Get the best deal, and avoid duds, at yard and garage sales

Summer is a great time for visiting yard sales. But if you are an amateur like me, too often we miss the best deals, or end up overpaying.

So we have secrets for finding hidden treasures, and avoiding coming home with someone else's junk.

We all dream of finding treasure at a yard sale, perhaps an old painting, or maybe a vintage birdcage for a couple of bucks, that turns out to be worth millions.

Chances are you won't strike gold.

But yard sale veteran Donna Jenk says she's found lots of treasures in others people's trash. "You can't get a better deal anywhere," this yard sale expert said.

House full of yard sale finds

Donna took us on a tour of her home that she has furnished almost entirely with yard sale finds.

"This table, these scent warmers, this plaque, that mirror, are all from garage sales," she said.

She's filled an entire playroom with kids toys she got for a steal, such as a giant teddy bear for $3, a set of shelves to hold toys for $5, and all the toys inside for $5.

 She even got a Thomas the Tank Engine table, with trains for $30. "It's all from yard sales.  Every single piece," she said.

Some of the best deals she's found: children's clothing. "I've gotten clothes for this baby, brand new, tags still on it, for a dime apiece," she said.

So Jenk agreed to share some of her expert tips for shopping.

1: Search for street sales

 She says search out street sales, because you hit multiple homes at one stop.

"Sometimes on one day there will be 3 neighborhoods," she said," and all you do is park your car and start walking."

2. Choose the right neighborhood

Want kids stuff? Jenk says go to new subdivisions, which will have lots of babies.

Prefer collectibles? She says hit older neighborhoods.

3. Haggle

Jenk says never accept the sticker price at a yard sale.

"A lot of times I cut it in half," she said. "If it's a big ticket item, like $30, I'll offer $15.  I cut it in half.."

4. Look for hidden treasures

Jenk says keep an eye out for secret steals, where the owner doesn't know quite what they have. such as:

  • 1950's housewares....
  • Tin toys....
  • And old paintings.

They are often worth much more than their asking price.

5.  Start early

Jenk says start your shopping at 7 or 8 am for the best selection. Don't wait, thinking you will get better deals.  All the good stuff will be gone.

"Sometimes when they're opening up, before they finish pricing you can get in there," she said. "They haven't priced it yet, so you can make an offer and they'll take it."

6. What to avoid

 Jenk suggests you steer clear of  potentially dangerous stuff.

Donna avoids:

  • Used baby cribs, car seats, and bike helmets: dangerous.
  • Used kitchen appliances: they could be a fire hazard.
  • Beds and upholstered couches: due to the risk of bed bugs.


7.  Return later

Jenk says if a sale seems priced too high, swing back about 2 p.m. If things aren't selling they may give them to you for pennies. (Just make sure you have small change on you)

"Sometimes if its a dollar, I'll say I got one quarter left.  And they'll take it!"

8.  Take the jalopy

Donna has one last tip: She says take the oldest car you have in your family.

She says if you show up in a shiny new Cadillac, Lexus, or Mercedes, don't expect the seller to be willing to haggle with you.

That way you don't waste your money.   

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