Profit From Yard Sales Like a Professional
First, some semantics. Permit me to polish the vernacular a bit. Yard sale refers to the event, the array of "stuff" that adorns the yardsalitor (person having the sale)'s driveway, front lawn, or garage from approximately the hours of 7-2 of any given Saturday morning. I am a veteran yardsaler. It might not be listed on dictionary.com, but it should be. Yardsaler is a noun, and refers to the person who yardsales -- which is a verb denoting the activity of yardsaling, a.k.a., sneaking away with the centuries' best buys while the rest of the world goes to places like Best Buy and pays full retail price.
Professional yardsaling requires advance planning. These are some of the things you will need:
- Buddy - While not absolutely necessary, yardsaling is a LOT more fun if you have a likeminded friend to go with you. Not only is there someone to help you load and unload your purchases, but there is also someone to laugh and talk with, and with whom to share share the joy of the quest.
- Large vehicle - You never know what you'll find. I've loaded up exercise equipment, tables, chairs, beds, yard furniture, dog crates, rugs, a baker's rack, televisions, entertainment centers, desks, lawn mowers, hobby horses, recliners, lamps, blanket chests, end tables, and the list goes on. You might not always need all the space, but you'll be glad to have it the day you do. A truck, van, or SUV... is highly recommended.
- GPS (or two) - Ideally, one person drives and the other navigates. If you have two GPS's you can have the next addy already loaded up within a given zip code and go efficiently from one sale to the next. I've lost track of how many times someone else out saling figured out we were doing this and just followed us!
- Fanny pack - It's the easiest and safest way to keep up with your money when you're out yardsaling. A fanny pack keeps your money secure and leaves your hands free.
- Money - Decide in advance how much you are willing to spend and then tuck away a little extra in case you find that steal of the century. (I typically take a hundred dollars, although I don't always spend that much.) Take at least ten dollars in one dollar bills and three or four dollars in quarters. Usually by the time you've spent those, the sales are rolling along and the yardsalitors will have change for larger bills.
- Old blanket - This can be quite useful for cushioning should you buy dishes, furniture or anything else that might need protection.
- Rope - Worst case scenario, you can tie something to your luggage rack or tie down the tailgate if something inside keeps it from shutting. ALWAYS take rope.
- Binoculars - If you have a pair of these lying around, toss them into the car when you go yardsaling. The navigator will find them useful for reading small print on signs nailed to a telephone pole across an intersection when you're stopped at at a traffic light.
- Cell phone with Internet access - This is only necessary if you're thinking of buying to resell. When you're unsure of the value of book, collectible, etc., then having instant access to the Internet will allow you to quickly look it up.
- List of yardsales - While you should always be willing to make an abrupt right turn in response to a yardsale sign, in general you fare best if you go with a plan. Compile a list complete with times of start and finish, address, and either a list of the items that attracted you or else a series of stars. Arrange the list by zipcode. Efficiency means speed means you're first for more deals!
Crucial to success is the ability to locate the best sales.
The delight of yardsaling is the sense of spontaneity and adventure the activity imparts. You become an intrepid explorer when you head out at dawn to sample the unexplored mysteries that line your neighbors' driveways and garages. While you can and should have a plan for finding great stuff, be aware that strategizing doesn't always work, and that sometimes the best treasures lurk in unexpected places.
These are general points worth remembering:
- Neighborhood/community sales have more stuff ... and more shoppers.
- Advertised sales have more shoppers than unadvertised sales. If you happen upon a sale that wasn't advertised, chances are it has had fewer shoppers, thus more stuff, and as a result, better prices.
- More expensive homes tend to yield nicer stuff. You might want to put the community wide sale in the million dollar neighborhood up towards the top of your morning's itinerary.
- Many great community sales repeat annually. An awesome community sale is worth noting on your calendar a year in advance. (They generally are "the first Saturday in May," or "the third Saturday in September" sorts of sales.)
- Older neighborhoods often have neat sales, with unique, antique or retro items.
- Starter home neighborhoods tend to have lots of young families ... and lots of baby stuff. This is great if you're looking for baby stuff. However, if you've left those years behind and are not yet shopping for grandchildren, these can feel like a big waste of time. (Personally, I think there should be a law requiring yardsalitors to say, "BABY STUFF" on their signs, if that is mostly what they have. Some people want it, other's don't, and the label makes it easier for all concerned.)
Beginning Thursday of the week you plan to yardsale, take note of any yardsale signs going up in your community as you travel about. Carry a small notebook and record the neighborhood, address, and type of stuff being sold, if mentioned.
The night before, peruse the classifieds of the newspaper in the area you're planning to go. A lot of papers let you do this online, whether or not you're a subscriber. My paper lets me search the sales as well. For example, if the weather looks iffy at the last minute, I can search using terms like "indoor," and "rain or shine." Other useful search terms are "moving sales," "neighborhood sale," "baby stuff," "furniture," etc.
Jot down the particulars of the sales that interest you including the address with city and zip code. Develop a star rating system that indicates how interesting the sale sounded to you when you read about it. This will be useful the next day when you can no longer remember exactly what the sale offered, and are trying to decide where to go next.
Also the night before, check Craig's List under 'garage sales'. Some will be repeats from the the newspaper, but generally there are more listings on Craig's List because Craig's List ads are free. Another advantage to Craig's List is that the ads will sometimes be accompanied by photographs, which can help you decide if the stuff offered is stuff you're interested in ... or not. Another yardsaling resource that is helpful in locating sales is this website, www.yardsalesearch.com.
