Thursday, June 21, 2012

Yard Sale-ing 101

Being the practically professional yard-saler than I am, I figured I'd throw together a Yard Sale-ing 101 for those of you that may be interested in starting or just stepping it up a notch. There are tricks to the trade.  After decades of perfecting the art and science of this treasure-hunting hobby, I've got tried and tested tips to share. So I am. :)

  • SEARCH FOR SALES by doing any or all of the following:
    • Make a note of any yard sale signs you've seen driving around your community during the week.
    • Check local newspapers under the Yard Sales heading in the Classifieds. Although this is a little old-school, sometimes the best stuff is being sold by people who don't know how to use modern technology. So don't dismiss this. I still remember the days when this was the only way.
    • Search Craigslist under "Garage Sales" in your area. People usually list the type of stuff they are selling so you can sort through what may interest you or what you want to skip.
    • Also search online for garage sales in your area at
  • MAKE A LIST of the yard sales you want to hit up. Include the address, start and end time, and any items in the listing of interest to you. This will be helpful if you find you need to be more discerning about which ones you actually end up stopping at. "Hun, we got about 20 more minutes before we need to head back for that birthday party. Do you want to go to the one with all the books or the one with the tools?" :)
  • PLAN YOUR ROUTE. If you want to get an early start, it usually makes sense to start in an area with the highest concentration of sales that begin the earliest. (I rarely see them start before 8AM.) From there, plan out the best route you can in your head, if you're familiar enough with the area, or using a map. even has a trip planner feature that will map out your route for any of their listed sales you select. After I've made my list of sales on paper, I go back and number them in the order I plan to stop at them. If there is a sale listing that you definitely want to have first pickins at, plan to go there first, or arrive right before they open. Be sure to respect sellers that specify no early birds. However, for Estate Sales, lines many start forming well before the sale begins so you may want to plan to arrive 1/2 hour early to be one of the first ones in.
  • HIT UP THE BANK for cash. If you're only looking for big furniture or expensive items, a wad of 20s from the ATM on your way out in the morning will do fine. But if you're looking for less expensive items, its a good idea to have change on hand. That means small bills and even some quarters. (I remember growing up I could head out with just a bag of coins and be fine because it was normal to have things priced for nickels and dimes. It's hard to forget its been twenty years and I get outraged when people overprice.) Don't expect sellers to be able to break your big bills. Also, when you're trying to haggle a $5 item down to $2 and then you whip out a wad of $20s, apologizing that that's all you have, it doesn't go over as well as when you look like you are digging for and counting up your ones and change. At the same time, when you stumble upon the full dining room set you have to have for $150, don't count on the seller taking a personal check because you don't have the cash on hand. While some sellers may hold something for you while you go and get more money, not all will.
  • FILL UP THE GAS TANK. You don't want to get stuck cutting into precious shopping time the next day because you're running low on fuel. If you don't gas up the day before, leave plenty of time in the morning on your way out.
  • (update 7/4) MAKE / UPDATE YOUR SHOPPING LIST. I haven't actually put this one into practice yet but I need to. I have a mental list of things I'm on the lookout for, either for myself or that other people have asked me to buy if I find. Well, after three kids mental lists are pretty much useless. There have been several times when I realize when I get home that I passed right over something that I had been looking for and just forgot. Recently I was about to leave a sale when I suddenly remembered something a friend had asked me to look out for. I asked the seller if she had any and she pointed them out. I had looked right at them and passed on by because my list wasn't fresh in my mind when I started. That's another thing you can do - ask sellers if they happen to have things on your list. Sometimes items you are hunting for are hidden or not yet for sale, until you ask. And don't assume you can'd find anything at a yard sale. If you want or need it - put it on the list. Remove items when they don't belong there anymore. And read over your list at least once before you leave, if not after every few sales as well.  
  • DRESS APPROPRIATELY. That means a few things.
