9 Tips for Finding Treasure at a Yard Sale
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The Fiscal Times
July 19, 2013

‘Tis the season to comb through your neighbor’s castoffs.

As the summer heats up, so does the yard sale trade: During the peak months of July and August, Americans host some 300,000 yard sales each week, says Mike Judkins, co-founder of Treasure Listings, Inc.

While even savvy shoppers probably won’t score finds like a $3 bowl that’s worth $2 million, or a $2 Picasso painting worth a potential fortune there are still plenty of deals to be had.

Here are our 9best tips for making the most of a day spent hunting and haggling.

1. Start online the night before
Check out Craigslist or your local news website on Friday night for a list of the weekend’s yard sales. Sites like gsalr.com let you filter ads by keyword and help you map out a route so that you can maximize shopping time. The more sales you can hit, the better your odds of snagging a great deal, so be sure to include any community-wide sales on your list. Once you’re out for the day, look for physical signs advertising the sales you may have missed.

2. Choose the right neighborhood
If you’re on the hunt for kids’ toys and supplies, focus your efforts on the newer subdivisions that often attract young families. (Note: for safety reasons, you should never buy a car seat or crib at a rummage sale.) If you’re looking for furniture or art, you’ll probably have better luck hitting older areas and retirement communities. “The most expensive neighborhoods will have the nicest stuff, although it’s rarer to find sales there,” Judkins says.

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3. Pack supplies
Bring along a magnifying glass to check items like jewelry or housewares for a makers’ mark, and a tape measure so you can easily determine the dimensions of larger items. Throw some shopping bags, newspapers and an old blanket in your car so that you can wrap and transport fragile items back home without worrying about them breaking. A pack of wet wipes may also come in handy.

Yard sales are one of the few places where cash is still king, so leave the credit cards at home. Brings plenty of ones and fives – the physical bills will  help out in negotiations and ensure that you won’t have to worry about whether or not a seller can make change.

4. Keep an eye out for moving boxes
Moving sales will be your best bet for deals, since those sellers are generally more interested in getting rid of items than in making a buck. Estate sales can have great finds, too, but some are run by pros who are less likely to let an item go for less than it’s fair value.

On the other hand, sales that appear disorganized or hastily thrown together are an indication that the host is in liquidation mode, which can work to your advantage, Judkins says

5. Hit your top sale first (and last)
Set an alarm (sales can start as early as 7 a.m.), and arrive at the most-promising sale as soon as it opens its doors. Getting there early insures a better selection and less competition for perennially popular items like jewelry and records.

If you find something you love but can’t agree on a price with the seller, come back toward the end of the sale to see if it’s still available (assuming you’re willing to take that risk). “By the end of the day, people are ready to practically give away the stuff that hasn’t sold,” says Lynda Hammond, author of The Garage Sale Gal’s Guide to Making Money Off Your Stuff  

6. Inspect everything carefully
Open anything in a box to check that contents have all parts and are what you expect. (It’s common for a DVD case, for example, to have the wrong DVD inside – or sometimes no DVD at all.) Ask the seller if there’s an outlet you can use to plug in and test electric items. For furniture, make sure drawers and doors open and close properly.

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7. Broken items can still be valuable
Even if it can’t be repaired, damaged jewelry made with real gold is at least worth the price of the metal, and is typically easy to resell to a jeweler. Some high-end designers will offer free repairs of products like handbags, and replacing the upholstery on high-quality furniture can make it look like new.

Electronics like cameras and laptops that are more than a year old (with the possible exception of antique cameras) generally aren’t worth putting money into for repairs.

8. Your smartphone is your secret weapon
Find an unusual item, but don’t know what it’s worth? A quick search on eBay can give you a sense of an item’s worth. The value of an item at a yard sale should be 25 percent to 50 percent less than what it’s listed for online.

9. Everything’s negotiable, but some things aren’t worth it
Part of the thrill of a yard sale is the haggling, and sellers expect some back-and-forth on pricing. “Everything is priced with wiggle room,” says Cari Cucksey, antiques dealer and host of HGTV’s Cash & Cari.

Still, for items priced at a few dollars (or less), skip the negotiations. After all, even if it’s not a Picasso, $2 for work of art is a steal.

Life + Money Editor Beth Braverman covers all things personal finance. Formerly a senior reporter and social media editor at MONEY magazine, she’s also held gigs as a newspaper reporter and trade magazine editor.