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How to find good eBay Resale items at a Garage, Yard, or Estate sale

Due to the inherent luck factor in garage sale hunting, you may sometimes find that you do not find enough worthwhile items to fully occupy your time available to list items on eBay. You may come up empty-handed after several sales, or even feel obligated to bring home lower-margin items out of a sense of desperation. While to a large degree luck is luck and you can’t force a bad sale to be profitable for you, there are ways of alleviating your poor luck by improving your ability to fully extract value out of each sale.

Look around

The first thing you should do when you arrive at a garage sale, besides greeting the owner, is to survey the entire sale. What stuff is exactly for sale (in contrast to stuff in a garage that’s not for sale)? Do certain areas correspond to particular categories (e.g. electronics table, bric-a-brac, etc.)? Where are you going to look first?

After doing a broad sweep, start checking out individual areas. Since you don’t have time to do research on every item, use your eyes to generate research leads. Where your knowledge of general product prices fail, look for the following factors: apparent quality of craftsmanship, quality of materials, the generation of the item’s technology, etc. For example, check out appliances, power tools, gadgets, etc. even if you don’t really know anything about them, and unless something particularly stands out, you can safely ignore bric-a-brac. Also take under consideration older stuff from good brands, such as stereo receivers from Yamaha, Harmon Kardon, etc. Ultimately, research will adjudicate whether you will purchase it.

Research, Research, Research

This is always an essential part of your visits to garage sales, as it can help you avoid purchasing problem items and can alert you to an opportunity you would have otherwise missed. You will often be surprised by how worthless some items are relative to their inconvenience of reselling, like an antique typewriter. On the other hand, you may frequently find that something you’d think is worthless actually has a market on eBay, such as LucasArts PC Games from the early 1990s. Your research tool is there for a reason. Thankfully, over time your knowledge of product values increases and reduces the amount of time you need to spend researching, which can be clunky even on an iPhone.

While researching on your phone, try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Generally, people are texting and otherwise using their phones frequently these days, so it won’t look unusual that you’re using your phone a lot. I find that it helps to check out the model number on an item, then move to a bric-a-brac or other “non-reseller” area and try it out. Don’t sit there immersed in your phone, as a lot of the time spent is loading your search; make sure to mix your phone use with other behaviors, like talking with a companion if you have one (not about your reselling business), asking for a price from the garage sale owner or just making conversation, examining other items, and so on. Obviously, your time is somewhat scarce: if you linger too long you come off as odd and raise suspicion that you are a reseller, plus you also have other sales to go to. Making good leads with your eyes helps focus your time at the sale on the highest-value areas, so you can move on as quickly as possible to your next sale.

As a side note, it’s a shame that you must use manipulative tactics to secure your business, but people simply do not historically have a high opinion of arbitrage (buying items in one place and selling them for more in another). You have every right to hide the fact that you are a reseller, as you would otherwise often be the victim of prejudicial price discrimination.

Dig Deep

Open containers, look in bins, check out cases. At one sale, I first arrived and thought the sale was a complete bust. But after looking more carefully, opening up boxes, and exploring cases, I ended up finding a vintage Motorola brick phone in its box with everything it came with ($3, resold for $70) and a Radio Shack frequency scanner ($2, resold for $50). If I had just gone by my first pass and quit on the sale, I would have never found such great resale items. The first item was under another box that covered its title, and the second item was in a black leather case that looked like a case for eyeglasses from far. Imagine my surprise to find out that a casual scan missed the $120 lying on the ground for me to take.

A lot of times, “garage sale” for people means “haul out what’s in your garage and put it on the lawn.” This means that entire containers of unused stuff are hauled out, and since they’re so messy/dirty you can get a great deal. I have found countless bargains in a garage-clutter-bin, such as routers, computer parts, and other electronics. These bargains have often been in daunting-looking bins or crates of tangled cables at the bottom, but because I took the time to lift the cables and scout out the whole box, I found them.

Keep in mind your broader objectives

There is a sense of power in being able to enter a sale and completely sort out the valuables from the junk – you possess an advantage that typically no other customer who goes to that sale shares. In addition to being a source of economic benefit, the power of observation you gain is a valuable contribution to your pool of skills that you will carry through life.

That said, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the thrill of buying up resellables, but you must remember to consider the finite amount of time you have to list those items, and make sure you are prioritizing higher-profitability items. You now have even more of your most precious asset: information. You must now integrate your new, more complete knowledge of the landscape into your business structure. As your business matures, you will find that you can afford to pass up weakly profitable items (e.g. $5-$10) more often in favor of more valuable stuff. I personally pass up low-profit items even in mere anticipation that I will find an item at a sale later in the day that could use the space instead. By being more efficient at sales and extracting greater value from them, you also reduce the amount of time, gas, and sweat you need to expend going to garage sales to achieve the same level of profits, as opposed to just hoarding more and more items (which can get unbearable really fast).

The physical act of going to garage sales is obviously a critical part of your business, as without it you’d have nothing to resell on eBay! Focusing on improving your search routine will help ensure that you are making optimal use of the second-hand goods market in your local area. You will find that some of your best finds will have been things that you would have overlooked when you were a rookie. After all, if this were easy, then everyone would be doing it.

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  1. May 6th, 2010 at 10:30 | #1

    I have been wanting to start shopping at yard sales to earn some extra money from home through ebay. I think using your cell phone to check what something is worth is an excellent idea. I have a question though, what do you do if they are selling an item for more than you are willing to pay? What do you say in order to get them down on the price? Let me know thanks.

  2. admin
    May 6th, 2010 at 13:42 | #2

    It sounds like you’re looking for some concrete tips on haggling. I have an article upcoming on this but I can tell you this: sellers are just as eager to get rid of the item as you are to buy it. Make a bold offer below the most you’re willing to pay, and slowly work up. Often people just slap on a “whatever” price to an item, but they take the offers they get as signals of the actual value of the item. Take control! Your #1 weapon in haggling is the possibility that you will walk away and the seller risks putting the thing back in their garage.

    There are some people who are real holdouts who will give you trouble, but ultimately there is no cost in trying as you generally don’t see anyone you see at a garage sale ever again in your life (After a lot of sales, I still haven’t). Diffuse tension by standing your ground and conveying that you are expressing what you are willing to pay, with no offense intended. I find that I get away with some serious bargains because I re-frame the issue from me being some dude trying to rip them off (their first, false, instinct) to me being a person who’s simply giving them an option that they are free to refuse.

    Thanks for your comment, and good luck. Let me know how your first successful haggle goes.


  3. May 18th, 2010 at 16:58 | #3

    These are some good tips but it sounds like an awful lot of work. How long did you have to wait before those objects were sold on eBay? If I were a seller and spent that much time at a rummage sale, I would want my return to be pretty quick. I’d love to make money in any way possible as I have a disability and really need some income quick for bills.

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