    • First, especially at the beginning of the season in early spring and end of the season in late fall, it can be quite cool. So wear layers. Check the weather and be prepared appropriately. If you melt in the rain, bring a raincoat or umbrella. Garage sales will keep going in the rain even if yard sale sellers close up shop. Wear or at least pack sunscreen or hat. A full day of yard-saling in a tank top can lead to sunburned shoulders otherwise.
    • Wear waterproof shoes or flip-flops because many sales land you in people's lawns and this means wet dew in the morning. Again, I've learned from experience - especially with the kids - their sneakers get soaking wet in no time.
    • Dress very casually. First to be comfortable, but second - the nicer you look, the more sellers will assume you can afford to spend. If you want better success in haggling and scoring some great deals, don't wear your nicest jeans, go decked out in bling, or have your Coach bag hanging on your arm. If you run into me on a Saturday morning and I look like a bum, you know why. Heck, I usually forgo a shower on Saturday mornings as well. :) The poor-harried-mom-with-lots-of-kids look is usually in my favor.
  • PACK REFRESHMENTS, depending on how long you plan to be out and about. I like to make a day of it, and usually have my kids in tow, so that means packing breakfast and lunch for the road for all of us. If we could actually get out the door early enough we might stop for coffee and donuts but I'm usually pulling the kids out of bed to make it to 8:00 sales when they start. Stopping on the road to get something to eat later just cuts into precious shopping time. (Stopping to pee does the same thing so take it easy on the fluid intake.) You could miss something amazing because you to had to stop for snacks or bathrooms. Especially if you are in the middle of residential island, you may have to drive 15 minutes out of the way to make that pit stop.
  • CHOOSE A VEHICLE to drive (if you have a choice). Your spouse's or friend's vehicle might be a better option than your own, depending on a few things. If you are specifically looking for large pieces of furniture or expect to come home with a lot of inventory, go in the biggest vehicle you can. The down side of that can be finding parking closest to the sale. If you are going with kids and plan to be out for several hours, a vehicle with a DVD player can provide much needed entertainment when the kids are bored (or if you're sick of wasting time getting them in and out and buckled and unbuckled). Also keep in mind that trying to haggle that item to the lowest price possible may be easier when the seller saw you step out of a beat up old Corolla than a shiny new luxury SUV.
  • LAST MINUTE POTTY for yourself and especially the kids right before you head out the door. I can't tell you how many times we have been in some stranger's driveway when my kid has announced, "Mom! I really gotta pee right now and I can't hold it!" Believe it or not, a few sellers have heard this and let me into their house to let my kid use their toilet but I don't count on it. Packing a training potty for that age is also something to consider.
  • HAGGLE. Just do it! Don't pay $1 if you can get'm down to 50 cents! :) Even if you know you're getting a steal, it never hurts to ask for a better deal. You may insult someone on what they think their stuff is worth, but so what, like you're ever going to see them again! Back in high school I used to go yard sale-ing with a friend...we'll call her Teeny. She'd always ask me if the item she wanted was a good price and I'd always tell her that I thought she could get it for less. She was too scared to haggle so she'd give me her item and ask me to go haggle it for her. I was such an enabler a good friend. :) Learn to haggle for yourself. Never go home wondering if you could have paid less.
  • PUT ON YOUR POKER FACE. Act like you don't care about or are not sure of the amazing finds that you want to grin from ear-to-ear and jump up and down about. Pretend like you're hemming and hawing even though you have every intention to purchase something. This little act helps during price negotiations. But while you're pretending to just be curious about an item, hang on tight so no one else scoops it up from under your nose. It happens.
  • ALWAYS TEST ELECTRONICS.  If it takes batteries, ask the seller if they have any new batteries you can test it with. If it plugs in, ask if they have an outlet nearby you can test it with. I've learned the hard way. If the seller is unable to test something for you, then beware of that risk. Even if they claim it works, trust no one! It's easier to take your chance with a $1 kids toy than with a $20 cordless drill. I'm just a little bitter about being burned on that one.