Pay special attention to these:
- Moving Sales - people holding a moving sale often MUST sell their stuff because they're on a deadline to move. Moving sales are likely to offer a variety of household items (particularly the "moving out of the country" sales) and to have good prices. They're also more likely to be indoors if the morning turns rainy.
- Church and benefit sales - these tend to have a little of everything, and tons and tons and tons of clothes. Not necessarily the kind you want to go rummaging through, either, although sometimes there are great finds. Church sales tend to be best if you arrive early, and their prices are usually slashed by the end of their sale to next to nothing.
- Estate sales - if you yardsale long enough, you'll run into the occasional estate sale. Their prices are higher and not usually negotiable as they're run by professionals who must answer to the deceased's family. However they are worth taking a look at ... sometimes they have the most amazing stuff!
After locating the sales you want to attend, arrange them according to city and/or zip code. Decide where you want to go first, and place that city/zipcode on top. I find it easiest to either use index cards when noting sales or else employ different colored markers.
If it sounds like a lot of work to do it this way, remember, this is yardsaling the way the professionals do it! The effort spent the night before will be sooo worthwhile the next day when you're smoothly zipping from sale to sale while the rest of the yardsaling world is cluelessly driving in circles looking for signs.
Scope and Smoke
You won't necessarily want to stop at every yardsale. Some aren't worth your time. At times you may wish to employ the following drive by technique:
Slowly cruise past the sale, checking out its offerings. Use binoculars if necessary. If all you see are garbage bags and boxes and blankets exploding with tired clothing, you may wish to continue on in hopes of better offerings elsewhere. My yardsale buddy and I call this the "Scope and Smoke" maneuver as in, "Let's scope it out ...." ... "Wanna stop?" ... "No, let's smoke this one!" ... and away we go.
I can only imagine what some folks must think of the middle aged women who drive by ever so slowly, "casing the joint," with binoculars trained on their old clothes like spies in a movie.
Did I mention yardsaling frequently dual functions as laughter therapy?
Greet the yardsalitors as you walk up, and smile and make eye contact. Chit chat about the weather, or how many customer's they've had thus far. Your chances of getting these people to accept your ridiculously low ball offers are better if you've already established rapport.
Regardless of how any item is priced, ALWAYS ask if they'll take less. Generally speaking, ask if they'll take half the asking price. My theory is, "It's a yardsale, you're supposed to dicker!" Always ask very sweetly, and don't get offended if they say no. Sometimes they'll say, "Well, I can't go that low, but I'll take this much." When that happens, ask if they'll take a dollar or two less than that. YOU NEVER KNOW ... it might be a priceless French Impressionist painting to you, but to them it's a reminder of the ex they never care to see again. The only time I don't ask someone to take less is when the item is priced at a quarter. That's generally as low as you would hope for anything to be priced!
Some yardsalitors think too highly of their stuff. They don't really get the yardsaling paradigm, which is bargain based. Or you may be in a million dollar plus neighborhood, and their idea of a bargain and yours may not be the same. This happened to me once when an elderly woman was asking over a thousand dollars for an authentic empire sofa. Was it worth what she was asking? Absolutely. Should she have been trying to sell it at a yardsale? Ummm ... no.
After you yardsale for a while, and enjoy the heady rush of getting (practically) something for nothing ... the day will come when you come across something you really would like to have, and the price set is reasonable, (but not yardsale bargain basement reasonable) and the yardsalitor will not go lower. Beware the yardsaler's Achilles heel, which is a behavioral phenomenon in which the yardsaler walks away from an item she really desired just because she couldn't get it for less. It's important to keep perspective here, and occasionally spend more to get something of quality that you will truly treasure. Chances are you're still getting a tremendous bargain as compared to retail.
Odds and Ends
You often will see references in ads to "early birds". These are people who arrive BEFORE the sale starts and hope to get first dibs. I personally have not found this strategy to be worth the effort. A lot of yardsalitors are still groggy themselves as they're setting up and early birds are a nuisance. I live thirty minutes from the closest metropolitan area, and have to get up early enough as it is, so I don't do this. However, you might find it profitable to be an early bird. Look for sales that say, "Early birds welcome." They will be prepared for you.
As the day progresses, yardsale prices usually become less and less expensive. Some large church sales will reduce the price of EVERYTHING by halves after eleven o'clock in the morning.
Avoid wild goose chases. Look for DATES on posted yard sale signs. It is an unfortunate phenomenon of yardsalitors to simply quit when they're through, without taking down all of the signs they posted. This can be confusing the following Saturday when you begin encountering last week's signs. Indicators that an undated sign might be old ... it's been rained on, is bent to the point that it is difficult to read, or simply looks weathered.
Always make sure an item you are purchasing works, and has all the parts. Don't be afraid to ask for a demonstration, or if you can plug it in, or use their bathroom to try something on. Ask if they have the owner's manual. Once you've bought it, it's yours, so make sure of these things BEFORE you leave. If you're purchasing upholstered furniture or rugs, SMELL them. I once neglected to do this and had to ride around for the rest of the day inhaling eau de cat urine.
How to Profit
It may be that you are content with simply buying for yourself, and enjoying your fabulous deals. However, it's possible to profit further from yardsales by reselling some items, when you recognize them to be true deals. Whether you end up with your own resale establishment, or simply re-offer your finds on Craig's List or Ebay, there is a potential for profit. If profit from resale is your goal, you definitely need a cell phone with Internet access, in order check on the going retail prices. Books fall into this category. I have purchased books for a quarter that I brought home and sold on Amazon for thirty dollars. I've also purchased books I thought would sell on Amazon, only to get home and find there are hundreds just like it, selling for pennies.
Yardsaling is fun recreational activity that is positively ADDICTING. Enjoy, and happy hunting!
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