Map? Check. GPS? Check. Rope, blankets, sunglasses, a music mix and $30 in one-dollar bills? Check, check, check, check and check (times 30).
The route is carefully mapped. The sellers are finishing lining up their old (but still perfectly good) shoe collection, busy polishing their new-again furniture, and the kids are putting the final exclamation points, doilies and colors on the YARD SALE signs that will litter the streets Saturday and Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, the buyers wait, ready to pounce on that old mahogany table, that antique lamp, that good-as-gold Spider-Man comic and the wish-I’d-had-it-when-I-was-11 framed Backstreet Boys poster.
Shoppers line up, magnifying glasses, tape measures and $1 bills at the ready. Let the race begin.
The craft of yard sale-ing
There is a definite art to yard sale shopping — or rummage sale, tag sale, lawn sale, attic sale, moving sale, garage sale or junk sale shopping. In some ways, it is an acquired skill. Those who grew up mapping out routes, bargaining and bartering at yard sales, may be better at finding the sales and identifying the deals. But today there are even more tools, gadgets and means to master the sport. Yes, sport: “Yard sale-ing” and “garage sale-ing” seem to be the most common verbs.
Technology has enabled the average Joe to become proficient at yard sale-ing, using online blogs, yard sale directories on Craigslist and iPhone’s Yard Sale Mapper. And today, there are more reasons to shop yard sales and to host yard sales. For those in their mid-20s, buying at a yard sale is a way to purchase cheap furniture to fill a new apartment. For young families, a yard sale is a way to get rid of old children’s clothes and toys, or to pick up new ones. Comic book collectors, antique hunters and crafters are looking to find lost treasures to purchase, perhaps for less than what they’re actually worth. Jacson Hackler, co-owner of New Hampshire Antique Co-op in Milford, recently found a $25 signed Tiffany floor lamp valued at $8,000 at a yard sale.
And yard sale-ing seems to have grown during the past decade. Blame it on shows like American Pickers, Antiques Roadshow and Storage Wars, or maybe people today just carry more junk than they used to, but on any summer Saturday, drivers (and walkers, bicyclists and joggers) are bound to see those fluorescent signs posted on trees and telephone poles and sidewalk corners, directing shoppers to sales galore. Websites have popped up all over the Internet (two of great value: yardsalequeen.com and yardsaleofyork.com), offering advice for yard salers, as have apps, yard sale mappers and books.
Why? Well, there is certainly a thrill to this very competitive sport. It’s a competition against the other yard salers that morning, it’s a test of your negotiating skills with the seller and, in a way, it’s a competition against yourself. How much awesome stuff can you get with $13? Most yard sale enthusiasts are simply looking to find something old to make new again, to experience how true it is that “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
And it’s cool to get things secondhand now.
“It’s an underground economy, in a way; resale goods are no longer looked down upon as secondhand, but have become popular — and even fashionable. People pay thousands of dollars for the shabby chic look,” write Anita Chagaris and Randy Lyman in their book Garage Sale Galore.
It does take time to master the craft of purchasing old things for new, but there are tips and shortcuts for first-time buyers. Unfortunately for the already-knowledgeable enthusiasts, the secrets are coming out.
As is true with most of life’s challenges, those who fail to prepare for yard sale perusing are preparing to fail. Ensuring that you have all the necessities and took all the precautions is critical for peak performance. But again, it’s easier to prepare today than it was 10 years ago.
The Saturday afternoon activity has certainly evolved since John Simcoe, contributing writer for Pennsylvania website yardsaleofyork.com, began yard sale-ing with his parents as a kid. He learned the tricks of the trade the old-fashioned way: through experience. But today, shoppers can be more efficient than they ever were before.
“The GPS, in particular, really helped. My wife and I used to drive around with a giant map book, and we’d get so lost. As long as you have an address, you can create a whole itinerary and get to yard sales very quickly,” Simcoe said in an interview.
In order to really be on top of your game, consult Craigslist, your local newspaper and local yard sale websites the night before (garagesalefinder.com, metroyards.com, yardsalesearch.com, beantownyardsales.com, etc.). Those with smartphones are in for an even easier time, with apps that map out routes for you. (Check out John Andrews’ Techie column on page 41 about yard sale apps.)