  • USE A GPS or have a good old-fashioned map. Because while you are out and about you will come across signs for more sales. And because you won't want to pass them up they may send you on wild goose chases, off your carefully pre-planned route. If you don't have a GPS, check out your local Chambers of Commerce for current road maps of your community. For me, that includes the Corrider Nine, Blackstone Valley, United Regional and Milford Area Chambers.
  • SCAN FOR TOYS from the road if you have kids with you. Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT have kids get in and out of the car at every sale if you don't have to. You will only get to half the yard sales you want to that way. Instead, buy them a token entertainment toy and/or a few books at one of the first sales you can. This will help keep them distracted for the rest of the trip. Then, when you pull up at future sales, take a quick glance for toys and if you don't see any (or many), tell the kids, "Oh, it looks like this one doesn't have any good toys. Stay right here while I just hop out quick and take a look." The kids buy this line sale after sale, week after week. Of course do this ONLY if you are parked close to the sale and can see your kids in the car. I would never leave my kids in the car out of eyesight. You do want to stop at a few "kid sales" here and there so that they can shop and to instill in them the love of treasure hunting. :)
  • BUY WITH YOUR HEAD AND YOUR HEART. If you don't shop smart, you'll end up a hoarder. :) Don't buy things you don't need or really want. I come across tons of stuff that's really cool or unique and I am tempted to get just because its cheap or "I might need it some day" or "if I have a shop some day." But then I remember that I don't have room to store "maybe some day" stuff and I leave it behind. I've learned to say no and walk away. At the same time, sometimes its worth it to spend a few bucks on something you're not totally sure about because your heart says "do it!" There is nothing like that sinking feeling that haunts me at home when I wish I had bought something that was pulling at my heart strings. Even purely functional items can do this. It's basically the opposite of buyer's remorse. I want to kick myself for the ones that got away. :(
  • GET GIDDY. After you load up that totally amazing treasure that you just can't even believe you #1 found, and #2 got such a great deal on, when you get back into the drivers seat and pull off, it's okay to smile real big and let out a loud "WOOO HOOOOO!" and dance a little jig in your seat, followed by turning up the music really loud and singing along on your way to the next sale.
  • RETURN TO PREVIOUS SALES that had items you were very interested in but were priced too high. By the end of the day, sellers usually just want to get rid of everything. Most are home owners mainly looking to clean out and make the most money they can, but at the end of the day they'd rather give stuff away than have to haul it off to the dump or The Salvation Army. So if you have time and you're not out of steam, it can be to your benefit to backtrack on your way home and see there are any steals left. Or, if you weren't able to make it out early in the day, don't assume things are picked over by noon. It's still worth a shot to head out late. This especially goes for estate sales if you can swing by the last hour on Sunday before it ends.
  • (update 7/4) DIG, PICK AND REALLY LOOK. I can't believe I forgot to mention this first time around. This is crucial for successful treasure hunting, whether it be at a yard sale, thrift shop or antique shop. If you want to find the good stuff, you have to try harder than just walking around and glancing. You have to stop. Actually look at every item on a table. The gems are often nestled in with all the crap, easily disguised. At yard sales, you need to look high and low. Rummage through every box. Even if you think its a box of junk, take a closer look. This might take a little practice at first, and even old pros like me can become lazy and fall into bad habits. Once you've developed this important skill, don't ever let your picking hands get rusty or your eagle eyes get cloudy.
  • UNLOAD IMMEDIATELY. Otherwise crap takes over your car. For me that means finding all the empty juice boxes, string cheese wrappers and stray Cheerios as well. Unlike me, don't let your stash of loot sit in piles by the front door for over a week. Clean them up. Put them away. Start using them.
  • GLOAT, at least a little, about your top treasures of the day. Maybe take a picture of your favorite score or best deal and throw it up on Facebook. Just to inspire your peeps to get out there and yard sale too, of course. :)
So there you have it.  I put this up on a Thursday to give you a day to prepare for Saturday morning. Am I forgetting anything?? I don't think so. Feel free to ask questions in case I did. :)


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