Shopping Garage Sales and Thrift Stores, Part 2

How to shop for items to sell on eBay

by Lynn Dralle
- Apr 03, 2008

In Shopping Garage Sales and Thrift Stores, Part 1, I discussed good items to look for at garage sales and thrift stores. Here, I'll describe shopping methods to get the most out of your trips to these sources of auction fodder.

Garage sales: Plan your attack

1. Map your route the night before

Go through your newspaper (or check it online), check craigslist and any local small publications that publish garage sale ads.

Pick out sales that reference "estate," "houseful," "charity," "antiques," "collectibles," "housewares" (or whatever else you are specializing in). Order them, considering how good they sound, the time they are scheduled to start, and their geographical locations.

Read the ads carefully to make sure they're going to be held on the day you are going "sale-ing" (as we call it). I can't tell you how many times my mom and I have pulled up to a sale and found nothing there, only to discover it fell on the other weekend day once we looked closer at the ad.

Typically, I can go out on a Saturday morning with my mom, her minivan, and $200 in my pocket, and I have no problem finding my 100 items for the week. I can even do it in about three hours. I don't go out on Fridays or Sundays because my time is too valuable and I need to do my shopping in a concentrated, serious effort on one morning. You may find that Fridays and Sundays work great for you.

2. Quickly scan the garage sale

The first thing I do is quickly scan, looking for the items I described in Part 1 of this series. If you don't see what you are looking for, ask. I asked about dinnerware at a sale this past Saturday and the lady had an entire set of occupied-Japan china inside that she only wanted $50 for.

Make a pile of the things you want. Be sure to bring a friend or child (my poor kids!) with you to help watch your pile. If you don't have someone with you, ask the people running the sale to make a place for you to stash what you are interested in. Remember, you can always edit later, so grab anything that looks interesting. It's a numbers game. Don't forget this.

If things aren't priced (and I hate this!), I ask the price on a few items and if they're reasonable, I can be fairly confident that the sellers will be fair with everything. If they are asking $50 for a vase at a garage sale, I typically walk away altogether.

3. Negotiate price

One of the most important things is negotiating price. If I do find a ton of great stuff, I usually ask the seller, "I'm buying so many items, can you make me a special price?" More often than not, they do.

collector's plate

Check out this plate I bought last weekend. The lady had 15 of them and wanted $5 each. Once I showed her the couch full of merchandise I was buying, she dropped the price to $2 each and I got the entire couch full for $150! Trust me, this works, but only if you're really nice.

Thrift store strategies

1. Pick locally-owned and -run shops

I try and stay away from the Goodwills and Salvation Armies of this world. I don't have the best luck there, and in my town (and I am hoping in your town also) there are tons of thrift stores run by local charities.

We have church, animal rescue and disabled veteran thrift stores. These have proven to be my best bet. I have two church-run thrift stores here in Palm Desert that are my favorites!

2. Check in at least twice a week.

Once I have my favorite stores picked out, I make it a point to stop by at least twice a week. I don't make special trips. Remember this—it's a valuable tip. I stop by only when I am in the neighborhood because thrift stores are my secondary source of supply—garage sales are my first and favorite. Why?

Garage sales are cheaper and have better items. Plus, you can hit 20 of them in a few hours. The thrift stores are my backup. Now, in your area this may be different. In some areas garage sales don't happen year-round. Here in Palm Desert, they do—although, the garage sales do slow down in the summer when the temperatures hit 120 degrees.

So, here's how I fit thrift store shopping into my weekly routine. I do Pilates on Monday mornings, and on my way home, I pass by two good stores. Check out this teapot I bought at one of those stores for $2.99 that sold for more than $150. It's a Rosenthal Germany teapot designed by Pucci!

Rosenthal teapot

Then on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work out at a different gym and stop by my other favorite thrift store. This assures me of four thrift store visits per week. I encourage you to fit three to four such stores into your routine too.

3. Check the sign at the front of the store

When you walk into a thrift store, always check the signs at the front. Most of the thrift stores have sales. My favorite thrift store out here will periodically have a half-price sale for the entire store. And most Goodwill and Salvation Army stores mark down items based on how long they have been there by doing colored-tag sales.

Arabia teapot

Check out this teapot made by Arabia of Finland. I bought it with a creamer and sugar bowl, and all pieces were as-is: cracked and chipped. I had been looking at them for over a year. They were in the locked case and priced at $17.50. When the three pieces went down to $8.75, I took a chance. They sold for $597.51 in two separate auctions!

4. Make friends with the employees

If you can strike up friendships with the employees at these stores, you will be surprised at how this can work to your advantage. They'll call you when special items come in like dinnerware and flatware sets. And they will sometimes let you go into the back room and check out items before they hit the sales floor.

5. Check the housewares section first-then boutique areas

After I've seen what's on sale and checked out those items, I always go to the housewares section first. I pass right by the boutique area or items that are locked in glass cases. I've found from doing this over the years that most items garage sale sellers or thrift store managers think are worth a lot of money usually aren't. Isn't that strange? But it's so true.

At one of my thrift stores, they put a stainless set of Voila by Oneida in the front locked case and priced it at $175. Then, they printed out the prices from Replacements and said it was a $1,275 value. I can usually get about 20 percent to 30 percent of Replacements prices on eBay so I knew that I could expect to sell it for about $255 on eBay. There was no way I was going to pay $175. So I patiently waited for it to go to half-price. It finally did. See? Those boutique and locked case items are typically way overpriced.

Voila iced tea spoons

I paid $87.50 and it did much better than I expected. I think all of it is now sold (either at auction or from my eBay store) and I got more than $500 total for it. Yipppeeee!

These are just some of my strategies for shopping garage sales and thrift stores. I hope they give you some insight and help make your eBay journey as successful as mine has been.

Happy eBaying!

Read more in Shopping Garage Sales and Thrift Stores, Part 1.

About the Author

Lynn Dralle is a third-generation antiques dealer and a PowerSeller who's been selling full-time on eBay since 1998. An award-winning author, she's lectured around the country on eBay and appeared on national television. Dralle is the author of iBuy and iSell, a two-part auction-tracking notebook system carried in The eBay Shop. She has built up a loyal following of thousands who subscribe to her weekly e-zine through her Web site.

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

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