I have developed a specific technique to find good garage sales. Here are some tips:
• Isolated single-family sales are rarely worth a drive unless they have a specific item you’re seeking.
• To find large sales, use search terms: rummage, church, school, multi-family within the Garage Sales category on craigslist.
• Subscribe to the feed for craigslist posts that meet your criteria using an RSS reader
• Sort your route using google maps! Simple but extremely effective.
• When in doubt or nothing stands out, consider focusing on sales in affluent neighborhoods. In the Portland metro, I like Beaverton/Hillsboro, Piedmont, Eastmoreland, Laurelhurst, and any of the “Hillside Terrace” sounding streets that mean hilltop property and expensive homes. Often you can find others in the neighborhood just by driving to your main sales target location.
• “Moving sale” often means the owners are trying to unload large items quickly, and therefore cheaply. A great place to search for furniture.
• Signs: most yard sale signs are default neon cardstock you can find at any pharmacy or grocery store. When I have time, I will follow rabbit trails through neighborhoods linking from sale to sale based on whatever signs catch my eye.
• Anecdotally, I like to try to figure out the style of the sale based on the wording and handwriting on the signs. I usually assume artsy signs will point me to the sale of a free spirit, while very tidy and informational signs will have good things in excellent condition, but the owner probably knows exactly how much s/he paid retail and wants to make more off the sale.
• Similarly, the wording in the craigslist ad can tell you a lot about the expected haul. All caps? Probably an older person writing the ad. Older people tend to price things really low, with the occasional ridiculously priced “antique” thrown in there. (I avoid sales advertising antiques, or emphasizing certain name brands because the prices will be higher.) I learned to avoid sales that advertise ‘GIGANTIC SALE’ with ‘LOTS OF TREASURES’. If they seem overly enthusiastic in a listing for a single-family sale it’s probably not that great. If the word “knick knack” is anywhere in the post this tells me it’s not going to feature useful things I am after. • When considering whether to drive a little further for a multi-family or church sale I rely heavily on the photos accompanying the craigslist post to determine how organized, up-to-date, and in my taste the items might be. Is it worth the drive? 50/50 on group sales.
• Another thing about a church or school-hosted sale is that it’s usually many families donating the stuff from their garages to a good cause, but they are not pricing their own “treasures” – when the person doing the pricing is not the one who paid for the item originally, prices can get really low! No ego investment…
• If you’re in an organized school-based sale, look for signs or posted spreadsheets with general pricing. School PTAs love their price signs and color sticker categories!
• Strangely enough, plant sales are actually kind of awesome. Prices are low and the quality of the plants tends to be high. And the people selling the plants can usually tell you all about how to care for them.
• PRICE NEGOTIATIONS: Generally speaking, people are more firm on posted prices at the beginning of a sale and ready to pay YOU to haul it away by the time they have been sitting out in the sun for six hours. If I am interested in an item that is not priced, I casually ask the sale owner “how much are you asking for this?” And then counter-offer a few bucks lower if I think they quoted too high. I have rarely been turned down. People just want you to take away their stuff. (I don’t banter with little old church ladies because their prices are always low to begin with, and rarely with school fund-raising sales because it’s all a good cause.)
• Yard sale 101, but it took me awhile to get the courage to do this: when you’re buying multiple items you can easily group them and then ask “can I give you $___ for this?” and they are happy to give you a discount. Especially easy when you’re buying multiples of the same thing, like a stack of children’s books or a pile of clothing.
• A few times I have seen a big furniture item I liked but thought was priced too high. I have left my number with the sale owner and said “if that table doesn’t sell by the end of the day I’ll give you [35%-65% of asking price]. Just send me a text if you’d like me to come by and take it off your hands!” in a light, respectful tone. Our kitchen table was even delivered to our door the same day by a couple happy to have it out of their garage!
• If you’re on a tight budget, consider dropping by large rummage sales around 1:00 on their last day (they’re often Friday-Saturday). Many groups do a blanket 50% off, or “fill a bag for $3!” which can be really fun if there’s a stash of something you want (clothes, books, household goods). Just avoid the used-bra table!! AHHHHHHH
• Ask about unique items — I’ve always been intrigued by the story of unusual items I have found at smaller sales, the owner can usually give you a bit of a history lesson and is happy that someone cares.
• It’s ok to do a drive-by. You might feel a little guilty not stopping at someone’s sale – especially if you make eye contact as you go by – but don’t let your guilt cause you to stop at a sale that does not have the type of items you are seeking. It’s WORSE to feel like you have to “pity browse” and make token small talk so as not to be rude.
• Buy the lemonade. Always buy the lemonade. Unless they’re trying to charge $1. Garage Sale Lemonade is not worth a dollar.
Most of my discoveries are common sense but helpful to have as reminders. It took me a few months of trial and error to come to a workable solution for my Saturday escapades – where I wasn’t wasting time or gas driving across town only to be disappointed. Figuring out the dynamics on how to find and work it at big rummage sales made all the difference in my technique.
In a nutshell here’s how I prepare for my weekend adventures: first round- RSS feed from craigslist captures on specific search terms that indicate larger, better priced sales whose ads pop up throughout the week…. second round – another end-of-week sweep of craigslist postings for last minute procrastinators, sales in affluent neighborhoods (eastmoreland, piedmont, laurelhurst, etc) and kid stuff keywords… also add neighborhood-wide sales areas to my list for ROI with time/energy. last round – google maps to determine most efficient route (this part takes me the longest). I prioritize my route around sales that have specific items I want or big sales where “the good stuff might go fast.”
Do you have any pro tips for garage sales, yard sales, and rummage sales? What is your favorite item to find?