Monday, October 17, 2011

Reading the tea leaves

A fellow garage sale groupie who goes by the name "Cotie" wrote in last week with an interesting question. Cotie inquired whether I had any tips on the fine art of reading garage sale ads. This dilemma comes into play when faced with a multitude of garage sales. During those peak weekends when just about every seller gets the brilliant idea to hold their sale on the same exact Saturday, you have to make some calculated decisions based upon what an ads says. The ability to decipher a garage sale ad can save time and make you money. Here's a few handy tips I've developed to decipher an ad.

The phrase "years of accumulation"

If I see a garage sale ad that declares, "years of accumulation" it's going on the top of my list. Years really means decades, and that's a long time! Usually it's an elderly person's belongings which really falls under the category of an estate sale. So when I see the "accumulation" ad I am pretty confident I'll find old and collectible stuff.

The address

I may be stating the obvious, but it's still important to mention. In my town there are some affluent neighborhoods that I like to call the "wine & cheese" country. (I could also call it Pottery Barn country, because I find a lot of PB in these neighborhoods) So given a choice of where to go first thing in the morning, I tend to steer towards the wine & cheese neighborhoods first. They have expensive stuff usually listed cheap. They don't need to make big money because they already have it! A garage sale is just a way for these folks to clean house and make room for even more expensive stuff. Now some folks have also wrote in to tell me the complete opposite-that wealthier sellers tend to ask more for their stuff. I guess it just depends on the individual seller. Either way, when faced with way too many garage sales to cover, I am heading up to wine & cheese country first!

Eclectic or high end items listed

Specific items listed in the ad can be a tell-tale sign the seller has good stuff to sell. For example, when an ad lists a canoe for sale I am definitely stopping to take a look-see. Not for the canoe, I already have one. As crazy as it sounds, I've found people who list a canoe for sale will also have other very cool things to sell. My theory is people with canoes are a little more adventurous and eclectic in their tastes. In their travels they may collect antiques, art, unusual clothing, camping and other all-around interesting stuff. Much of it ends up for sale at their garage sale, because like the wine & cheese folks, they need to make room to buy more!

Newspaper ad versus a Craigslist ad

It's sad to say, but newspapers are slowly fading away in the world of instant internet news. Younger people won't even touch a newspaper-they hate getting the ink on their fingers! When they list a garage sale it's not going in the newspaper, it's going on Craigslist or other similar websites. So I am finding more and more that garage sales listed in newspapers are placed by older people. Once again, older people have older stuff.

The "Moving to Florida" ad

Garage sales that state the seller is moving to Florida, California or some other destination offers nice potential to scoop up some bargains. These sellers often want to downsize before the big move. Moving all their belongings will cost them major cash so they're motivated to sell stuff cheap. People tend to drop those personal attachments to things when its going to cost them money to move it. Bulky items like furniture and large decorative pieces all of a sudden can become dead weight to a seller. Next thing you know, it's in the garage sale and you can buy it for a song!

Ads that describe the seller's interests

A garage sale ad that describes the seller or his interests always piques my interest. For example, occasionally you'll see an ad that describes "man cave" stuff for sale. Being a guy, that's one that makes me drive fast to the sale! Man cave stuff can be sports collectibles, beer and bar paraphernalia, Nascar...basically "boys and their toys" stuff. In a recent blog I wrote about a "man cave" garage sale that I couldn't wait to go to. It turned out to be a blast! I bought a garden windmill, several old radios, a hand carved hunting duck and more! So if an ad describes the seller's hobbies or interests, it can be worth checking out.

The "little something for everyone" ad

Don't you hate this type of ad? It's like the seller isn't even trying to draw you in. It's devoid of any creativity or originality! Seriously, if they're taking the time to write an ad, can't they come up with something more to say? What the seller really is saying with this lame ad is, "I have nothing for anyone specific." Boy, that really sounds like an exciting yard sale doesn't it? Bottom line is this ad tells me the garage sale could be a stinker. I may stop by at some point on Saturday, but it may be at the end of the morning.

The Garage "fundraiser" sale

Garage sales to benefit a "good cause" are the absolute worst for folks like us. This type of garage sale consists of entirely donated items. Now I am no Ebenezer Scrooge, but if you're going to do a fundraiser please just make it a car wash or sell cookies! Let's face it, when people are asked to donate some personal item for the "cause" it's usually pathetic! You'll find mostly junk that people no longer have a use for. And if they can't use it, why in the world would anyone else want it? So the stuff you find at the "fundraiser" sale always seems to be one step away from going into the trash...empty fish tanks, ugly cordless phones, outdated TV rabbit ears and dog-eared John Grisham paperbacks. The "Good Cause" garage sale is usually a waste of time for me.

