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.
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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