There's Still Gold in Garage Sales

How to find plenty of great bargains and good finds in a driveway near you

by Dennis L. Prince
- May 12, 2011

Ah, remember the days when former garage sellers discovered fortunes awaiting them when they took their goods to eBay? Well, it seems those heavenly days are behind us now—auction prices have leveled off and competition among online sellers runs higher than ever. And those casual get-rich-quick opportunists of yesterday, well, they've gone back to selling from their sidewalks now that the bidding fever—and handsome, high profits—have been tempered.

It seems as if the party's over… but wait! Who are these diligent sellers finding a refreshed source of supply? They're the folks who are once again shopping the driveways and sidewalks of their neighborhoods, finding good bargains, great items and the return of auction gold!

So while eBay novices have gone back to offloading unwanted items from their garages, savvy sellers have anticipated this swing in the cycle and are returning to garage sales to claim goods for great prices and even better online resale profits. If you want to join these astute purveyors who are enjoying a resurgence of garage sale gold, here's the information you need to get into the game.

Less-committed sellers have relegated that whole 'eBay thing' to just another dot-com fad from the 1990s

It takes a steely resolve to reap the benefits

Without question, eBay enjoyed a meteoric rise in the public consciousness as the place where overnight fortunes were made from the sales of collectible curiosities, kooky kitsch and even banal bric-a-brac. In herd-like fashion, aspiring and idealistic entrepreneurs ventured into the auction place, eager to claim their fast fortunes; some succeeded, most did not.

Once the novelty of online bidding faded, and formerly hard-to-find goods became more plentiful, the "amateur" moneymakers also faded away. The more pragmatic eBay entrepreneurs recognized the basic fact of selling, online or elsewhere: It's hard work and requires steadfast commitment.

For this reason, many less-committed sellers have long since bailed out, relegating that whole "eBay thing" to just another of those dot-com fads from the 1990s. Seasoned sellers, however, see this peeling away of the easily dispirited as an opportunity to not only work among a reduced base of competitors but also as a renewed source of goods. Essentially, those aforementioned fly-by-night sellers have gone back to their garage sale activities, once again offering up good items at giveaway prices because it was just too much work to sell on eBay. To steadfast sellers, this is the eventuality they've awaited—the garage sale goods are more plentiful again.

But do these goods truly belong in a garage?

Of course, an astute seller will wonder if returning to the garage sale circuit will really yield as much benefit as before (the thought being that all the really good stuff has already been sold). While it's true that many excellent treasures have long since traded hands, the core operating principle behind secondhand selling still persists—the current owner of those whatever-they-are-items needs to unload the goods, a pile that has grown in the garage long since their idealistic eBay dabbling.

While they don't relish taking a loss over potential profits, these folks simply don't have the fortitude to work the eBay market anymore; they're just eager to remove this "clutter" from their lives. This return of the sell-it-off cycle indicates there are great items out there again, many that will yield tidy profits.

A quick refresher in mining garage sales

If it has been awhile since you last shopped garage sales, it's time to sharpen your treasure-hunting skills. There are plenty of great bargains and good finds coming from a garage near you. Plus, the castoffs that folks lug out to their driveways these days are the sorts of items that will appeal to the next generation of collectors.

Check all items for condition and completeness, and ask if you can plug in electrical items

Therefore, as you ready your return to the suburban trails that still lead to treasure, recall these key tenets of successful garage sale shopping:

  • Check your local newspaper or online classifieds for listings of upcoming garage sales, and plot out a course that will allow you to hit as many as possible on a time- and fuel-efficient route.
  • Remember that upscale neighborhoods often have nicer items, but you'll likely be paying a bit more than at older neighborhood sales.
  • On the other hand, older neighborhoods often are treasure troves for vintage goods that may have been stored away for 30, 40, even 50 years or more (and there are still plenty out there). If you're hunting for vintage items, homes in these long-established neighborhoods will often have the goods you seek.
  • Once at the sale, make a fast tour of the goods to spot out key treasures quickly and pick up anything that looks to be of immediate value. If you don't, the person behind you will. Then make another slower pass to look deeper for hidden treasures lurking in boxes or underneath other items.
  • Check all items for condition and completeness, and be sure to ask if you can plug in electrical items (this is especially important of vintage items from the 1970s and 1980s; gaudy and gadgetry goods are in high demand provided they're in working order).
  • Don't be afraid to haggle. Ask if the seller will take a slightly lower price for an item or offer to purchase multiple items for a reasonable discount. Be reasonable, though, to avoid offending the seller.
  • Be early! Some listings wave off "early birds," but arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time to swoop in for the best items.
  • Being late can be advantageous, too. Visit sales at the end of their run and see if the homeowner is willing to allow you to take a boxful or clear a table for cut-rate prices.

If you've stayed away from garage sales of late, believing their time of fruitfulness has come and gone, look again. There's some great stuff showing up these days, and just the sort that can help re-fuel your eBay earnings.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

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

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