Don’t make the rookie mistake of trying to attend both the local yard sale in Manchester AND the one in Timbuktu. Focus on one geographic area. Try tackling the sales within your immediate neighborhood, or determine a place to shop based on where you find the most sales when you’re consulting the paper, Craigslist, your smartphone, etc.
Write down the addresses and what’s for sale at each one (children’s clothes, furniture, comic books, etc.), and with this information, create a route. Yard sale shoppers may find even more yard sales on Saturday than they found on Craigslist through great signage, but having a plan prevents buyers from backtracking and wasting time.
Know what you want, sort of
There is a bit of debate concerning whether you should go into a secondhand shopping spree knowing what you want or it’s better to keep an open mind.
Most antique hunters will say to avoid having a closed mind. You might miss some fantastic deals if you’re too laser-focused on obtaining one particular type of item.
However, it’s certainly not bad to have some sort of idea of what you want. A college student looking to furnish his apartment is certainly not going to be interested in buying baby clothes. Having some sort of agenda enables shoppers to narrow down the yard sale ads and save time. Know what you need: Know your kid’s size shoe; know the dimensions of your living room, kitchen and bedroom. It’s always better to realize that a table set won’t fit your kitchen when it’s sitting out on the lawn than to realize it after you’ve brought it home — so bring a tape measure to the yard sale itself, as well.
Know what to bring
Knowing what to bring is as important as knowing what you want. Here are some tools that might be useful.
• Filled gas tank Don’t waste time filling up with gas the morning of the sale. Fill it ahead of time.
• Car space If you’re serious about the hunt, arrive with an empty car. (Well, there may be room for one or two friends or family members, but that’s it.) Nothing is more frustrating than finding a treasure that you can’t transfer from Point A to Point B. Take all the excess junk out of your car, or, if available, take a larger car or truck for shopping. Measure your car, and measure the items you’re looking to buy with the handy dandy....
• Tape measure that you’re going to bring. Make sure everything you buy actually fits where you need it to go.
• GPS Unless you know the area in which you’re yard sale-ing really well, the GPS is invaluable. Sure, you’ve got to have your route mapped out, but the GPS makes navigating that much easier.
• Map In case you haven’t entered the 21st century yet and purchased a GPS.
• Ropes/bungee cord Unless you do want that fragile antique table set to be destroyed on the ride home. Bring some rope to tie it down.
• Blankets/padding With the ropes/bungee cords, you may want to put down some blankets or some sort of padding to ensure that your newly purchased item doesn’t become scratched. Wrap the item, pad the item, do whatever it takes so that neither the new treasure nor your car becomes a victim of the sale.
• Dollar bills No, unfortunately most people working the yard sale circuit will not accept credit cards. Nor will they have change for $100 bills. Bring lots of $1 bills (at least $30 worth) and $5 bills. Anything bigger than a ten is probably no good. Quarters are always good to have, especially at yard sales with lots of books.
• Multi-use screwdrivers They’re good to have if you have a small car, especially when it comes to buying furniture. You might have to disassemble something in order to make it fit into your car.
• Magnifying glass At many sales, old jewelry will be for sale. Some of it will be costume, but some of it could be of great value. Bring a magnifying glass to examine the trickier items. Look to see if gems are missing, if the gold is good quality.
• Rags, wet wipes Because sometimes you find things at yard sales that need to be cleaned before they’re placed in your car.
• Snacks/water What’s more distracting to a yard sale shopper than an empty stomach? Not much. Plus, having snacks ensures that you don’t waste time grabbing an Egg McMuffin while Mr. Noname nabs the comic book you need to finish your collection.
• Sunglasses, comfortable shoes, sunscreen and swagger Because you’ve got to be comfortable and confident.
• Sturdy bag In Garage Sale Galore, Chagaris and Lyman advise folks to bring sturdy shopping bags to carry their goodies.
• Flashlight To look underneath sofas or inside cabinets to check out the wear and tear on the object you’re looking to buy.
• Batteries So you can see if the items you’re looking to buy without batteries actually work with batteries.
Timing is everything. But of course, the approach you take on timing is dependent on what you’re looking for.
