I really don’t care if President Trump wins or loses on the China trade deal. I know it’s important but however the economic game of thrones plays out, I don’t expect to be much affected. I can say this because just about everything I buy is second-hand. As such, I avoid high prices, get to shop from a wide selection of items, and pay no sales taxes. You see, I do my shopping every Saturday at yard sales.
I’ve been a yard sale regular for years. Every Saturday morning, starting in April, my wife and I grab some coffee and map out a route to the sales that are going on in our town. It’s a “together” thing for us. Over the years we’ve learned some things about yard sales. There are actually two kinds of sellers. The first is the person who realizes that he’s simply got too much stuff and he needs to get rid of it. Prices are negotiable and profit doesn’t enter into the bargaining. If he really wants it gone, he’ll take what he can get. The second example is the person who sees his yard sale as chance to make a profit even from things he doesn’t want any more. These individuals think buyers will be glad to pay high prices for their stuff. They run their sale like a mini-version of a retail store. We don’t bother with these. At the end of the day these people will be putting their unsold things back in their garages.
Avoid the sales advertisements that say in big letters, “NO EARLY BIRDS.” What this usually means is that the person selling the stuff thinks he’s doing prospective buyers a favor letting you on his property. Prices are usually high with fewer opportunities for bargaining. I’ve always felt that if the seller is really motivated to get rid of stuff, he’ll get up early and welcome people as soon as he’s put his sale items in the driveway. That’s the kind of sale you want. First-time sellers often need help and I’ve had experiences were someone obviously wasn’t aware of the real value of an item they are selling. I’ll point out that their prices should be higher and indeed, I’ve paid more to purchase some things because I think it’s the right thing to do. But even if I pay more, if I’ve given the seller a fair price, at least I can sleep well at night.
Estate sales have become very popular and they usually run on Friday and Saturday. Friday is when the dealers show up. I skip that day, preferring to go in Saturdays when the sellers have cut the prices on the remaining items by 30-50 percent. The crowds are smaller and it’s easier to park. There’s usually plenty of items left. Even if we don’t buy anything, we get to see some really spectacular homes.
My own experience with yard sales is that buyers show up by 9 a.m. and there’s a lot of activity until noon. Then there is a lull around lunch time. The sales pick up again from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and then it’s over. Forget Sundays. For some reason, nothing sells on the Sabbath. That’s the day for the “free” pile at the end of the driveway.
Putting a good yard sale together is a lot of work. I can usually tell with a quick drive-by if a sale is worth investigating. The best ones have things clearly priced with labels. This doesn’t mean you can’t bargain, but at least, you have a starting point. A good sale has the stuff neatly laid out so it can be seen without having to pull boxes or other junk off it. We usually go out with nothing special in mind, preferring the serendipity of the hunt. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. But earlier this spring, I needed a new lawnmower. I wasn’t keen on paying a lot of money for a new one. The first yard sale I went to had a nice Toro self-propelled machine. The lady who was selling it told me that her husband had passed away during the winter and she was having a commercial landscaper take care of her property. The mower started right up and I got it for much less than I would have paid for it at a store.
In the end, my wife and I usually come home from a morning of “yard sailing” with stuff that we never knew we needed. Sometimes it doesn’t fit where we thought it would. But the good thing is that, later, if we find that we don’t need it, we can always have our own yard sale to get rid of it.
Jim Coogan is a Register columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org