In May 2020, Demi Skipper started with a one-cent bobby pin listed on Craigslist. Now, about two dozen trades later, Skipper has bartered her way up to an $80,000 house.
The San Francisco resident started her "Trade Me Project" with the goal of trading her way to a new home, and — as she revealed earlier this month on her TikTok and Instagram accounts — she says she's finally done it, also picking up millions of social media followers along the way.
"After 28 trades and all the ups and downs, I finally did it," Skipper says in a Dec. 12 video post, which shows her beaming outside the front door of a two-bedroom detached house near Nashville, Tennessee.
The home was exchanged for a trailer, she says, which was preceded by trades that included tractors, a Peloton bike, jewelry, MacBooks, a snowboard and a set of margarita glasses, according to Skipper. (Though CNBC Make It could not independently verify the trades, they did match against reseller site listings.)
Bored during the pandemic, Skipper was inspired by a TED Talk given by Kyle MacDonald, a Canadian who bartered his way to a home in 2006 starting with only one paperclip. "The moment I realized no one else had done this since, I was like, 'OK, I have to do this,'" Skipper says.
There were a couple of rules she says she followed: No money could exchange hands (although she routinely covered shipping costs) and she couldn't trade with someone she already knew. Skipper also says she accepted sponsorships from brands, but they aren't included in her videos about the trades.
Despite starting with just a bobby pin and zero followers on social media, the project was almost immediately popular, attracting a million followers within the first couple of videos, according to Skipper.
"I think it was just crazy enough of an idea that people were thinking, 'I don't think she'll do this, but I want to watch to see if she does.'"
Skipper says a common misconception is that she always had a long list of potential traders on reseller sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace to choose from, which wasn't always the case, even with so many people watching her videos.
"Sometimes I'd have thousands of options and sometimes I didn't have many," says Skipper, who often had to initiate trades on reseller sites with potential trade partners that had items of a similar value to what she wanted to trade.
At times, Skipper was putting up to 40 hours a week into the project outside her full-time job as a product manager. Much of her time was spent seeking out buyers, making exchanges or arranging for items to be shipped across the country and the Canadian border. There were setbacks, too, like when she traded for items like jewelry that turned out to be worth less than she expected.
"This was part of the challenge," says Skipper. "But I was prepared to go five years and wasn't going to let it stop me."
However, as the value of the items she was trading increased, the harder it was to find people to trade with.
"When I had the bobby pin, I was like, 'give me anything.' But as you get to $10,000, very few people have things laying around their house that they can trade with. To be honest, there were times when things slowed down and people started doubting it and leaving comments, but it's an example of how you just have to keep going."
Now that Skipper has acquired the property, she says she's still adjusting to the fact that she's achieved her goal.
"Even now, I wake up and I'm like, 'OK, what do I need to do and who do I need to trade with?' And I'm like, 'Wait, it's already happened, I don't need to do that anymore.'"
This will change in January, as Skipper is already planning a "season two" of the Trade Me Project. After the holidays, Skipper plans to move to Tennessee to renovate the house, which she says she'll then trade for a bobby pin.
"I'm going to give this house to somebody who really needs it in Tennessee. They are going to trade me a bobby pin and then I'm going to do the whole thing over."
Why do it again? "There were so many things I gained from it that weren't just trades, like the many people I met along the way, and how much I learned about myself," Skipper says. "There's nobody crazy enough to do it twice, so that's going to be me — I'm going to do it twice."