Most antique shoppers will say that it’s best to arrive a little early — right before the Craigslist/newspaper/Web ad says the sale actually starts. (Early, but not too early — many yard sale hosts will become annoyed if you start parking in front of their house before showtime. It can be seen as disrespectful to show up at a yard sale at 7 a.m. when it actually starts at 9 a.m.)
“The first to arrive at a yard sale is usually the first to find the deal,” said Jason Hackler, co-owner of the New Hampshire Antique Co-op in Milford. “The serious pickers will figure out a game plan and make certain to arrive at the start of any sale,” he said. Indeed, show up to yard sales earlier than the marked time, and you’ll find the antique buyers, the consignment sellers and the pure bargain hunters hovering, ready to pounce.
But Simceo’s website suggests that many of the best sales come after the yard sale is over, or when it’s just about over, with 30 minutes left. Most of the time, people who hold sales are looking to get rid of their excess junk and to make a bit of money from it. If what they have is not sellable during the day, chances are that by the end of the event they’ll lower the price or trash it. (And wouldn’t it be better, for them, to see that their junk is getting some use?) You may not get the best items at the end of the day, but you’ll surely get the most inexpensive, if not free, items.
If an item is listed at a reasonable price — as many are, because sellers are trying to get rid of their items — many shoppers will smile and pay the number on the price tag. If you are going to haggle, there are a few ways to go about it.
Simcoe advises the bunching technique. Shoppers interested in two or three things can offer to buy the bunch for a smaller price. Much of the time, yard sale hosts will be grateful to sell three items as opposed to one. But there is definitely a fine line in this technique.
“You need to be respectful. If you have a handful of $40 worth of things, don’t offer $5 for the bunch. You have to understand that the person holding the sale had some sort of attachment to whatever you’re trying to buy,” Simcoe said.
And most importantly, make sure you have exact change for whatever deal you’re trying to make. Hackler and Simcoe noted this trend: Nothing looks jerkier than bartering an originally high-priced item down to $5 and then asking for the seller to make change from a $20 bill.
When buying/selling antiques, collectibles, fine china and the like, it’s important to realize that condition is everything. Many things can be repaired, but comic books, for instance, are not worth as much if they’re battered as if they’re brand new.
The Yard Sale Queen (yardsalequeen.com or yardsalequeen.blogspot.com) has another take on taking the price down. Pick up an object that’s for sale, ask about the price, and then, upon hearing the price, place it back down. If the seller really wants to get rid of the object, he or she will likely think twice before letting you walk away from it. This piece of advice may be best if you only kinda-sorta want the object at stake.
If something is too high-priced, Garage Sale Gourmet advises shoppers to come back later. If the item is still there, the seller may be willing to lower the price.
For those who aren’t looking to do a full Saturday yard sale hunting extravaganza, perhaps exploring a townwide, church or fundraising yard sale is the way to go. For instance, each year, the Weare Historical Society presents a Weare townwide yard sale (this year’s was held June 2). Funds are raised through the maps the society creates, with each participant paying a small amount to be placed on the town-wide yard sale map. Eighty participants held sales in this year’s sale. It’s been taking place for 18 years now.
“It’s a mass — if you don’t see something you like, you can hop from one sale to the other. With 80 sales to choose from, chances are that you’ll find something you want or need!” said Heleen Kurk, a member of the Weare Historical Society who helps organize this event. “People really plan their days around this event.”
Kurk also likes the concept of taking something old and making it new again.
“Recycling is certainly a wise way to go, as is being frugal with your funds,” Kurk said.
Kurk’s grandchildren have even taken to yard sale-ing, having set up their own stand at last year’s event.
“It teaches you how to deal with money, and it also teaches how to negotiate and barter. You learn when to hold the line on things and when to make the deal,” Heleen said. (Another tip from yardsaleofyork.com: Set up a beverage stand, or have the kids set up a lemonade stand.)
Another great thing about fundraiser/church/community yard sales? Most of the time, some or all of the funds raised are going to a good cause.
In the Humane Society for Greater Nashua big bonanza of a yard sale (which was held June 23-24 this year), a 15,000-square-foot warehouse was filled with donated goods. It was a yard sale shopper’s and a pet-lover’s dream.
