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10 Things You Should Always Buy at Garage Sales
Summer is the perfect time to explore back roads, new neighborhoods, and deep discounts on other people’s gently-used stuff.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be an Antiques Roadshow or American Pickers aficionado to find truly good deals - you just have to be persistent, patient, and willing to keep looking.
As antiques expert Martin Codina, author of Liquidating an Estate, explained to his readers, “Some of the absolutely fantastic and valuable items that get brought into the auction market each year...come from little old mom and pop garage, estate sales, and small-time auctions.”
That means you - yes, you - can find something worth your while no matter where you live.
Whether you’re hoping to repurpose and resell or just redecorate your space, we’ve got a list of the 10 things you should never pass up when you’re browsing a garage sale.
Since upholstered items like mattresses, couches, or armchairs carry the risk of dirt and - gross! - bed bugs, keep your eye out for wooden furniture in good or lightly-used condition.
It doesn’t even have to be antique in order to fetch a good price, either - especially if you put a little elbow grease into your purchase.
“You can turn almost any hopeless flea market find into a pretty piece of furniture - and maybe make a little extra cash,” write Jessica Dodell-Feder and Anthony Santelli at HGTV.com.
If you’re feeling crafty, consider buying and reupholstering a chair, or sanding and staining a kitchen table or dresser.
“Wooden furniture can be easily repainted as long as it has really good lines,” Lynda Hammond, who runs the site GarageSaleGal.com, told Bankrate.com.
By putting a unique twist on an item - like a funky paint color or new hardware - you can sell it later, or keep it to show off your style.
2. Collectible Books
Buying used books is a tricky business - plenty of old copies are musty, worn, and in bad condition.
Don’t waste your time on ugly editions - they’re simply not worth the trouble. Instead, keep your eye out for first or early print runs, copies signed by the author, and even lightly-used recent textbooks.
“Books sell online - so do collectable magazines and comics, particularly if you can find them in a series or set, so dig deep into the pile,” write the editors of ToughNickel.com.
Want to learn more about how to buy and sell used books online? We’ve got you covered with our blog post on how to make extra income in the online book world.
3. Vintage Electronics
Forget the broken vacuums and dusty computer towers. Your best bet is to scour that yard sale for vintage video games.
If the game comes complete with original packaging, you know you’ve hit on something big - but the cartridges themselves will do just as well.
“Vintage video games from pre-2000 video game consoles often command a premium price on eBay, particularly from Nintendo systems like the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64 and Game Boy,” explains Trent Hamm at U.S. News & World Report.
Before you haggle with the owner, double check your find on PriceCharting.com to make sure you get the best price for the gadget you happen to have your eye on.
4. Toys, Toys, Toys
Want a way to entertain your kids for less? Garage sales are the perfect way to find new toys, games, and puzzles for your little ones - without breaking the bank.
“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,” advises Alison Caporimo at Reader’s Digest.
Just make sure you clean them thoroughly to avoid spreading germs or other creepy crawlies.
“Clean them or plastic toys with a mixture of bleach or vinegar and hot water,” she adds.
If you’re looking to please the kid within, keep your eye out for older collectibles like tin toys from the turn of the century, vintage board games from the ‘80s and ‘90s, or even old collectible cards and figurines, suggests Matt Dracula at DealNews.com.
“Even the rattiest old action figure can be worth a bundle, and there are literally thousands of valuable figures that you might find at yard sales,” Dracula writes.
“For starters, if you're lucky enough to spot this Ultimate Warrior figure [Ultimate Warrior WWF LJN Figure] – made as part of LJN's WWF Superstars collection in 1989 – grab it! No matter the condition, you'll get at least a hundred bucks for your trouble,” he adds.
Check out DealNews.com for more yard sale finds that will help you make extra cash this summer.
5. Sports Equipment
As any parent with athletic children will tell you, keeping up with your kids’ growth spurts can make purchasing new sports equipment and athletic wear a challenge.
Garage sales can give your budget a break. Look for gently-used weights, hockey and lacrosse sticks, pads, helmets, or other gear your kids tend to break or abuse.
If you’re not worried about outfitting a pack of growing teens, brand-name equipment could give you a great opportunity to resell down the road.
“Sports equipment from a quality brand will often retain most of its value, so don't be afraid to do a quick Google search when you come across sports gear in good shape,” advises Hamm at AOL Finance.
You might be pleasantly surprised how much you can get for gently-used gear.
Ready to upgrade your toolshed but not willing to spend an arm and a leg?
Garage and estate sales are your best bet for finding reliable hand tools or even gas-powered tools like lawn mowers, say the editors of Popular Mechanics.
When it comes to hand tools, brand name matters, says Mike Allen, the senior automotive editor.
“I never pass up a partial set of good sockets or a brand-name ratchet,” Allen writes. “I have several sets in my toolbox made up by parsing through garage-sale sets that were mismatched or missing sizes.”
If you come across a motorized tool that looks promising, make sure to futz with it a bit, so you know what you’re getting into.
And it doesn’t hurt to lowball your asking price, either. That way, if you wind up having to make repairs, you have some wiggle room in your budget.
Often good china or dinnerware will go for a song simply because the seller has no use for it anymore - and that gravy boat is taking up space in the cupboard.
Everything from Mason jars to vintage gas station collectibles will fetch a good resale price, says BuzzFeed’s Peggy Wang.
“If you find any vintage Fire-King, Glasbake, or Federal glassware, a 50 cent mug could go for $10-15 on eBay,” writes Wang. “Especially if it's emblazoned with a well-known pop culture icon.”
Other items, including complete dinnerware sets and baking staples like Pyrex, make for good investments, too.
“People go nuts on Etsy and eBay for this stuff,” Wang insists, referring to Pyrex. “[And] it's easily overlooked at thrift stores and garage sales.”
If you find a good set of these colorful baking dishes, you could be sitting on a small fortune - so act fast and snap it up.
8. Office Supplies
All that printer paper and all those staples can add up pretty quickly. And if you add the need for office furniture, like filing cabinets or conference room essentials, to the mix - you’re looking at a hefty price tag.
Don’t buy brand, buy bargain, suggests personal finance expert Ana Gonzalez Ribeiro.
One source told Ribeiro she purchased “several packages of paper, file folders, a box of staples, an electric stapler, two boxes of ballpoint pens, highlighters, fine point micro pens and a desk tray” all for ten bucks at a garage sale.
Not too shabby!
9. Framed Artwork
True, the art you often find at a garage sale won’t be worthy of hanging in a museum.
But a bad paint-by-number piece with a good, solid frame could save you a bundle, says designer Pablo Solomon.
"I have found some that were 150 years old selling for chump change," Solomon told Time.
Whether you’re at a garage sale or thrift store, focus on the frame in front of you - not what it’s holding, advises Jennifer Hunter at Apartment Therapy.
“Most thrift stores are as well stocked on sizes and styles as any frame store I've ever seen (and they're usually under $10),” writes Hunter. (We’d bet you can get them for even less at a garage sale.)
“Remember, if you're at all handy, frames are incredibly easy to paint,” she adds.
10. Brand-Name Clothing & Costume Jewelry
While it can be tough to find good vintage clothing at your average yard sale, you can often pick up recently purchased brand-name clothing at bargain prices.
And if vintage jewelry is more your style, keep an eye out for big, flashy costume pieces - they could be worth money, if you find the right jewel.
“Since their popularity has declined over the years, you can usually get a deal on these accessories,” explains Alison Caporimo at Reader’s Digest. “[And] if you like, the possibilities for upgrading them are endless.”
What’s more, the piece might come with a fascinating story from a neighbor - so be sure to ask as you browse.
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