About 10 years ago, my dad came home from a yard sale with a rusty metal bed frame he bought for $3. And if you had asked me then, I would’ve said he paid $3 too much. But with some black spray paint and other basic handyman tools, he spruced up that cheap bed frame and it became one of my favorite pieces of furniture. Fast forward to today and you’ll find that same refurbished bed in my home.
Hidden treasures such as that bed can be found all over, but shopping yard sales can be a little tricky. It can take a lot of time to find what you’re looking for, especially when the newspaper is filled with dozens of sales each week.
Here are some tips on how you can become a savvy yard sale shopper:
* Bring plenty of change and small bills. You don’t want to haggle a price down to 50 cents and then hand over a $20 bill. Sellers may not have enough change for large bills.
* Bring your own shopping bags or boxes. This will help you keep your finds organized. Grouping items together is also a good way to find a deal, as many sellers love to get rid of items in bulk. Often a seller will accept one price for a whole box of goods.
* Always carry a tape measure. If you’re shopping for curtains, furniture, rugs or other merchandise, it’s wise to know exactly how much space you have to fill. Before loading up on these big purchases, you should make sure the items will fit in your space. Remember: You can’t return yard sale purchases.
* If you’re shopping for furniture, TVs, gym equipment or other large items, it’s also a good idea to carry rope to secure the merchandise in your vehicle. This will keep you from having to return later to pick up your finds. If you do have to leave and come back, write a receipt for your purchase and have the seller sign it. Then, take a piece of the product with you (like a cushion from a couch) to deter other buyers from offering the seller a higher price.
* Arrive early, but check back late. Early shoppers often find the best yard sale merchandise, but late shoppers often get the best deals. If you’re looking for something particular, especially if it’s a popular item, arrive at the beginning of the sale so you can lay claim to your deals. If you’re lukewarm on a product, check back close to the end of the sale and the seller may give you a bargain to avoid packing up the merchandise.
* When shopping for clothes, don’t know just the sizes you’re looking for, know the measurements as well. Clothes can get stretched out or shrink after multiple washes, so it’s best to measure arms and legs to see if they’ll fit. For shoes, trace your or your child’s foot on poster board and carry the cutout with you.
* When browsing yard sale ads, look for cues that are important to you, such as descriptions that merchandise is from a nonsmoking or pet-free home. This can be especially important for allergy sufferers.
* Check over toys and inside boxes — sometimes there are unwanted surprises. Even if the box of a product looks practically new, the product may not be in the same condition. Bugs are also something to look out for, especially in items with lots of nooks and crannies. Toys, especially older products, may not function correctly or may have missing pieces. It’s also a good idea to bring a few batteries to test toys and other battery-operated items. You also can ask the seller if you may plug in electronic items to see if they work.
* Ask the seller for their desired price, then provide a counteroffer — not the other way around. Naming your price first may lead to your paying more than the seller ever imagined to get. If the named price seems fair to you, don’t haggle too much.
* Read up on recalls, especially with baby items. The best resource for this information is the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which can be reached at 800-638-2772 or www.cpsc.gov. Cribs, car seats and toys are often recalled for important reasons. If this is the case, a child’s safety is not worth the money you could save.
* Start a conversation with the seller. If you are friendly, you might get a better deal.
* Don’t go overboard. It’s easy to have good intentions of fixing something up or upcycling it. But if those intentions are never put into action, you’ve wasted money. Consider the amount of work that will go into a project and how much the tools you need will cost before forking over the cash.
* Bring bubble wrap, newspapers or tissue paper for wrapping breakables. Sellers may not have these items on hand and you don’t want your purchase to break before you get it home.
Here are some special reader-submitted finds:
An Eric Fitzpatrick painting was a steal at $25. In an email, Carol Mesimer of Franklin County explained that while she and two friends were together swapping yard sale items, one pulled out the acrylic painting. She jumped at the opportunity to make it hers when the seller asked if $25 was too much. “Now I have an Eric Fitzpatrick painting in my bedroom. Had to be my best yard sale find, EVER!” she wrote.
After unpacking her donations for the Roanoke Valley Parrot Head Club’s annual yard sale to raise money for Relay for Life, Julie Mowles of Salem said a fellow Parrot Head member found a letter dated 1949 and addressed to Helen Anderson, Afton Mountain, in a briefcase she had donated.
Mowles wrote, “I recognized my dad’s handwriting. Folded neatly inside the envelope for 60 years was a very romantic love letter from my dad, Frank Williams, to my mother during a separation in their courtship. My sisters and I never knew my dad to show a lot of affection. This letter showed us a side of him we never knew. We don’t [know] why the letter was in his briefcase, or how we overlooked it. It is a family treasure now.” Frank Williams passed away 11 years ago today.
Phyllis Van Eps of Roanoke found two rolls of screen for only $10 each. “I just screened in my back porch and have plenty left to do the front porch!” she wrote.
Maruma and Jim Warren of Roanoke shopped in what they refer to as the “heyday of yard sales” in the 1980s and ’90s. Retired now, the couple love to reminisce about all of their finds, many of which furnish their current home. One table has always been a favorite. Maruma Warren wrote, “This poor thing was painted white, beat up on the top, but the lines were good, it was nice and heavy, so for $10 we took it home, refinished it back to the beautiful walnut [including all the nooks and crannies in the legs]. We use it by our sofa to this day. One of our daughters-in-law has put her name underneath so everyone knows it belongs to her someday.”
This doll was rescued by Nancy Kamwell of Fincastle after hearing it — the doll makes a distinctive laughing noise — at two different yard sales. Kamwell wrote, “We heard raucous laughter and finally located the sound. It came from a doll priced at $.50. Too funny. We said how effective it would be to respond to telemarketers. We didn’t buy it. We talked about it as we drove away and were remorseful to have missed out. The folks collecting the money said everything not sold would be donated to the Kiwanis for their yard sale.
A week later we went to a yard sale at the VFW Building held by Kiwanis. Lo and behold, we heard our doll again. After a search, we found it on the $1 table.”
To plan your weekend yard sale route, check out www.roanoke.com/yardsales. Then, share your yard sale tips below.