Confessions of a Yard Sale Diva, Part 1

Master bargain hunter shares a few of her trade secrets.

by Brad and Debra Schepp
- Aug 22, 2011

We consider ourselves very fortunate to know the Yard Sale Diva. Now, you may scoff at such an idea, but this is a woman so adept at yard sales that she's purchased many thousands of items for pennies on the dollar. Just to whet your appetite, we can tell you that she once paid $25 for a sterling silver tea set, and found the weight of the silver, alone, was valued at $1,200!

She agreed to share some of her strategies with us, but only with a few clearly understood ground rules. No. 1: We agreed not to divulge her true identity. No. 2: We agreed not to reveal her geographic location. Once the threat of educating her own competitors was removed, she happily gave us the value of her considerable insights and experience. She also granted us permission to share these with Auctiva EDU readers.

I prefer the sales that clearly scream, 'We're moving, and we have to get everything out of this house'

Plot your strategy

The Diva doesn't just wander from yard sale to yard sale every Saturday morning, the way an amateur would. She plans and plots her travels based on not only geography, but also the type of sale.

"I look for moving or estate sales first," she tells us. "I prefer the sales that clearly scream, 'We're moving, and we have to get everything out of this house.' I also love finding the ones where people are selling off Grandma's things."

Many of the things Grandma and her contemporaries treasured are completely undervalued by subsequent generations. That's especially true when young family members are faced with emptying an entire household. People who have grown up among these artifacts often see them as "a bunch of old junk."

"I don't mean to sound snotty," the Diva adds, "but I head straight for the most affluent neighborhoods." Well, that makes sense. Wealthy people and their offspring may have lots of stuff and little appreciation for what their castoffs might be worth.

"I also avoid any advertisements that offer antiques," she says. This surprised us, but she tells us those ads are often placed by antiques dealers who are just trying to dump inventory they purchased and haven't been able to sell. "I'd much rather go where people aren't likely to know an item is antique," she continues.

She adds that she also avoids any sale that lists baby items. "Households with young children often haven't been around long enough to have amassed old things."

Specialize, but keep an open mind

Our Diva tends to specialize in jewelry and musical instruments. To score the best deals, she spends hours researching the value of different manufacturers of musical equipment, from amplifiers to guitars, to horns and woodwinds. "How can you spot a great deal if you don't know who makes the best equipment?" she asks.

She also never leaves home without her loupe, and she's educated herself not only in the field of fine jewelry, but also in the details of costume jewelry. Costume jewelry has proven to be especially lucrative because people who don't know it well consider it all to be junk, when in reality, many of the good older pieces are quite valuable.

Although these are her areas of expertise, she will branch out and buy almost anything that seems to have resale value. "Paper is still very hot," she says. "I often seek out ephemera and even old books." She explains that she has no real interest in old books, but that doesn't mean they're worthless. "Often books can be treasure troves, not because they are valuable themselves, but because they can contain beautiful old color plates."

If you ask, you may just trigger that impulse to get rid of an item long overlooked and tucked away

Ask and ye shall receive

Never leave a yard sale without asking if the seller has the type of item you may be searching for, the Diva advises. "I always ask for musical instruments," she says. Often when people are planning their yard sales, they may not think of that old trumpet up in the attic or stashed away in a spare closet. "If you ask, you may just trigger that impulse to get rid of an item long overlooked and tucked away," she explains. "On the spur of the moment, the seller may let it go for much less than its true value."

She explains this phenomenon as the opposite of impulse buying. "It's really impulse selling!" she says.

"I also specifically ask for costume jewelry," she adds. "If I can get a pile of costume jewelry, there's often a treasure in it. I will sometimes buy the whole lot, rather than look through all the pieces. It's a clean-out-the-drawer sort of moment." Once she gets back home, she has plenty of time to look through it and pick out the valuable pieces. This way she doesn't waste valuable yard-sale time picking through a box and viewing each piece with her loupe.

"Plus, if the seller notices you're examining Grandma's junk jewelry with a loupe, he may just change his mind about letting the whole box go for peanuts," she says.

Stay aware of cultural shifts

Our Diva may adore old things, but she also keeps a keen eye on what is currently hot, and what commodities have faded.

"The trend has shifted away from Howdy Doody and Hopalong Cassidy," she explains. "The people who have wanted these things have had years to acquire them. Now it's more Star Wars and other artifacts from the 1970s. That's especially true if you can find them still in the box, having once just been stashed away."

She also keeps her eye out for things that were once popular, but are now out of vogue. "Anything related to smoking is held in very low esteem now," she explains. "But great old smoking stands, even with their negative connotations, can be repurposed. Cool old ashtrays and lighters will always find a market," she adds.

Finally, our Diva keeps an eye on current cultural trends that can boost the value of older items. "Anything mid-century modern has really taken off, with the popularity of Mad Men," she says. "I can sell almost any piece of barware from the 1950s or '60s that I can find."

In Confessions of a Yard Sale Diva, Part 2, we'll take a look at what our Diva does once the yard sales are over, and we'll look at some of her best finds and her most promising trends. Now, you'll have to excuse us, but the yard sales are calling!

About the Author

Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book, which Deb co-authored with John Lawson, Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-preneurs: It's Not About Likes—It's About Sales, was recently named the 2015 Small Business Book of the Year in the social media category.

For further information, visit Brad and Deb's website,

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

Other Entries by this Author

Follow Us