The key to buying big items at a garage sale is to wait until the end of the day. By then, the sellers are wondering how they are going to get that huge dining table off of the grass and into the living room. Be careful with upholstered items (bed bug alert), but if you're confident it's clean, you can always try re-upholstery (see the great how-to at DIY Design
Home Office Supplies
At a garage sale, your eye instantly jumps to the larger items like couches, speakers, and, yes, questionable taxidermy. But force yourself to examine smaller items too, especially ones you use regularly. Pens, push pins, and paperclips are office staples (you always need more).
It's fun to pick up art for two reasons: you might learn about interesting local artists, or, even if you don’t like the image, you can always repurpose the frame. (Key for larger paintings and drawings, because big frames can be so expensive.) Haggle if you want, since art is subjective and the sellers might not have too many interested buyers. Also, odds are that they're tired of looking at it and just want it gone.
Not to sound old-fashioned, but they don’t make brooches like they used to; this Yahoo
guide can help you spot key vintage details to quickly recognize what something might be worth. Since their popularity has declined over the years, you can usually get a deal on these accessories, and if you like, the possibilities for upgrading them are endless. Make a necklace with this tutorial from Martha Stewart
, a bouquet with ideas from Seattle Bride
, or even a festive holiday wreath
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Even if it’s missing a few gemstones or looks a little dirty, it's easy and fairly cheap to upgrade jewelry made with precious metals. Give tarnished silver a good polish with a paste of baking soda and warm water. For gold, paying a few bucks for solid pieces should pay off—you can always sell them for scrap or have them melted down to create something new. Costume jewelry that'll last a little longer often has stones held by prongs instead of glue, and necklaces with knots between their beads.
For pots and pans, watch for rust, non-stick surfaces that are scratched or flaking, and chemical coatings that might leach out. However, cast-iron ware can be salvaged and restored no matter what the condition, and it'll last forever. Also, if you find these items in good, working condition, buy them: stainless steel baking items, kitchen timers, serving utensils, Pyrex or ovenproof glass baking dishes, wooden or bamboo serving bowls, wicker baskets, ceramic or porcelain dinnerware, stainless steel flatware, or quality knives (you can always take them in to be sharpened). Wash everything well before use.
Ice Cream Makers and Other Seasonal or Single-Use Kitchen Appliances
If you’re in the market for one of these, definitely scour garage sales first. People hold sales to sell off unused items that take up space in their cabinets, and bulky, seasonal items are often priced to move. You'll usually be able to scoop them up for a fraction of their retail price.
Since sellers spring-clean before their sales, bulky or unworn winter coats and vests are some of the first things to hit the to-go pile. Check for holes and wear before purchasing, and dry clean or give a good washing before putting in the closet for next year. For children, buy the next size(s) up and store in a closet for future seasons.
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Drills, saws, nail guns, compressors: As long as the seller can prove that they are in good working condition, go for it. Ask how old the product is and how much it has been used over the years. Always keep an eye out for rust, which usually means the integrity of the metal is compromised, making the tool more dangerous to work with.
Odds are you can pick up a stylish set that’s cheaper than what you can find new at most home goods' stores, plus you're likely to hear a cool back-story to boot. There’s also a chance that what you’ve got is a real find. How can you tell? On the back of silver-plated items there will be markings that can include the company name, the country it was made in, a product number, and the E.P. (electroplate) marking.
If you like the shape, size, or material of a certain frame, buy it. Not crazy about the color? Give it a new coat of paint. Another idea: Follow this tutorial
from HGTV to learn how to distress wood for a shabby chic look.
Bicycles and Scooters
Take a bike for a spin; expert sales veterans bring a wrench to adjust the seat and get a real feel for how it rides. Ask the right questions: Do you store it outside? When’s the last time you replaced the tubes? What’s the status of the brake pads? For kids' bikes, the owner's children might not have used the item much before they outgrew it, but ask. With scooters, if the frame is solid you can often replace missing or worn parts (handlebar covers, brakes, wheels) for much less than the cost of a new one. Check the maker's website when you get home.
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Lights, bells, baskets! Try to talk the seller down if you’re buying bulk—maybe she’ll throw in reflectors for free? However, do not risk buying helmets second-hand, even for kids who might outgrow their headgear soon. Sometimes damage for the casing isn’t visible, even though the integrity is compromised.
Children’s Formal Clothes
Dorling Kindersley RF/Thnkstock
Looking for a children’s dress or suit for a special occasion? Formal clothes for kids only tend to be worn on a few occasions, and you will often find them being sold in near-new condition for a low price. Yard sales are the perfect place to look for a communion dress or a suit for an upcoming wedding. Also good to score: slightly damaged, cheap party clothes for kids to use in dress-up games.
Plastic and Wooden Toys
Wooden blocks and toy cars are always on the cheap at garage sales, and many vintage wood toys are solid enough to be passed from generation to generation. Clean them or plastic toys with a mixture of bleach or vinegar and hot water. Stay clear of stuffed animals, which can be hard to send through the extra-hot cycle on a washing machine and can be full of creepy crawlies. Classic board games are great to pick up too, and even if they're missing pieces you can always repurpose dice, say, or pawns with other sets.
New parents want to get rid of unneeded bulk as soon as their child outgrows baby swings, bouncy seats, high chairs, strollers, and more. Ask the seller when the item was bought and how often it was used. For any future recalls, make sure the model number is still visible. What not to buy: secondhand car seats (the structure could have suffered from damage, even if it wasn't in an accident), and drop-side cribs, which are now outlawed in the United States.
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A lot of people lose interest in their treadmills quickly, which means you can get the equipment you’ve been looking for at half the price or better. Look for big-ticket items as well as other indoor merch like hand weights in the spring, when New Year’s Resolutions are long forgotten. But, research first: It’s important to know where certain machines wear out the most.
Bamboo rods and reels are non-mainstream antiques that some collectors will shell out major bucks for, according to former host of PBS’ Collect This!
Aaron LaPedis in an interview
with financial site Mint.com. If you see these items on the cheap, either keep them for yourself or take them to eBay.
Winter Sports Equipment
Get your fill of ski and snowboard equipment—though watch for broken or faulty bindings that can't be fixed or replaced. You might even uncover something of real worth. According to Popular Mechanics
, “the snowboarding world is still young enough that some of the earliest models, ones with some value, are still floating around in garage sales.” A Burton Backhill from the late 1970s or early 1980s can be worth a couple of thousand dollars.
Bulk up your library with new favorite reads, especially children’s books (kids outgrow their books so quickly as their reading comprehension increases) and hardcover classics. Another tip: If a family in your kids' school is throwing a sale, go. You'll score next-year's textbooks and other school reading material for less than full price.