So that's how I go about interpreting garage sale ads. Not very scientific and yep, there are exceptions to every rule. But this is what I've found after many years or reading ads and walking up a gazillion driveways. Everyone has a few tricks of the trade when reading ads. Be kind and e-mail in with a few tips of your own. Please save me a trip up a driveway!
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  1. Baby clothes is the kiss of death for me, yet some people do quite well selling that stuff. I actually saw the ad of my dreams yesterday. I sell a lot of religious collectibles and this weekend is a 2-day sale at a convent/rectory (before it's torn down). It's hopefully going to be the "Holy Grail" for me!

  2. I look for the sales that start earlier than the others, such as 7 a.m. rather than 8 a.m. These are motivated people--they really want to get rid of their stuff and are more willing to cater to the seller. Along the same lines, I try to avoid any sale that says "No Early Birds" because they aren't as interested in getting rid of their stuff. They want to sell on their own terms--which often means higher prices.
    I have a love/hate relationship with fundraiser sales. The prices are either higher than normal (because they are trying to raise money for their cause) or they are lower than normal because the sellers don't have any attachment to the items they're selling. Because I resell kids clothing, books and toys I find lots of good things there.
    Also, my husband, while not young at 35, refuses to touch newspapers because of the ink!

  3. Clamco- Wow! I think a a sale at a former convent/rectory would be awesome! Judging from what I see on those decorator shows on TV, vintage religious items is big. Wood chairs, pews, stain glass. Let us know how you do....

    Diana- I get annoyed with the "no early birds" sellers. Mainly because when I show up at their posted time, I find out they let people in earlier. They're basically penalizing me for abiding by their start time!

    On the fundraiser sales, I find it funny when how when kids are forced to donate a toy. Then you get all the broken stuff!

    My wife also hates handling the newspaper due to ink. Except when it comes to the Sunday Target sales flyer...that she'll gladly pick up!

  4. Well... this is what I do: Around Thursday I will check Craigslist for that weekends sales. Now, if I find a sale that I really want to go to, I will email that person and ask if they would allow for early sales (like Friday afternoon/evening). I know this isn't fair. I know several garage sale nuts that actually take it to the next level. They will drive by almost every sale advertised the evening before. Because most often the seller is out there setting up tables or doing something in preparation for the next day. I don't do that, and of course I hate the people that do that.. but how can I because I am guilty of it too (except in a different way). Back to how I go about doing it... Then Friday morning I will go to my newspaper online and look at the garage sale ads. You mean you guys don't have your city chronicle online? Our newspaper does, so no touching newspaper here. I check those out on Friday mornings (for potential Friday morning sales), and to see what there is on Saturday. Then the morning of that Saturday I will wake up at 4 am and check my 3-sources: Craigslist, Newspaper (online), and another local garage sale advertiser online. I will then map out my route. I am out the door by 6 am and back home around 10 am. When it comes to the actual ad.. yeah, a sale that says it has what I want is going to be my first stop. I stay clear of any ad that says antiques. It's not my area of expertise. We have garage sales where I live all year long. It just stops right before Christmas and doesn't start up again until late Feb. Today, I stayed home. My thermostat read 39 degrees.. I am not a cold weather person. But, how could I stay home.. our own subdivision was having a neighborhood sale!! Oh well, I watched as my neighbors froze outside selling their stuff. I did go to a Friday sale though. Hope you guys had luck. BTW, I also think the fundraiser sales are hit or miss.. just like the church sales. It's all donated stuff, so the seller knows nothing about it and usually sells for cheap. I will tell you that some of my biggest bargains were from church sales or fundraiser sales.

  5. ..sorry. I know I write too long of a comment. Maybe I should get my own blog. If I write too much and I am a bother, please let me know dude. I also wanted to make another note on your article. I of course know the good areas for upper scare sales and the not so good area for lower class sales. Don't get me wrong though.. some of the lower class sales have proven to be really good. But, since I get to choose... I will always go with the upper class neighborhoods first. There are two counties and three cities that make up my area. There is the one top county, then the other is one I rarely ever go into. The two out of the three cities, are hit or miss. One of the counties is what I scan the ads for. Because any house in that city, is going to have good stuff.

