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Best Items to Shop For at Flea Markets and Garage Sales

Updated on April 25, 2016

What to shop for at the Flea Market or Garage Sale

Flea markets and garage sales can offer great bargains, so long as you are shopping for the right types of items, and are careful. I happen to live in an area where flea markets and garage sales are common. And I've been both a buyer and seller at a few of them and have learned a few things.

1. Don't be afraid to buy used items.

I think that our natural tendency is to want something brand new. Oftentimes, new items are clean, and are assumed to not have problems. But used items are not always dirty junk. And some used items may be easy to clean. Furniture and accessories are best examples.

When I first moved to my present home, I was looking for a number of items, one of them a set of tv trays. Well, the ones in stores were selling for $39 for a set of 4 plus the stand that held them. And one store that sold trays individually, was selling them for $14 each. Well, I happened to pass a garage sale and spotted a set of trays, just like the ones I saw in the stores. It was a full set of trays, selling for about $15. Yes, they were used and showed some signs of it. They did need some cleaning. But I saw a potential good buy here. I offered the owner $10 and she agreed. I brought the trays home, cleaned them up, and, for the last 6 years, I've enjoyed my nice set of trays, a $39 set that I got for $10 because I could accept a little wear and tear and the cleanup required wasn't much.

So, here's a list, partial, I'm sure, as many of you will know of other items that are great buys at flea markets and garage sales.

1. Furniture: Usually it will have some signs of wear and tear, but these are often not too noticeable, and most sellers will try to clean up the furniture before selling it. So, you may be able to pick up a cabinet, end table, small dining set, or a child's toy bench for $10-$20 instead of $100-$200 or more new. And oftentimes, the item may be up for sale because the owner upgraded. Or the child has outgrown the need for the toy bench.

Possible exception: If the item has any type of fabric or cloth, I would tend to stay away from it, as it would be harder to clean and could have insect pests, such as bedbugs. If you really know the person selling the item or the item's history, then go ahead and buy, you'll still get a bargain.

2. Books: Books as long as they're not falling apart. I once bought a 13 book set, all paperbacks, for under $10. At a bookstore, they would have been over $50 new.

3. Non Electronic Outdoor Decor:Wind chimes, plants, patio furniture, umbrellas, are all good.

4. Non Electronic Kids' Toys: So long as they are not broken and have no health hazards, such as small breakable parts, these can be great buys.

5. Bicycles: Bicycles are easy to clean, and it's somewhat easy to see if they're in good shape or not. A rusty chain should turn you away. And, the bike, being there, is available for a test ride, so the gears and brakes can be tested.

6. Anything "Simple and Solid": This covers things like CD wallets, collectible pins, belt buckles, board games that are already opened, unopened toothbrushes, dishes, silverware, hunting and utility knives, non electric tools, dog bowls, bird cages, or anything that can be easily checked out and handled to see if it's broken and that it works.

Now, here's a short list of things that can be great buys if you're careful.

1. Electronics:This would include stereos, radios, video games, such as XBOX, mp3 players and Ipods, or anything that uses batteries or electricity. If no plug in is available, then check the equipment you are considering buying very carefully. Is it old, or very worn? Ask the seller if he or she is a regular. This way, if they are, and the product turns out to be defective, you may be able to return it. Generally, a regular seller, or someone who comes from time to time but nevertheless does come to sell, is less likely to give you a bad deal than a seller who has never been there before. If you do take an item that the seller tells you is defective or not completely working, ask yourself before buying if you can live with it.

2. Music CD's and Tapes:Music CD's are pretty durable, so even if they have scratches, they may still play well. But you need to check if the scratches are deep gauges or just superficial. If there's a player you can use, then test the CD out first if possible. If the CD has never been opened then it's likely to be ok. Tapes can be harder to determine if they are ok or not. A tape may look ok, but may stick, or have other problems that sometimes plague cassette tapes.

3. DVD's and VCR Tapes:Same as #2 above. Again, if it's never been opened, then the item is probably ok.

4. Fishing Poles:The only part that needs more scrutiny on the pole is the winding mechanism. If this works, then the pole, assuming it has no other problems, is probably ok.

5. Older Electronics: In addition to finding out if an older electronic item works, you need to see if it is about to fall apart due to simple age. Some older radios had parts that deteriorated with age. My grandfather's radio was like this. It had been stored for decades. When handled one day during a cleaning event, the front simply crumbled away!

6. Power Tools: Like other electronics, these need to be tested. And be sure to see if they have the power needed. That drill may turn but it may be stopped by the pinch of your fingers if it's power has waned or internal parts have lost their grip to provide the drive power that would normally keep the drill bit turning.

So, that's my list so far. Please feel free to tell me of more items for either list above.

Good shopping!


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