‘A sale-ing’ we will go: trash to treasure

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two parts of a series about buying and selling at yard sales. This week the writer considers buying.

We’ve all heard the expression: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And where else can treasure hunters find a better deal than at yard sales?

Yard sales are win-win situations. The seller gets rid of items he or she no longer needs and makes a little cash, and the buyer gets unique and useful items for great prices. Plus, it’s just plain fun to dig through other people’s stuff.

Rachel Grant, Dunkirk resident and mother to young son Micah, goes yard sale-ing regularly.

“I started going to (yard sales) to find baby stuff when Micah was born. Now I go for something fun to do with my mom and sister. At this point I’m just looking for that item that I don’t even know I want or need until I see it,” she said.

Another Dunkirk resident, Heather McEntarfer, attends yard sales to help furnish her home – especially when it comes to those expensive items.

“I always go yard-sale-ing when I move, usually looking for furniture. Right now, my favorite piece of furniture might be the glass outdoor table that I found last year for $30, because outdoor furniture can be so expensive and we have had fantastic dinners outside on it,” she said.

Low prices are definitely a big reason people come out to yard sales. Fredonia resident Christine Beichner kept this in mind recently, when she had her own sale.

“I set the prices mostly low enough that people told me I was charging too little! But in the end I was happy to sell most of my things, so that was OK with me,” she said.

And what if the buyer thinks an item is overpriced, or only has so much cash left in his or her pocket? Is it OK to haggle?

Yes, according to

“Prices at garage sales and yard sales are almost always negotiable. Don’t feel bad about making low offers. The worst case scenario is (the sellers) will say no and you will get them down to their lowest price.”

Grant has used the tactic a few times, though she usually only buys what she thinks is reasonably priced to begin with.

“I don’t typically haggle but occasionally I will. For the most part, if something is worth the asking price to me, I pay it. If not, I don’t,” she said. “When I do make an offer (the seller) usually takes it. But I make reasonable offers.”

One tip for buyers that everyone agrees on is to have the cash in hand. It’s a lot harder for sellers to turn down an offer when they can see the money. That’s also why it’s important for buyers to have small bills – who wants to accept $3 instead of $5 when they see a $20 bill?

Another tip for buyers from is to make sure they can transport what they’re buying. If you’re on the lookout for a couch, bring a pick-up truck. If you’re buying clothes, bring a few empty grocery bags with you. You don’t want to find that perfect item only to realize you don’t have a way to get it home.

Here are some more tips:

Make a list of items you’re searching for, and check it often. You don’t want to be so distracted by the Monkees album you found that you forget you need a potato masher!

Stay hydrated and bring snacks. Yard-sale-ing isn’t for the faint of heart or for those who may faint in the heat. Sales are mostly held in the summer months, and are often set up without any shade. Bring plenty of water and food to keep your energy up.

On a similar note, wear sunscreen! That silver tea service may have only been $15, but that sunburn will cost you for days!

Wear comfortable clothing and footwear. Save the stiletto heels for another occasion!

Go for “The Bundle.” A seller may be willing to make a deal if you’re taking away several items.

Be willing to walk away and come back later. Sellers may be willing to drop prices toward the end of the day. As Grant said, “There are always plenty of other sales to choose from.”

Be polite. This is common sense, but a smile and kind word will go a long way if you’re offering less than asking price!

Sellers may be more willing to make deals if you share with them WHY you want the item. Most people want to help!

Beichner found this last tip to hold true at her own sale.

“The best part (of the sale) was seeing things that I once loved or needed finding a new home with someone else who could really use/want them,” she shared. “I also loved talking to people and hearing their stories. I met several interesting people who told me why a loved one wanted a particular item, or what business they were in and how an item would help.”

When this reporter tells sellers that the items are for her wedding, they’re way more willing to give me a break on the price. I got a 100-cup coffee maker for only $9. The seller said she had purchased it for her own children’s weddings, and was happy it would be put to use for another one.

A great deal that McEntarfer is proud of is a carved wooden armchair that she picked up years ago for $25. She bought some inexpensive fabric and had new cushions made, and it still looks great in her living room.

Grant’s favorite score was a bit smaller, but was still a great deal.

“I’ve gotten a lot of good stuff over the years, but honestly, I really think my favorite find was a table lamp with a new energy smart light bulb still in it, for a buck!” she remembered. “I know, not a life changing purchase, but those bulbs alone cost more than a dollar. I probably would have bought it even if I didn’t like the lamp!”

Just as there are those can’t-pass-up items, there are also items that buyers may want to think twice about before purchasing. If it can’t be cleaned, for example, it may be more trouble than it’s worth. These items include mattresses or rugs, or anything else made of fabric that can’t be put through the washer and dryer. Bed bugs are nobody’s friend, and you don’t want to bring them home.

Grant admits that she will not buy stuffed animals at yard sales.

“I think that’s kind of gross,” she said. “We’ve all seen the things that kids do with their toys, and if it can’t be doused with bleach, I don’t want it.”

Also, beware of broken or damaged items that can’t be easily repaired. That radio from 1965 may be neat, but you may not be able to obtain the missing part. If you’re buying any electronics, ask the seller to plug them in for you so you can see if they work or not.

This warning, in particular, goes out to parents: Don’t purchase anything for your kids that is so old that it may not be safe. Safety measures, back in the day, weren’t what they now are. Old cribs, car seats, and high chairs could put your children at risk for scary accidents. Ask the seller what year these items were purchased, and inspect them carefully for any damage. Local fire departments often have car seat safety checks; bring any car seats you’re unsure of to the pros before you strap your children into them. As always, put your children’s safety first, even if these items seem like great deals.

“We do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot.”

Indiana Jones, in “The Last Crusade,” got this one wrong. Buyers, check out Craigslist, Facebook, Chautauqua Sales, and the Classified section of the OBSERVER. Get yourself a map. Grab a sweet fedora, because you’ll look cool and your face will be protected from the sun, and go forth. Find your treasure.

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