Smart shoppers know that garage sales are treasure troves for great buys and unbeatable bargains. You can find clothes that people have barely worn, sports equipment that never saw the light of day, books and toys at a fraction of the original price, and high-quality furniture and baby equipment that the owners have simply outgrown.
However, you need to go to garage sales with a discerning eye. What’s trash, and what’s treasure? What do you really need, and what will probably end up at your own garage sale in a few months? Here are some tips.
1. Remember: it’s all about location, location, location.
Check your local paper or any community center for announcements on garage sales or tag sales. Do research on the neighborhood. An older neighborhoods tends to have better sales because the residents renovate more often; newer neighborhoods have younger couples and therefore great baby goods.
2. Bring the right stuff.
Yes, your wallet of course. But it’s also a good to bring small bills and coins as well as shopping bags and boxes (you may not be given bags).
3. Go there the first day.
You get first pick. To avoid getting lost, call the place to ask for direction or check Google maps. If you get there early, don’t make a pest of yourself. Wait for the ‘official start’ and wait patiently. The seller is probably busy setting up.
4. Charm the seller.
If the place isn’t swamped and the seller isn’t frantically entertaining customers, do a little small talk. You may build rapport and score a good bargain. Sharing a little bit about yourself may also give her an idea of what you’re looking for. For example, you can say that you’re looking for something for your new baby. She can direct you to items, or possibly bring out a story book or a toy that she wasn’t planning to display until the next day.
5. Follow haggling etiquette.
Don’t haggle for an item unless you’re really interested in buying it. Don’t make annoying remarks like ‘Fifty dollars for this piece of junk?’ You are also more likely to get a good price if you go for a bulk discount. ‘If I get a good deal on this, I can buy those two other chairs, too—I only brought a limited item of money.’
You should also have a general idea of the real cost of items, or the ‘average’ rate in other sales. Many sellers will overprice an item simply because it has sentimental value (or, they’re after a quick buck). You can start haggling by saying, ‘That seems pretty expensive, compared to what I’ve seen in other places. Are you open to lowering the price?’
Another way to haggle (without sounding too pushy) is to ask, ‘What’s your best price for this item?’ Then, give your offer. ‘If you can take $35 for it, I’ll buy it right now.’
Some garage sale veterans recommend doing the ‘haggle dance’ especially for an item that doesn’t seem to be attracting the interest of other customers. Look at it, turni it over and examie it closely—making sure the seller is watching—then put it down. Come back again, examine again, but look non-committal. The seller may seize the opportunity to negotiate.
6. Hold on to your finds.
Once you put something down, it’s open territory. Hang on to whatever you like, but don’t be a jerk and ‘hogging’ all the stuff and only buying one or two. You annoy other customers and the seller, too.
6. Keep an eye out for possible gifts…and profits.
You may never have a use for those $1 mosaic pots, but they may be the perfect Christmas gift for an aunt who loves gardening. Other fantastic finds may also be resold on eBay.
7. Check clothes for damage.
You can save up to 90% on clothes by buying from thrift shops, garage sales and consignment stores. Your best buys are items that still have the tags on. Otherwise, check clothes for any rips or stains. Check zippers and buttons. If you’re buying jeans, examine the knee area for any signs of wear and tear.
8. Check children’s items for safety hazards.
Toys and baby equipment shouldn’t have loose parts, sharp edges and other hidden safety hazards. If it’s battery-operated, don’t buy it unless you can check if it’s really working.
If you’re buying a painted piece of furniture, ask when it was made. Be wary of old cribs because they may contain lead. Check for splinters or any signs of rot. You also want to see if it’s made of real wood or is simply wood-paneled. You also need to bear in mind the cost of repairing, refinishing or reupholstering any furniture (include labor and materials).
9. Take a risk.
If you really like something but aren’t comfortable with the price, leave your card with the owner and ask her to contact you if an item has not been sold by the end of the garage sale.
10. Shop alone.
Don’t bring your kids, unless you want to spend the whole time making sure they don’t break something! Going alone means you can wander at leisure without somebody asking you to hurry up. The only exception to this rule is to shop with a friend who likes sales as much as you do! You can even score bigger savings if you pay for items together and ask for a bulk discount.