How to Score The Best Used Stuff at Yard Sales, Estate Sales, and Garage Sales
Sorry Craigslist and eBay, but we are never ever getting back together. Secondhand shopping IRL trumps online buys—and here’s expert advice on how to do it right.
Like everyone else in this world, I’ve scoured Craigslist for deals on furniture and I’ve digitally sifted through glassware on eBay until adding the perfect antique pink coupe glasses to my shopping cart. But many of the things I clicked on in these online portals were just, well, glorified garbage, or else I couldn’t get a real feel for how nice they actually were. That’s why I quite online shopping for secondhand goods.
Now when I’m looking for antiques to mix into my modern home style, I head to an estate sale or yard sale. It’s called the suburbs, people—and there is a treasure trove of good stuff waiting to be discovered.
I'll share my own insider tips, but for some expert secondhand shopping advice, I talked to Michele Hofherr, CEO of Previously Owned by a Gay Man, which she describes as “a destination marketplace for new and previously owned home furnishings and décor, sourced from designers, influencers, and of course, the ever-tasteful gay man.” Yes, her online marketplace is, well, online—but she and her team source their goods IRL, just like you will after you read this great advice.
Make a List
Have a small, targeted list of the things you’re looking to find. Sure, your gaze may land on other treasures during the hunt, but with so much eye candy, keeping two or three specific things in mind really helps you stay focused.
Go Early—Or Late
If having a lot of options to choose from is important to you, show up early. If paying a lower price trumps selection, arrive in the last hour or so of the sale. Sellers will typically lower their prices at the end of the day.
Do A Drive-By
If you see a lot of toys and kids clothing in boxes on the lawn or in the driveway, that’s your clue that the sellers are a young couple trying to declutter. If that's what you want, pull over. Otherwise, hitting garage sales in older neighborhoods is better for taking home furniture, antiques, and collector’s items. Also, if you see multiple people walking away empty-handed, your time might be better spent cruising to the next address on your list.
Ask the seller about an item you're interested in—they’ll likely be happy to share its history. Not only does that make the item more of a conversation piece once you get it home, the seller is more likely to lower the price once a personal connection is established.
Haggle. No Seriously, Haggle
Don't be afraid to negotiate. If an item is unmarked, it can mean that the seller plans to decide the price on the spot—and probably after assessing what they think you’ll pay. (Related: If you show up wearing designer logos and excess bling, the seller will charge you full price, because it looks like you can afford it. So don't.) Never accept the first offer (unless you know for a fact that it’s fair), and don't go too low with a counteroffer (you're not a thief). But remember that the seller is there to unload their wares!
If you see something you love, snatch it up. The good things do go quickly and if you love it, someone else probably will, too.
Shopping for electronics or small appliances? Take a pack of batteries with you, so you can test equipment to make sure it works. If the item is plug-in, ask to connect it to an outlet. And if it’s a lamp, borrow a light bulb from the seller if you have to!
Check (Carefully) for Chips
When hunting for dishes or crystal, run your fingers over the edges to catch any chips or cracks. Tuck a cotton ball in your bag, so you can glide it around the edges of glassware or crystal. The cotton ball will catch on any crack or imperfection.
Take A Second Pass
If you have time, take a second lap around the space, this time from a different direction. You’d be surprised at how changing your perspective can make you see what’s there differently—like that fabulous find that wasn’t initially on your radar.
We’ve all had the experience of searching for a particular item and finding one that’s almost perfect, but not quite. Before you take the plunge and buy it, ask yourself, “Will this satisfy my need, or will I continue to look for a better version of it?” If you think you’ll keep hunting, then hold off for the true winner!