Confessions of a Yard Sale Fanatic
Yard Sale Shopping Tips
These tips will help you become a better yardsale shopper and to help avoid making bad purchases.
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Keep your eyes and ears open to find out where the yardsales are. Many people advertise the classifieds of the local newspaper but a lot of people will just put up signs, post a flyer in a grocery store, place a free classified ad on a local community website etc. I even browse the "church notes" part of the newspaper - sometimes our local churches will put yardsale info there. I have a local street map so I can plan the best route (saving time and gas). If you don't have a map but have the street address you can check out websites like Mapquest to plan your route. My links page has a few map making resource links.
H o m e
What I normally do is circle the ads for the yardsales I plan to go to, but always end up with scraps of paper all over the car (I get several different newspapers). To avoid having to cut out all the little ads in the newspaper, or wasting time copying them to a sheet of paper, here's an idea: take a piece of transparent tape and place it over the ad then use your fingernail and press down on the ad. Then carefully lift the tape and place the tape on a piece of paper. All the information will be transferred to the tape. You may want to do a "practice" one first.
I've trained myself to keep my eyes opened for upcoming yardsales and mark the calendar so I don't forget. For instance, when I see announcement that a local organization is soliciting donations for an upcoming yardsale - I run to the calendar and mark it down. And some organizations will hold a yardsale the same time every year (so I mark that on my calendars and when the year changes I'll pencil in potential yardsales). For instance, there is a church near my house that holds a yardsale three times a year (it's always the last Saturday in January, the first Saturday in May and so on.)
Necessities for the hard-core yardsailor: hat/sunglasses to keep sun out of eyes, suntan lotion (if you burn easily), a small cooler with beverages in the car, comfy shoes, plenty of change and small bills and local map. If I'm going to a popular church yardsale, I'll often stick a plastic grocery store bag in my pocket. So when the doors open and see a bunch of goodies I want, I don't have to scrounge around (and waste time) asking for a bag or search for an unused box to put everything in or try to carry everything in my arms. I've heard some people even keep binoculars in their car to read yardsale signs that the seller made too small. If you are looking for something in a particular size (curtains etc), its good to carry a small tape measure. It's also handy to carry a small multi-purpose tool (ex. Leatherman), in case you need to cut a rope to tie something to your car, use a small screwdriver to check the battery compartment of something etc. And some people (not me) may keep a supply of batteries (in various sizes) in their car so they can test battery operated items if they need to.
Don't wear sandals or flip-flops. Your feet will get wet if people have their yardsale set up on their lawn and its a dewy morning. Wear comfortable shoes or sneakers. (Sneakers is such a cool word that I wish more people would call sneakers "sneakers". )
Keep a cardboard box or tote bag in your car to hold your purchases. It will keep them from rolling around as you head to the next yardsale. It also it will make it handy to carry your purchases in your house. Before I did this, sometimes I would drop breakables because I was trying to carry too much stuff in the house at once. Keep some old newspapers in your car too, to wrap breakable things (if the seller didn't think ahead and have any handy). It's also a good idea to have some "wet naps", diaper wipes, or a bottle of hand sanitizer gel to clean your hands in case you pick something up yucky at a yard sale.
Where I live, prices are generally better at church or other type of fundraising yardsales rather than yardsales at people's houses. Because fundraising yardsales are generally all donated items, the quality may not be as good as a yard sales at individual houses. And a lot of times, people having a yardsale at their house may have an inflated sense of what their stuff is worth. But of course it all depends so I go to both. I've been to some really great fundraising yardsales and regular yardsales and really bad ones too.
I like to arrive early at yard sales but I'm not the dreaded "early bird." An early bird is someone who shows up before a yardsale is supposed to begin. Sometimes even HOURS ahead of time. I've found that most yardsales are not organized well enough to handle early birds. Others believe that arriving late at a yardsale is good too, because the seller may be willing to give better deals later in the day.
This is probably commonsense, but the yard sales that are held in better neighborhoods normally have the nicer stuff (but of course it's usually pricier). Generally, if you are looking for baby clothes and toys, you probably won't have much luck yardsaling in a retirement community. And if you are looking for antiques, newer communities with swingsets in every backyard probably isn't the wisest choice to start your search. But I'm not picky, I like them ALL! That's what makes yardsaling so great, you never know what you will find and where.
If you find yourself at a truly great yardsale (great prices and has a lot of things you want/need) don't be in too much of a hurry to run off to the next yardsale. Make sure you have thoroughly shopped it before leaving. Many days you may only find one or two really "good" yardsales and a lot of crappy ones and you will have wished you had spent more time at the "good" yardsales rather than rushing off quickly.
