, I would jump up and down."

Now (with the automated sniper) it's not as exciting and not as competitive."

Perhaps Sofola will soon be able to experience a new thrill since she plans to start selling items on eBay, as well. Because as Lewis said, "Everyone has $1,000 worth of stuff in their home."

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