By Justine McDaniel
Trading and bartering has held a place in the culture of the human race for millenia. From the era when stones and grains were used for currency to the beginning of outdoor markets, people have come together to display their wares and make trades. Today, multi-story shopping malls and superstore corporations provide everything you need, and the Internet has made it possible to max out your credit card without leaving the comfort of your home. Yet one piece of this age-old tradition persists through the advent of Wal-Mart and online shopping – the yard sale.
While shopping culture has morphed into something streamlined and corporate, the desire to spread out some possessions on a blanket and make a little profit remains.
And why shouldn’t it? Yard sales are functional – and they’re fun. Springtime is the most popular time to hold sales, when people are cleaning out their houses and the weather is turning warm enough to warrant being outside for a day (although most sales around the South Sound promise to be open rain or shine).
The simplest reason to set up the folding tables in the driveway and hang hand-written signs around the neighborhood is to get rid of stuff. All that junk that has been lying around the house for the last 10 years can finally go – and not only do you have a cleaner house at the end of the day, but you also have some money to show for it.
And while the seller makes a profit, the buyer almost always scores a good deal. Yard sales are the perfect way to find things such as kitchen appliances, furniture and toys. Plus, yard sales are sustainable. There’s no better way to help the environment than to say goodbye to all the packaging and plastic bags that you get when you buy something new. Buying used also means you skip all the energy that goes into manufacturing and selling new products.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that you will find exactly what you’re looking for, but if you strategize and persevere, you can stumble across real gems. For Patrick Williams of Gig Harbor, this has sometimes meant finding priceless pieces — and even one that allowed him to make a $2,600 profit.
Williams and his wife are among the many local residents who have made a hobby out of going “yard sale-ing.” They have been frequenting garage sales since they moved to Gig Harbor in 1999. Williams says they started by going to any and every sale before learning what to look for.
“The more you do it, the more you begin to understand what’s out there,” Williams says. “We used to just look in the newspaper and [find] estate sales being advertised, but I think it is about understanding the community more.” Williams recommends looking for affluent communities, as well as neighborhoods “full of folks older than baby boomers” in order to find the best items. “It’s about recognizing the demographics and understanding how people advertise,” he says.
Williams’ discoveries include a valuable Hammond B3 organ and an autographed Harry Chapin concert program that was tucked inside an LP he bought for $1. He found the organ at an estate sale in Lakewood, where he instantly recognized it as valuable. The asking price was $1,800, and though Williams knew that was reasonable for what he called “the Holy Grail of organs,” he decided to wait until the second day to see if the price dropped. It still wasn’t low enough the next day, so he took a risk and called the estate agency to make his own offer. He told them that if the organ hadn’t been sold by the end of the sale, he would pay up to $1000 for it. This kind of strategizing pays off: the agency called him back and he ended up purchasing the instrument for $800. Within one week, he had sold it for $3,400 on eBay.
“It was a [case] of recognizing something that was of tremendous value that nobody else recognized,” says Williams. He recommends specializing in something in order to find the best deals at sales. For Williams, a rock-and-roll musician and former DJ, music is his area of expertise. “If you know the value of what you’re looking at, then you’re better prepared to make an offer on it,” he explains.
He also recommends holding off on making an offer until the second day of the sale, when prices are almost always lowered. “If it’s a one-day sale and you see something you really like, come up with your maximum price and give them an offer. If they say no, come back about an hour before the sale closes, and if the item is still there, make your offer again.”
One of Williams’ favorite memories is of hunting for a table big enough to seat his large family for Thanksgiving dinner. He found a beautiful 12-seat table at a Tacoma home estate sale, but it was $2,500. When he returned the next day, it had only been marked down to $2,000, and he decided to forget about it. The next week, he and his wife went to an auction house to continue the table search. His wife found one she liked, and when Williams went to look at it, he realized that it was the same table. “The estate sale company hadn’t been able to move it, so they took it to an auction house,” Williams says. He ended up getting the table for $400. “It’s a gorgeous table which we still have today, and it’s the one piece of furniture we’ll probably never sell,” he says. “It was just perfect when our family came over.”
Almost anything can be discovered at yard sales if you know how to look. These sales bring you back to a simpler time, and bring you some extra money along the way. But there is something more to yard sales than dumping clutter and saving a few bucks. There’s a charm to wandering the neighborhoods with a friend or significant other, coffee cup in hand and eyes on the lookout for a great deal. You’re delighted when you find just the right thing, whether it’s what you’ve been searching for or a total surprise.
When people used to participate in bartering, it was how they fostered relationships; now, interaction with sales clerks is usually limited to “Hi, how are you?” Yard sales allow you to make connections and meet new people in your area. Whether you’re bringing the family together for a day of selling or spending a sunny Saturday exploring the neighborhood’s offerings, your yard sale adventure will bring out a sense of community – and that’s the best deal of all.