Clothes are generally a great deal at yard sales because they are generally poor sellers so they are (generally) priced cheap. When buying used clothing for kids, don't rely only on the size listed on the tag, keep it mind its been washed many times and may have shrunk. Bring one of your kid's shirts or pants to use as a guide to hold up next to a potential purchase. And when buying stuff for kids, keep in mind that it's generally "buyer beware". Sooo many items (even clothing) have been recalled for safety issues.
With clothes shopping, it helps to know a few brand labels. If you are buying something labled "Faded Glory" that means it's Walmart quality. If you are buying something from "Circo" that's Target quality and so on.
If you are buying something for a child - make sure you look it over good when you get home. Real life example: I bought an opened canister of TinkerToys for my young son and when I poured them out I found things like real nails, thumbtacks and other non-safe things tossed in the canister along with the actual Tinkertoys.
This is more of a yardsale ettiquette comment than tip, but I think if you are shopping with your kids, babies (or husband!) and they put their mouths on something that the seller is selling, you better buy it! At one of my yardsales, I had a bin full of small toys. So of course some kid grabs a plastic whistle that was in there and starts very annoyingly blowing it every 1.5 seconds. The parent doesn't say anything to their child. So I told him "you can have that". (Did you think I wanted it back after some grubby kid spit all over it?). So what happens when they leave? The kid throws the saliva-ed whistle back in the bin and leaves. Sheesh.
If you are at a yardsale that has a "fill a bag of clothes for $5" deal (or similar), you can get more clothes into a bag if you roll them up like a sausage rather than just stuffing them into the bag willy-nilly.
If you are sensitive to cigarette smoke or smell, take note if you happen to see if the seller has a pack of cigarettes and lighter nearby (like on their check out table). If so, there's a good chance that whatever you buy may smell like cigarette smoke.
Every once in a while you may know the person having the yardsale or just happen to have a nice conversation with a seller. In those cases where you are buying something, make sure you have the seller's full attention to you when you are paying them. This has happened to me a few times - you pay for something, stick around a bit to chat, and then when you are walking away the seller says "oh did you pay me for that?" Argghggh!
Make sure you are buying what you think you are buying. Huh? Sometimes when people upgrade their stuff, they often put the old item in the new box. Example: A friend told me he saw a box for a new fancy printer/scanner/fax machine at a yardsale. He bought it thinking that's what was inside. Nope. He got it home and inside the box found the seller's OLD printer in the NEW box! So even if something looks new, you still better check it out. I still feel sorta bad about a used golf practice mat that I sold at one of my yardsales. Before my yardsale, I put it back in the original box and put a $1 sticker on it. A guy walks up and buys it without looking inside and leaves. I hope he wasn't expecting it to be new, since that thing attracted dog hairs like crazy!
If you are looking to buy your kids shoes or sports shoes (cleats etc) that they grow out of every season, keep a tracing of their foot with you if the kid's don't yardsale with you. While standing, trace an outline of their foot on posterboard. Cut it out and have it handy when shopping. If you see a pair that may fit, put the "foot" inside of the shoe. If the "foot" won't go in the shoe, it's too small...or if it won't lie down, it's too narrow. If you run your fingers to the toe of the shoe, you can feel if there is extra room at the toe, by judging where the "foot" ends.
Take off the price tags of your treasures shortly after getting home. Most times the longer a sticker stays on an item, the harder it is to remove.
When buying dishes or glassware, run your fingers over the edges. Your fingers will most likely catch any chips or nicks that your eyes miss. One reader told me she carries cottonballs so she'll run a cottonball over the edge instead of her finger. And supposedly if there is a nick or rough spot - part of the cottonball will come off and stick to it.
When buying something that is battery-operated, open the battery compartment to make sure there aren't some old batteries in it that are corroded!!! I learned the hard way. Also, even if the battery compartment is clean and empty, there's still a chance the item could be broken since you can't test it, unless the seller happens to have batteries on hand or if you carry some with you.
When buying CDs, DVDs or videotapes, open up the case to make sure the right item is in the case. You don't want to open up the case at home to find your beloved Megadeath Massacre case contains The Silly Giggles Wiggle's Top 40 hits. Also before buying, turn the CD/DVD over and check for major deep scratches.
When asking the price of an item, it's ALWAYS to your benefit to get the seller to name the price of an item, rather than answer their question of "what do you want to pay for it?" Same thing, but reverse when you are selling something....try to get the customer to name their price for an item - if it's too low, you can refuse - and if they name a really high price, you lucked out.
