Prospecting Yard Sales

Tips to help make your 'sale-ing' smooth

by Julia Wilkinson
- Mar 24, 2008

Ah, the yard sale. You never know what you'll find, and that's part of the fun. Sometimes it's fabulous stuff, like the time I came across a set of Wedgwood cups and saucers in the coveted black-and-gold Florentine pattern for 20 bucks. Other days, it's slim pickins.

But having the right yard sale strategies can increase your odds of finding quality items to resell. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your yard sale-ing adventures.

The early bird

This is probably the most obvious tip. But yard sale culture is an early one, and the early bird often gets the best dishware, pottery, art, books and whatever else is sitting out. In fact, many people show up before the advertised sale time, which is why many sales specify "no early birds" in the ad.

However, this doesn't always mean you can't find good stuff later in the sale.

The late bird?

Sometimes things in the nooks and crannies have been overlooked by other people. Be sure to look all over the sale, and look completely through any boxes that are set out. Often times, there are hidden gems, whose value others didn't recognize, lurking in there.

Some people make a point of going late to sales so they are in a better position to bargain with the sellers. They'll make an offer for a whole box or group of things, and often these are accepted because the sellers are eager to get rid of the stuff at that point.

Just ask

How do you get your hands on stuff no one else has seen yet even when you get late to a sale? Ask the seller if he has anything else he hasn't put out. It's best to ask for something specific. If you specialize in an area, such as cameras or clocks, you can ask for those.

One records dealer I know, who co-wrote my Albums special report, asks sellers at yard sales if they have any records they haven't put out for sale. This strategy has worked for him many times.

Search listed and unlisted sales

Of course, check your local newspaper classifieds for sales, as well as Craigslist. (Craigslist has probably become the better source around my neck of the woods, as many folks don't want to shell out the $90 or so it takes to place an ad in the major metropolitan-area paper).

And don't forget, eBay's own classifieds service. I once found a yard sale that was advertised on there and nowhere else. It had great stuff and not too many people. You just never know.

But my favorite kind of yard sale is the "unlisted" or unadvertised sale—they simply put up a sign and start the show. These sales are great, because, of course, there's not as much competition. Often you can find them around the sales that did advertise in the newspaper, because they are piggybacking off that ad. So keep your eyes peeled for those signs while you are driving or walking.

I usually pick out the sales I want to go to the night before and print out the MapQuest maps for them so I'll be ready to go in the morning. And many people swear by their GPS systems for finding their destinations.

And what about actually buying stuff at these sales? One expert dealer I know of goes by the 25 percent rule: Buy it for no more than 25 percent of the price for which you think you can resell it. Speaking of which…

Dicker down, but don't insult

Negotiation is fine at these sales, but do it within reason. Personally, if I see a great item priced at a quarter, I don't try to dicker down the price to 10 cents. Sometimes you can just anger the seller and you may even make them less likely to make deals with you on other things.

But if prices seem too high for a "yard sale," by all means offer what seems fair to you. The worst thing they can say is no. Do be polite, and don't make negative comments about the stuff. If you need to point out a flaw to get a better price, try to couple it with a compliment to soften the blow: "This is a lovely lamp. I see it has a crack, though— would you take $15 for it?"

Enjoy your yard sale travels. One of the best things about yard sales in my mind is they get me out of the house, enjoying the fresh air, and meeting people. Combine that with making money, and what's not to like?

Reprinted from Julia's Blog, "bidbits," at

About the Author

Julia Wilkinson is the author of The eBay Price Guide (No Starch Press, 2006) and eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks (Wiley, 2004-6). Her ebooks, including What $ells on eBay for What are available here, and her free newsletter, "Yard Salers," is available at

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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