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  7. GSA-I like Friday sales too, when I can get to them. It's usually much lighter in terms off competing shoppers. And I use three sources like you, Craigslist, local "pennysaver" (ink) and a local TV News sponsored website. Between those three I am usually covered ok.

    The leaves are turning in my part of the country and yard sales are coming to a close. They usually end around Thanksgiving and don't start up again until April 1st. But gives me time to clean house and sell off my inventory. (See my blog from last November)

    Sounds like you are running around like crazy to those sale! All good info, thanks for sharing! : )

  8. How I wish I stilled lived in the Southern U.S. where we had sales all year. Now that I'm in the Great Frozen North I am forced to do more thrift store shopping when it cools off.

    However, in my town I tend to start on one side of town and work my way across based on start times and which sale has what I'm most interested in. I WILL eventually get to them all.

  9. BBV- That's a good strategy, I try to connect the dots based on start times. But sometimes it has me running all over town in a zig-zag fashion!

    Yep, during those winter months the thrift stores are our only option. But they're no match compared to a good garage sale, right?

  10. Good Blog Dude - My weekend yardsale experiences all had to do with the "House Clean Out Guys" type of sellers. In the past I've tried to read the tea leaves to avoid them. They clean out garages and houses for a living. They keep a big list of buyers and collectors and sell what they think is their best stuff to them. The next level of stuff goes to the best flea markets. What's left goes to yard sales.

    The first clean out guys yardsale was discovered on Thursday while driving to pick up my granddaughter. There was a huge yardsale and we stopped. I started finding good books right away, but my wife wanted to get going. I filled up a box and found out they were opening up again Friday morning at 7 AM. I got there at 7 on Friday and there were already a lot of people there. I filled another box with books and CDs. I checked out all of the non book things and didn't find one thing. I think that may be my advantage at these type of sales, that most people think a book is only valuable if it is old or written by a famous author or leather bound or something. On the CDs I found several that came up as $80 on my PDA Scanner.

    When we took our granddaughter home on Saturday evening, there was a small pile at the same sale with a sign saying "Free". That rang a bell to me and I realized this the was same place where I came across a free pile last year and I found a whole box of the really old Little Golden books, including Little Black Sambo . More proof they don't know everything

    The other clean out guy was listed in the paper with that "years of accumulation" phrase in his ad. The surprising thing was, his house was a very expensive house in a development of very expensive houses. Turns out the guy was retired from a high paying job, but was filling his retirement time by doing clean outs. We had a nice conversation. He had noticed my use of a PDA scanner and me using a smart phone. One thing led to another and I got the idea to ask if he ever needed any extra muscle. I'm retired to but still work out at the Gym and am still fit. He seemed excited about that as I told him he only would have to pay me by letting me pick out some good stuff. So, maybe, hopefully, I've found another new way to source new inventory.

  11. Great Post Cotie! Getting that connection set up with the guy is a great idea. I had a set up with a guy like that about a year ago. He did clean outs and he didn't have any interests in what I wanted. So, whenever he did a clean up (a couple times a week), he would call me and tell me to come get the stuff I wanted.
    Anyhow, I do have a question Cotie.. what is a PDA scanner? Is it just for books? How does it work? I am sure I could look this up on google, but I thought I would ask, if you didn't mind sharing. I don't sell books. I don't know much about books, so I stay with the stuff that I do know. I was just curious that if you got to a sale with like a ton of books and you weren't sure about a lot of them, would you use your PDA on each of them? and how do you do that? Is a PDA specially for just books and CDs? How about the smartphone? Do you just use that to log into your ebay app to see what the latest ending price is of the item that you are considering buying? Thanks in advance for any assistance :)

  12. On another note to add to Dude's blog topic.. one of my pet peeves is when I see an ad that specifies "this sale has great things for ebay sellers!" Oh that just ticks me off. Like you really think that we ebay sellers are going to go to your sale? The sale that you are having in order to probably get rid of the stuff that you couldn't sell on ebay? Come on people, leave ebay out of your ad. If you put that in your ad, that is a sure sign that you are already a seller, thus why would we want to buy your left over, no good, unsellable crap? Have you came across ads like that dude? I have been coming across those more than I would like to nowadays.

  13. Cotie- Getting a foot in the door with the clean out guy is a great idea! That's like working at Goodwill and being one of those guys who processes the donated items, but you get to keep some of the stuff. Only your deal is better because you'll find much better stuff....awesome.

    I didnt know about the market for Golden books, particularly "Little Black Sambo", it's going on my "look for" list now!

    Thanks for writing in....all good stuff!