“We get an avid group of people who are willing to donate — they want support the cause, and they are able to get rid of their things without going through the work of having a yard sale at their own home,” said Laurie Dufault, director of development and public relations at the Humane Society for Greater Nashua.
“People are so excited to come in, excited about getting a bargain, and it’s amazing to see how much stuff people leave with. It makes us feel good because we know it’s going to the pets. It’s a win-win all the way around,” Dufault said.
Thinking of hosting a sale?
On the other side, hosting a yard sale is a great way to earn some extra cash and to clean up your house. Knowing how to shop for goodies can help when it comes to knowing how to sell these items — you know the tricks of the trade, and thus you’re less likely to fall for them.
One thing you have to think about in holding a sale, said Hackler, is what your primary aim is: to make money, or to get rid of old things?
Hackler, for instance, often likes to buy old items and refinish them, make them new again. He is apt to sell his refinished items at a higher price than he would charge for items he’d like to get rid of. Deciding on the primary aim of your yard sale helps you decide what price to put on items — whether you just want to get rid of them and thus are willing to sell them at a lower price or be flexible with hagglers, or you want to make money and thus will not be flexible on prices.
Once you know your goal, it’s time to prepare. Again, the more preparation you do, the better the sale will be.
Suzanne Johnson, a member of the Bedford Moms Yahoo group, used yardsalequeen.com. This website identifies junk to avoid at yard sales (soft bedding for babies, old baby cribs, old hairdryers with plain plugs, used baby pacifiers, used sneakers etc.), scams to avoid, books to read and important tips for yard sale shopping.
But the Yard Sale Queen (as the website creator deems herself) also offers a plethora of information on hosting a yard sale. For instance, she advises on how to make a good sign. A good sign is readable from the road and includes pertinent information (address and date) and a huge arrow. Avoid the doodles, the misspelled words, the flimsy signs, and make sure your sign is placed right side up. (Another note: Make sure to take your signs down after the sale.) Advertising is also important; advertise in your local newspaper, on Craigslist, or at free yard sale websites, like metroyards.com, yardsalesearch.com, beantownyardsales.com, etc.
“We had a great turnout because of the advice I got here about yard sale advertising — instead of simply listing ‘Yard Sale, 7 a.m.-1 p.m.,’ we got a huge turnout by including detailed descriptions of what we were selling,” Johnson said. She also drew in more shoppers by inviting five other families to collaborate on the event. “Multi-family” yard sales will draw more shoppers than individual yard sales.
Other words of wisdom from the Yard Sale Queen: Expect early birds, but stick to the times. Don’t pick a holiday weekend to have a yard sale. Check the pockets, compartments and zippers of everything you’re selling, to make sure you didn’t leave $20 in the item you’re selling for $5. Guard your money, don’t let people inside your house, keep grocery bags to put sold items in, and have change.
It’s also not a bad idea to price everything, Hackler said. This way, you won’t accidently sell anything that wasn’t meant to be sold. Hackler also advises sellers to check with an antique appraiser if there is any doubt about an item’s true worth. (There are some great books available for this, but remember, with comic books, antiques and collectibles, condition is extremely important.) He and the other members who write on yardsalesofyork.com advise sellers to get lots of help, to put the most interesting items by the curb, include instructions and boxes with items sold if possible, and keep together items that can be grouped together (a table/chair set, for example).
Presentation is also important. If something looks good, it might bring in more money, and people will be more likely to want it.
“All it takes is a little elbow grease and good presentation — a set of fine china looks nicer when it is set against a white tablecloth. We try hard to clean things before they’re out. If it’s silver, it needs to be polished to look its best. Add a little 409, and it will move better in the sale,” Dufault said of the society’s recent yard sale.
Location is also important. “I’ve noticed that lots of people like to drive by,” Johnson said. “If people can see something they like driving by, they’re more likely to stop, as opposed to people who have long driveways,” Johnson said. “Cities will get a lot more foot traffic, versus yard sales in the middle of nowhere,” Johnson said.
For things that you want to get rid of but don’t feel justified asking money for, have a “free” box. Chances are someone will take it. Free is the best price.
The No. 1 rule
Be kind and respectful. Be nice to buyers and sellers, and while they may not always be nice to you, they are certainly more likely to be nice back. Your wallet (or clean house) will thank you.