Some people turn their nose up at the thought of buying "used" clothing. Consider this: when you go to a hotel, you sleep and use towels that hundreds of other people have dried their naked bodies on etc etc. Even clothes and shoes that you buy brand new in stores may have been tried on by many others. You should see my closet - I think I am the Imelda Marcos of Yardsale Shoes.
If you see an item that you may or may not want, pick it up anyhow and carry it around a bit, then decide. Because if you don't, by the time you decide that you want it, someone else will have bought it and you'll be kicking yourself the rest of the day. If you are yardsaling with small kids, try to hold their purchases too. I've seen situations where a kid will put down a toy for a split second and another kid will grab it.
Also when shopping with kids, it's better to have them actually pay for their own purchases. Why? The seller is more likely to give a kid a discounted price than they would the hard-core yardsailing parent. It also gives kids practice with handling money (and learning the value of it). It also builds their confidence in talking to adults.
It's good to bring a lot of small bills and change especially if you plan on making small purchases. Donít be afraid to haggle a price down if you feel it is too high. The worst that the seller can say is no. I think itís in very bad taste to haggle a price down from $1.00 to .50 only to whip out a $20 bill to pay for it. Believe me, it happens. If I think the price is fair or a steal, I donít bother haggling. Nothing is more annoying to me (when having a yardsale) is to have a customer who wants to haggle on every little item. Also, I would not drive up in a Lexus expecting to haggle. Drive the junker instead. Or at least park the Lexus around the block before you walk up to the yardsale.
When I am going yardsaling, I wear a fanny pack and don't carry a purse. Yes, I know it makes me look like a fashion disaster. Believe me, it's nothing new. It saves time when I jump out of my car and find a new treasure. It also keeps both hands free to look over an item (your hands often can find chips and cracks easier than your eyes!) One bad thing about wearing a fanny pack is other buyers may confuse you with the person holding the yard sale and will come up to you offering money. (Oh, did I say that was a bad thing???)
When making a purchase, carefully look over an item before you buy it. Most items are sold "as is." If you get home and your purchase doesn't work or is missing a piece, you are probably out of luck. If itís an electrical appliance, ask to plug it in to test it.
Be creative when you browse yard sales, when you look at an item, not only look at it for its primary use, but look at it for its POTENTIAL use. Some people buy old broken down leather boots and use them as outdoor planters. An old toy dump truck can be planted with flowers for an interesting planter. I attached suction cups to a wire shower caddy and use it as a window bird feeder for suet.
Be wary of items that may have been recalled by the manufacturer. It's kind of tricky because it seems that everything imaginable has been recalled for some reason or another. Be especially selective about baby things. (Personally, I would avoid buying a child's car seat at a yard sale even if I knew it wasn't a "recalled" one, just because you have no idea if the car seat has been involved in an accident or anything). If you are unsure about an item you've purchased, call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772 or visit their website. For a general idea on what things to avoid, click here.
Be careful when digging through a box of used kitchen utensils - so you don't get cut by an old rusty knife. (I often rummage through boxes like this looking for collectible spoons.)
Often times, if you've purchased a large item (like a sofa or a chest of drawers) at a yardsale, you may need to come back later with a truck. Before you leave the first time, make sure you get a receipt if you've paid in cash (or offer to write a check for the item, then promise to exchange the check with cash when you come back with the truck. Some sellers are uneasy (and rightfully so, about accepting a check from a stranger). Tip: if you have to come back later in the day to pick up the item, take a small piece of it with you before you leave the first time, like a cushion or drawer. Why? It will prevent other zealous customers offering the seller more $$$ for the item than what you paid for it. You don't want to go back to the house and have the item not there and the seller saying "sorry - here's your money back, someone else offered me a higher price". Most sellers are reputable and wouldn't do that, but I'm just trying to prevent the worse case scenario.
Don't be afraid of NOT buying something at a yard sale. I know some people who feel a weird obligation to buy something at every yard sale whether they need it or not. I just say, "sorry I donít see anything I need - good luck with your sale, you have a great day for it", and then Iím off to the next one. Otherwise youíll end up with so much stuff youíll have to have your own yard sale.
Lastly, if you see an item you would like (but is priced too high and the seller won't negotiate), give the seller your name and telephone number and tell them you are interested if it doesn't sell by the end of the day and they are willing to come down on the price. One reader's suggestion: carry extra business cards for this purpose, who knows, YOU may end up selling THEM something!
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